Clearly it's good business to be green these days. Environmental stewardship can benefit your company's brand, your workforce's morale, and your bottom line to boot, since customers will pay a premium for green products. However, too many companies rush into 'going green' without giving enough thought to details, strategy, and the bigger picture goals of what they are trying to achieve. Here are the top five mistakes that companies make when trying to go green:
1. Assuming that 'green' is going to cost an arm and a leg
Too many businesses hesitate to consider environmental policies because they assume that the green option is always going to be more expensive than the alternative. While this is true in some cases (renewable energy), there are plenty of examples where making environmentally responsible business decisions can actually save money for your business. Examples of this include going paperless, finding ways to reuse/recycle materials in operations and production, finding green tax breaks, and facilitating green commuting options for your workforce (carsharing, public transit, telecommuting). 'Sustainability' is ultimately about making more efficient use of resources, and cutting waste is not only good for the earth - it is good business. If you are strategic about how you do it, your business can save money by going green.
2. Underestimating your customers' ability to smell B.S.
The biggest gripe I have about companies who try to 'go green' is when they underestimate customers' critical thinking skills and ability to smell B.S. Just because your new product comes in green-colored packaging or uses the word 'eco' or 'organic' in it doesn't make it environmentally responsible, and your customers know this. Expect them to read labels, ask questions about materials, and use the internet and compare your product with competitors. If you don't have anything substantially environmentally responsible to say, don't bother trying to greenwash.(Please take note 'eco' bottled-water companies!)
3. Assuming that beige packaging, the word 'organic' and/or a green leaf logo are what you need
See point #2. Symbolic 'green' gestures are no longer good enough. Every company with a green mission these days tries to flaunt their green credentials with green leaf logos and beige packaging, from greenwashers to the legitimately green. There is now such an onslaught of this empty symbolism that is becoming trite and meaningless. A better business decision is to differentiate your company with a unique brand identity, and take time to convey your mission and green credentials to your customers with labels, packaging and strategic marketing. A great example of a company that gets this is Method. This fun, brightly colored household-cleaning product brand is wedded in the minds of consumers with both style and eco-friendliness -- without ever relying on cliché green leaf logos or beige packaging.
4. Overestimating your customers' time and attention spans
The polar opposite to the above problems is overestimating how much time and energy your customers have to research and understand your green offering. As I mentioned in point #2, your customers are not stupid, but they also have lives and they don't have the time and energy to spend hours analyzing your carbon footprint and your products' lifecycle. If you don't actively market and EXPLAIN your company's legitimate green initiatives - no-one is going to know about them. Don't assume that because your business is doing the right thing, people are just going to naturally find out about it -- you need to tell consumers and market your green initiatives (thoughtfully of course).
5. Thinking that unless you can make everything 100% green and beyond reproach, there is no point in calling attention to your company's green credentials.
This is a problem I am seeing more and more in the marketplace, as customer backlash to 'greenwashing' becomes more rampant. Many companies who have legitimately green products and responsible manufacturing practices are now afraid to call any attention to themselves for fear of being called a 'greenwasher'. What these companies need to understand is that the benefits of touting legitimate eco credentials are far greater than the risk of being called a greenwasher by a few cranks online. Now that anyone can publish anything online, there are always going to be critical people out there with a chip on their shoulder or far too much time on their hands who might attack your company. However, if your green policies are solid, and you are transparent with your communication - detailing green goals, policies and challenges online - supporters will rally to your side, and attacks from internet trolls should easily roll off your company's back. Just be careful to be totally transparent and not make false claims about your product, as this could really jeopardize consumer goodwill and come back to haunt your business. (An example of this is when aluminum bottle manufacturer Sigg let it leak that their bottles had BPA in them - 3 years after they started marketing their bottles as BPA-free).