I can't remember the date or the place exactly. It was a Primedia Business senior team meeting. Maybe New York, spring 2005? There I was, senior VP for Primedia, waxing on about how trends in green and clean would be sweeping through the business world and would affect every sector that we played in, from meetings to Transmission & Distribution World. But my impassioned rant fell on deaf ears. My colleagues were surely thinking, “There goes the tofu-eating Californian again. Green as mainstream? Come on; get real, Pete.”
Fast forward to December 2006 when I left Primedia (then Prism) to join green business maven Joel Makower and his GreenBiz.com site, to start Greener World Media. “Hmm, interesting,” my colleagues said, wishing me well: “I'm starting to hear about this "green thing.' ”
Fast forward to today. Green is the rage. It's hard to open a publication, watch an ad on TV or go to a party without hearing about green this or clean that.
With all this noise, is green some passing fad or a substantive sea change in business?
It's a paradox. On the one hand, there's a great deal of hype about green. But if you dig deeper, you'll find companies are doing amazing things that have yet to see the light of day. In design labs and product development departments, companies are actually doing more walking than talking about their environmental efforts.
A few random examples from some very mainstream companies tell the tale:
? Anheuser-Busch developed an aluminum can that is 33% lighter. This reduced use of aluminum, combined with an overall recycling plan, saves the company $200 million a year.
? Thanks to a smaller box used for about half the phones sold by Nokia during 2006-07, the company saved $150 million in packaging and transportation costs. By the way, the new packaging is made of 100% recycled paper.
? In the mid-1990s, GM set out to reduce or eliminate the 86 pounds of packaging waste that resulted from building the average car, managing to reduce it to a pound or less in some facilities. Eight of its North American assembly plants and 14 plants globally send no waste to landfills.
Given all this, what should b-to-b publishers bear in mind?
? It ain't green, it's just good business. The green business movement in many respects parallels the quality movement of the 1980s. Quality wasn't a fad. True, you don't hear about it much anymore, but it didn't go away. It became part of the fabric of business. So, too, will green. Special sections may not be the way to go. Rather, think about cooking this coverage into everything you do.
? Leverage your strengths. We see a lot of publishers and show organizers pursuing the so-called “greenrush,” throwing supplements, microsites and events against the wall and seeing if they stick. (We've been approached for partnerships by more than 300 green and clean events in the past year.) The ones that are opportunistic—that don't deliver a clear value and are just playing on the hype—won't be around in a year's time. On the other hand, if you have an audience or content strength in a particular area—from packaging to supply chain to meetings—talk to your customers and see what “green” means to them and what they want and need to know.
? Be substantive. At our Greener by Design conference in June, we heard a great compliment. One attendee said, “This was a great event because it avoided the platitudes of "you should go green' and got into roll-up-your-sleeves issues of how to actually implement sustainability into the design of products and processes.” How a company executes, gets buy-in from management, employees, partners and customers, is much more valuable than mere exhortations.
? Be realistic. In some markets it may be too late to capture growth from green. Your new supplement or conference may be seen as a Johnny-come-lately effort. To borrow a trick from Kathy Edwards, a former sales trainer of mine, imagine a customer wearing a hat that says “So what?” when you unveil your new event. They will want to know how it will help them solve a business problem and how they will justify to their team and superiors the time and expense of attending.
? Find the right partners. Credibility is key in this new space. Green has a wealth of resources—from consultants to nonprofits to government agencies—that can bring credibility, connections, context and content.
Green business opportunities exist but will come in waves. The next wave of green—things like climate management, nature-inspired design, cradle-to-cradle products, restorative companies—will provide growth opportunities for smart publishers for years to come.
Pete May is president and publisher of Greener World Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.