Every April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the modern environmental movement. In 1970 the first Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans to demonstrate against the impact of 150 years of industrial development. American industry was producing millions of tons of pollutants every year as inefficient automobiles pumped tons of lead and other toxic substances into the air.
By the end of the decade Congress passed legislation to address the smog laden atmosphere, dirty waterways, and trash littered highways. The United States Environmental Protection Agency was founded and Congress passed the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Initially business and industry were skeptical about the impact these agencies and regulations would have on business operations, but eventually they adopted safe and effective environmental practices.
Today 88 percent of consumers say they favor brands that help them lead a more sustainable lifestyle. “Sustainability is no longer optional. Companies that fail to adopt such practices will perish. They will not only lose cost basis: they will also suffer in recruiting employees as well as attracting customers,” says John Replogle.
The most well-established companies are realizing the need to develop a new strategic approach to sustainability. The projected sales value of sustainable products in the United States is on the rise. Sustainability has shifted from a niche consumer interest to a mainstream value over the past few years as consumers favorably embrace organizations that recognize and deliver on the message. Nearly 98 percent of Americans believe “brands have a responsibility to make a positive change in the world.”
While successful niche players are mastering a “green” performance, many brands continue to struggle and adjust to the trends. Unsupported platitudes, unfounded claims, and buzzwords are common among those organizations who fail to understand the emerging dynamics of the new marketplace. How can brands establish credibility as sustainable, socially responsible players and avoid becoming a green washer?
To avoid the charge of being greenwashed, marketers must refrain from over-embellishing the benefit of a brand’s product or service; using content and irrelevant information that lay-consumers are not likely to understand; attaching counterfeit labels to products that are similar to third-party endorsement organizations, or making statements that are unproven or are total fabrications. “Eco-friendly,” “organic,” “natural” and “green” are some examples of over-used terms that can lead consumers to mistrust a brand. A successful green marketing strategy is practical, honest and transparent. Getting caught making disingenuous claims will do considerable damage to a brand’s value that will be hard to correct with today’s savvy consumers.
Happy Earth Day!