Five Suggestions for Businesses Confronted with Green Fatigue and Green Noise

You may have noticed an article by Alex Williams in the NY Times yesterday entitled "The Era of Green Noise."  The article hits on some trends we're seeing, especially in the green lifestyle area, with people worn out by the green barrage of choices and information.  Green advertising and/or pitches might get a roll of the eyes, or worse, some backlash.  People may just repel and fight against the message.  So businesses are starting to get concerned about the proper way to move forward given this "green fatigue" from the "green noise."

I've been thinking about this and have a few suggestions for businesses that want to keep a quality connection to their customers. 

  • Environmental Progress Should be Authentic.

At first I wrote down "Environmental Progress Should be Meaningful," but I realized, there's more to this than meaningful progress.  Business progress relating to the environment needs to be authentic.  It needs to be real and in a forward direction.  For example, buildings can be non-green, green, sustainable, and/or restorative, etc..  If you take a non-green building and make it into a green building, don't promote and advertise the heck out of it as if it were restorative.  Be authentic about the progress that you've made.  Discuss where future improvements can be made and find ways to make those improvements.  But don't ever try to (over) sell the customer on a semantic vision that isn't absolutely 100% authentic. 

  • Products and Services Need to be Remarkable.

Businesses can't abandon the bread and butter of their industry.  Sometimes I get the feeling that businesses expect huge rewards for their small investments in sustainability — but they absolutely can't forget the basic premise of their product/service.  Green computers need to be computers that are also green.  Green furniture needs to be furniture that is also green.  Green buildings need to be buildings that are also green.  So provide remarkable products and services that are ALSO green.   Don't just rest on the sustainable laurels of a given product or service.  Products and services need to be other things, in addition to being green. 

  • Spend More Time Strategizing Over Appropriate Prices.

If there's one thing I think businesses can flub up, it's going to be with the pricing strategy.  Don't be that company!  If you and your accountants can't come up with a price, here's my advice.  Ask yourself: What Would Apple Do?  (WWAD).  Good products / services at good prices will be purchased by customers.  If you have good products / services at good prices, people will buy in.  But remember, there can be only one Wal-Mart — there can be only one low cost provider.  If you've done your industry homework, a fair price will attract more customers and increase positive word of mouth, especially if the products / services are remarkable and authentically green. 

  • Be Honest With Customers About Efforts to Improve.

I think there are some companies that do a good job of keeping things honest.  When words and claims are stretched, however, everyone loses.  Everyone.  If you have a product / service that has both positive and negative environmental attributes, be open about both and clarify how you're working to improve the negative environmental attributes.  You cannot "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative" with environmental claims.  It's not a question of market positioning or strategy, it's a question of integrity and being honest with customers.  If you hide the ball, your customers will find out and you will be pounded by it.  Don't be one of those companies. 

  • Avoid Complaints About Costs/Obstacles to "Going Green."

It's perfectly fine to discuss challenges and obstacles, but don't be the naysayer or the begrudging type.  It's getting old.  If you're more experienced, you may think you're being pragmatic, but you're not.  You're being too conservative in the one country that rewards risk and innovation the most.  I mean, sometimes I feel as though there's no innovation left in the bigger companies because they're always talking about what they can't do, as opposed to what they can do.  Immerse yourself in the research, come up with a long term plan for your company, and execute on that plan.  If you get all caught up in the short term financials and benchmarks, you may wake up one day to find that your competition has out maneuvered you and you're in trouble.  That's the dynamic between companies like Honda and Toyota as compared to GM and Ford.  You may not have the stomach for the impossible, but you should because that's why you're being paid so well.

So these are a few suggestions I came up with.  What do you think about the growing issues relating to "green noise" and "green fatigue"?

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks, this is always a relevant question from our clients. Knowing how to answer it can be tricky. These top 5 are great ones!

    • Preston

      I know what you mean. I hear many of the same concerns all the time and this list was kind of sitting in my head as I’ve been trying to grapple with the issues of green noise, and even more particularly, greenwashing.

  • Chris Baskind

    I’ve long said that Greens must be careful about their rhetoric. Overblown cliams get quick attention, but are just as quickly tuned-out.

    Progress in the green sector is profound enough to stand on its merits.

    Glad to see JG on Disqus, by the way! I’ve converted all my sites in recent weeks.

    • Preston

      The tune-out problem, or even the reversion problem is something that business have to consider. But I’m also a believer, like you Chris, that doing stuff the right way will prevent that (to a certain extent).

      On Disqus, I installed it a few months ago and then Typepad made a system change and the comments went wacked. But I’ve got it back in now. It’s fun to use. I love the reply features.

  • marguerite manteau-rao

    Thanks Preston, for a great post, and also your recent comment on La Marguerite. I could not agree more on all of your points. It is about being authentic, and in tune with customers’ real problems.

    As far as my take on the NYTimes article, here is the link for your readers:

    • Preston

      Great articles, Marguerite! Keep in touch :)

  • Chad Ludeman

    Great post on an important topic for all businesses today. I could see this developed into a great e-book and maybe even full book in the near future. We are heading towards the peak of greenwashing in businesses now and could use more informed advice for businesses out there trying to figure out how to be green.

    If I remember correctly, authoring a book is on your list of things to do. :)

    • Preston

      Ah, you got me on that one — writing a book is on the list! We’ll just have to see, but this could definitely be a good topic.

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