Seeing Green? Maybe It's Time to Go Blue

Put Consumers and Shoppers at the Center of the Sustainability Dialogue to Really Save the World

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Adam Werbach
Adam Werbach
In a few short years, sustainability has gone from the fringes right to the heart of business purpose. Sustainability is affecting business strategy on every level and from many directions: increased competition, the drive for innovation and differentiation, a tougher regulatory environment, and pressure from consumers who demand green credibility on the one hand but are deeply cynical of corporations' "green" credentials on the other.

It's a paradoxical situation driven by both growing complexity and demand for simplicity. No wonder marketers are struggling to find their footing -- and that consumers are overwhelmed.

I come from the world of green activism. But I couldn't find in that world either a motivating agenda or an idea that is big enough to do what needs to be done. In fact, in 2004 I delivered a eulogy for environmentalism. I believed that we needed a platform broader than green if we hoped to address the myriad problems facing our planet. We needed to invest more time and energy in making a difference through what people do every day -- shopping, cooking, cleaning, caring -- in other words, the routine activities of which life is made.

Changing the way people look at the world is more important in the long run than focusing only on the marginal ecological impact of their individual actions. In 2004 this was radical talk for an environmentalist, but in the last few years I have only become more convinced that if we believe we can change the world, we actually can.

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New, blue rules
Understand how today's woman shops
PRICE: She wants sustainable products, priced to please. It's not just the rich who want to contribute to a healthy planet.
PURPOSE: She wants to be clear about the purpose of what she's buying. Her question is cuttingly simple: Do I need it?
PROCESS: Increasingly she is demanding answers to tough questions. What was the process to make the product? Was it energy intensive? Did it use pesticides or petroleum? Were the workers paid a fair wage? How will it be disposed of?
The marketing industry has leapt on green, an idea beginning to break down as a catchall strategy in the marketplace. Consumers are resisting the proliferation of "green" communications and products being pushed at them from all directions. The recent Cone/Boston College survey showed that more than half of American consumers are "overwhelmed" by the tsunami of environment-related messaging. Less than half trust companies to tell them the truth about sustainable practices and products. Even fewer consumers believe companies are accurately communicating their environmental impact.

We are witnessing green fatigue on a grand scale. This is a huge threat to everything the environmental movement has worked so hard for, that consumers have valued, and that manufacturers and marketers have struggled to deliver. It is also threatening the credibility -- and sustainability -- of the marketing industry itself. People with no technical expertise in the complex harmonies that sustainability demands, no capacity to help a company reinvent its products or processes, and no sense of urgency are promising quick fixes and cheap tricks.

The challenge of sustainability is being starved of relevance, information, expertise and commitment. To me, sustainability is the transforming business challenge of our time.

I have seen a way through green fatigue, greenwashing and all the rest: the emergence of a post-green, people-led movement that aggregates the power of marketers and consumers as catalysts for social change. Our work with Wal-Mart shows that people are ready; and the inaugural Green Effie honoring this work as effective eco-marketing recognized that the marketing community is ready too. Engaging people at the store-face might not be the conventional strategy, but it's working.

Feeling blue
I believe we are experiencing the birth of "blue," and it was this realization that led me to merge my sustainability firm with Saatchi & Saatchi. We can only achieve the scale of change the planet needs by unleashing the creativity and imagination of the global public.

Blue is a platform for sustainability that goes beyond the deep, beautiful green of environmentalism. Green puts the planet at the center of the dialogue; blue puts people -- consumers and shoppers -- at the center.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam Werbach is the global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S [sustainability]. He formerly served as national president of the Sierra Club.
Consumers believe climate change is happening, but they also want to feel good about themselves and their families around the dinner table. They want to be part of something larger than themselves without having to sacrifice their identity. They want joy, not guilt, and they want to have a little money in their pockets so that they don't have to trade down on yet one more thing in their lives. To be part of the blue movement, they simply have to live their lives with authenticity and the commitment to a larger good.

No one understands consumers better than the people who read this magazine. You know that the average American woman spends an hour each day shopping. You know, too, that she is an expert at finding price and value for herself and her family, and increasingly, she's looking to make a difference when she does. So you need to understand that she's beginning to shop by new, blue rules:

Price: She wants sustainable products, priced to please. It's not just the rich who want to contribute to a healthy planet.

Purpose: She wants to be clear about the purpose of what she's buying. Her question is cuttingly simple: Do I need it?

Process: Increasingly she is demanding answers to tough questions. What was the process to make the product? Was it energy intensive? Did it use pesticides or petroleum? Were the workers paid a fair wage? How will it be disposed of?

Marketers have to take these questions seriously and read the true desire that drives them. Consumers don't want scientific reports, charts and diagrams. The only reason they seem to be demanding more information is that they have lost their trust in what they buy. They have lost confidence in brands, which have traditionally helped them choose. They are struggling to do the best for their families. They want to be part of something relevant to our shared challenge to change the world.

Our purpose as marketers, communicators and motivators, can be nothing short of building a world full of happy people contributing to a healthy planet. Blue will take us there. Together.
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