Make Your Green Marketing Green

How a New T-shirt Helped One Company Become More Sustainable

By Published on .

Mark Elis
Mark Elis
Although people use the words "green" and "sustainable" interchangeably, there is a difference.

Green sounds simple and generally means reducing environmental damage. But it often overlooks the supply chain, where more attention is given to the price of materials than to their environmental or human consequences. Sustainability is a complete system of making sure all the resources used to benefit the current generation will not harm future generations.

Simply put, if green is an adjustment, sustainability is an overhaul.

This distinction matters when companies spend time and millions of dollars to become more sustainable, then tell it to the world through print and digital media. Communicating these policies has become a multibillion-dollar marketing endeavor—one with many unsustainable practices.

At the same time, the scrutiny given to these practices by socially responsible consumers, journalists and opinion leaders can challenge reputations. Like your parents told you, it's not just what you say but how you say it.

ECO360 Trust, a campaign of the nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Communication, helped Earth Color, a nationally recognized green printing company, put more of its sustainability beliefs into action by focusing on the way it communicated those beliefs.

EarthColor is known for clean technology and green initiatives. As one of the largest commercial printers of promotional items for major corporations, it is also one of the biggest buyers of renewable energy in the printing industry. It has won awards for environmental achievements in green chemistry, managed forestry, water conservation and waste management.

EarthColor t-shirt
EarthColor t-shirt
However, EarthColor was using cotton T-shirts to promote its initiatives with its employees, vendors and others. Conventional cotton uses about 25% of the world's chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and leads to almost 20% of industrial water pollution. To communicate its sustainability message in a more sustainable way, EarthColor teamed up with the Institute for Sustainable Communication and ECO360 Trust.

ECO360 Trust produces sustainable T-shirts that are made with 100% recycled PET plastic water bottles. The "e360t" shirts reduce the amount of garbage going into landfills and conserve eight gallons of water per shirt. The shirts are customized with digital printing and sewn by labor in the U.S.

All net proceeds pay for college scholarships for low-income students. The fundraising efforts of ECO360 Trust are part of the education program of ISC, whose main role is advising companies and nonprofits on sustainable business practices, especially as they apply to the use of print and digital media.

In a creative twist, EarthColor donated to ISC and received brightly colored durable recycled T-shirts for its staff and promotional uses. However, instead of submitting its own T-shirt designs, EarthColor enlisted ISC's student interns to design the shirts, from which EarthColor's employees selected their favorites. The results can be seen here:

EarthColor employees wear the shirts for casual or recreational use while promoting their brand. More important, the e360t shirts became a vehicle for employee engagement, corporate credibility, hands-on training for the students and some eye-catching promotional materials. They also provided some fun content on Twitter, Facebook and other social media generated by both EarthColor and ECO360 Trust.

The main message is that if your company is going to communicate its green or sustainable initiatives, it is more powerful and believable to do it in a sustainable way. There are plenty of ways to make it enjoyable and memorable while also keeping it real.

Mark Elis is director of development for ECO360 Trust, a campaign of the nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Communication.
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