by Jerry Stifelman, The Change on 07.12.07
Organic jeans look just like regular jeans. Fair Trade, Shade Grown coffee can taste just like conventional coffee. FSC-certified wood looks exactly like wood that’s been poached from the rain forest. Unless you’re an eye witness or a direct victim, crimes against the environment take place out of sight, out of mind. Shirts hang from racks in America, while the sweatshops that created them are half a world and tons of emissions away.
The sales racked up by businesses-as-usual are dependent on withholding information, not revealing it. Paul McCartney once said that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”
It’s the same principle for most conventional products. Pesticides, particulate pollution, toxic runoff, industrial waste and shoddy labor practices are necessary to create most things — but to actually sell the stuff, it’s best to keep the public unaware of such things. The environmental sins of conventional businesses are invisible — unfortunately, so are many of the positive actions of good-for-the-world businesses.
As an environmentalist, and as a guy who leads a good-for-the-world branding agency, I suggest that treehugging businesses should become the most kickass marketers on the planet. Brand communication is a critical way to change the equation, and balance it in favor of responsibility over expediency, and in favor of products created with moral consideration as opposed to just cheap goods. Here’s some thoughts on how to do it.
The key points of difference that set “green” or otherwise mission-driven companies apart from their conventional competitors require communication. Indeed — unless principled actions are turned into a brand asset, they put your company at a competitive disadvantage simply because being sustainable in a non-sustainable world is expensive. By openly and transparently telling the story behind our products and services, we can flip the equation, and turn responsible business practice into a competitive advantage. Our conventional business competitors can’t tell their full story. We can. The truth is our best tool. And we need to use it consummately, consistently and artfully.
Jerry Stifelman is founder and creative director of The Change, a brand-strategy and design agency that works exclusively with companies and organizations that make the world more sustainable, equitable or authentic.
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