Moving Toward Green, Step by Step

First, Define the Term for You and Your Brand

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Michelle Adelson
Michelle Adelson
"Green" is a hot buzzword, but what does it mean? Until companies define it for themselves, they're never going to achieve sustainable practices. Michelle Adelson of Copia Green explains.

Although "green" has become a new trend and buzzword in the market today, not everyone is able to define it. Green branding is even more esoteric, as companies look to be green but do not understand why participating in the community recycling program is not affecting their people or audiences. Green branding is actually not one initiative, but several components that can be adopted and integrated into businesses.

We often work with companies to align their current brand platform into green initiatives that connect with their audiences and their brand. We are finding that as target markets are becoming more environmentally conscious, they are making more decisions based on brand alignment with fair trade practices, product sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Companies that learn to focus in key areas—from the manufacturing process to packaging, and through to disposal—can begin to break through the green question and turn ideals into strategic initiatives.

The challenge many businesses face is how to connect their brand with sustainability. The recommended approach is to explore green branding strategically and authentically.

In the past, consumers thought "green" simply meant devoid of color, implementing hemp-like paper stock and tacking on a technical statement. It is safe to assume that the green market has advanced from that notion. Claims need backing, stories need to be told and, most of all, the green focus must be a part of the brand, including core values, culture, audience profile, key messages—all the elements that encapsulate your identity in the marketplace.

Current trends show that audiences who make decisions based on green practices do their homework and research. Businesses that have made claims, but not backed them up with internal brand practices and alignment, have received quite a bit of backlash. Indeed, the term "greenwashing" has grown from superficial and surface-level practices.

To navigate this market, it is important to align green practices within brand strategy, communication and creative to ensure the initiatives are meaningful and impactful with targeted creative insight and innovation.

This process is exactly that—a process. It does not mean the company needs to rebrand, and it certainly does not mean the community recycle program should be blasted out as marketing of the "good corporate citizen." It means companies need to define strategies that work with the brand's culture and can be adopted by employees, and then supported by the market by telling the story and differentiating the brand.

Once the strategy is in place, the creative insight and design should follow to communicate and connect the strategy. Effective design is thought through from the beginning to innovate campaigns, packaging and messages. Additionally, design elements should take into consideration market values, and connect the brand and its market through use of visual communication—from shape and color to font and text hierarchy and materials selected. Aligning with organizations can further authenticate the product. Use of marks is also perceived as qualification and trust in the marketplace. Thinking design through as it aligns with strategy also inspires new ways to reach the market and package products and service offerings.

This is an exciting time to be part of an evolving shift in the market. As summarized at a recent conference I attended, this is the time when activists and capitalists are working together. The age-old images of activists as tree huggers and capitalists as greed mongers are fading from black and white to shades of grey or, shall we say, green. It is a time when activists can focus on aligning their causes with businesses that understand that being a corporate citizen can drive revenue while affecting the environment or society. This can be successful as long as it aligns with the brand position.

Speaking of shades of green, I want to remind businesses that how green they go is up to them. Paper can be selected in shades of green depending on how environmentally friendly it is. Strategic initiatives are the same. The use of 10% recycled paper is a shade up from zero. Aligning with a green charity is another shade forward.

In summary, green branding needs to be defined so a business, with its practices and products, can address identifiable initiatives that connect the brand and its market. These initiatives then must be rolled out in a meaningful and compelling capacity that speaks to the market and the brand to engage and connect. Navigate through the clutter and the buzz for the long-term impact, gain and success.

Michelle Adelson is president of Copia Creative, Santa Monica, Calif.