4 Ways to Be More Authentically Green

Business owners are often natural sales people. They love to talk about their successes – and yes, occasionally glaze over their setbacks, their shortcomings.  It’s human nature, in fact.

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But when it comes to green business, there are risks to downplaying your weaknesses or only trumpeting achievements:

  • One, your customers will see through it.
  • Two, they’ll trust you less.
  • Three, they will feel less loyal.

Another problem is that there are many companies these days guilty of “greenwashing,” or plastering green leaves and vague words like “natural” and “pure” on their packaging when there’s little substance behind them. This only makes consumers more mistrustful of all green messaging. They have to look more closely to find out if it’s for real. To really make an impression on consumers anymore, a business’s environmental sustainability efforts need to feel genuine, transparent and earnest.

Here, then, are four ways to improve the authenticity of your green efforts:

1.   Dig for data. Sustainability leaders are focusing more and more on tracking and analyzing data. They know how many gallons of water they’re saving each year, or how much emissions are created transporting their products from a factory in China to their U.S. distribution centers. Communicating real numbers and targets to your customers adds credibility and brings your initiatives to life.

2.  Don’t overplay “green marketing.” Don’t fall into the trap of thinking being green is all about image and messaging. In fact, it might be better to not think about your green efforts as marketing at all. Think about them as something you want to communicate to customers. But when it comes to actual marketing, focus on other benefits of your products – whether it’s their design or usefulness. Research shows most consumers consider eco-friendliness a secondary purchasing concern, anyway.

3.  Increase transparency. Give consumers more substance about your green initiatives. Write a sustainability plan and track your annual progress. Devote a part of your web site to your green efforts, so consumers can easily find it if they’re interested.

4. Expose your challenges. As you talk about your green successes, don’t forget to discuss the challenges. Let your customers know when you miss a sustainability target – and why. Explaining the hurdles involved with reaching your goals only adds legitimacy and shows you’re truly committed to reducing your environmental footprint.

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7 Comments ▼

Kelly Spors


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

7 Reactions

  1. Great article, Kelly. A lot of small businesses just don’t know where to begin when it comes to going green, and hopefully this will help.

    To your #2, I would add that you really shouldn’t trumpet your eco-friendly efforts unless they’re legitimately eco-friendly. It’s easy to turn off your green-minded customers if they find out your marketing is built around fluff.

  2. Substance is definitely key! I’m immediately skeptical when I see lots of “green” buzzwords all over marketing copy. But some companies are great at showing their priorities and values in a way that doesn’t give you that slimy “I’m being marketed to” feeling — Moroccan Oil’s website had a nice write-up about one of their products, and the last sentence was something like “Also, we don’t do any animal testing. That’s important to us.” (I bought the product.)

  3. Some great tips there, Kelly.

  4. Kelly – Great article, especially point #2. In fact, I wrote a similar article: Real Sustainability – Cutting Through The Politics.

    Most people I know are skeptical when the see green or sustainable plastered all over your business. Heck, I’m in a green industry, and I focus on the business factors (low risk, high ROI, etc) instead of the green factor.

  5. Great article, Kelly! Thanks for posting. Sustainability practices need to be integrated into all aspects of business. I tend to hear protests of how expensive it is to go green, but there are extrinsic and intrisic rewards. http://www.claritygreen.com/2011/07/11/10-reasons-your-business-should-go-green/

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