From Fad to Reality: The Evolution of “Green” Brands

“Go Green”. A slogan that once represented a trend today represents a lifestyle. What started as a minor effort to adopt environmentally friendly habits has grown into people being conscious global citizens, who are increasingly contributing to a green planet. Amidst their personal efforts, people have also turned to leading global brands with just one (but by no means small) expectation: how to lead the way towards sustainable development.

What triggered this change? Quite simply, people have realised that to undo present day environmental trials – global warming, pollution and contamination, resource scarcity – to name a few, efforts are required beyond the individual level and more on an organisational level: efforts that have the ability to reach wider scales.

Being a “green” brand is no longer a differentiator; it is an expected standard.

While it sounds pretty simple, let’s retrace some of the past “green” endeavours by companies and understand how people’s expectations have grown threefold from these. Previously, it was common to see brands endorse eco-friendly community initiatives – usually on a local basis, use recyclable materials, donate funds to environment groups etc. Now, brands need to do MUCH more – from undertaking sustainability efforts at the PRODUCT level, brands have to undertake efforts at the PROCESS level i.e. at every stage, companies are reconsidering procedures, and wherever possible are switching to sustainable energy solutions to minimize waste and environmental impact.

If we look at hybrid cars as an example, we know that these are not a recent phenomenon, but looking at InterBrand’s 2013 Best Global Green Brands, we see Toyota, Ford and Honda leading in the first 3 spots; with their hybrid brands contributing greatly to their rankings. Whether it’s launching more hybrid cars, moving to greater fuel-efficient engines, finding means to sustainably dispose waste, each company is investing heavily in R&D to manufacture even more efficient, clean-emission cars and to reduce their operational impact on the environment. In the tech sector, brands such as Dell, Cisco, and HP lead the way towards greener processes and outcomes. From incorporating a vision of  “creating a sustainable environment” in their overall business strategy, to reducing their energy consumption, from improving product design to green packaging, tech brands are taking numerous measures to reduce their carbon footprint. The FMCG and retail industries are also joining the ranks of green companies, with brands being compelled to think of their supply chains. Are raw materials being sourced properly? Is labor being treated fairly? Are materials being transported in the most eco-friendly manner? These are consumer questions that cannot be overlooked anymore.

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While it may seem that undertaking sustainable practices are additional expenses, these efforts have also led to profit-making opportunities for companies. Compelled to think of green alternatives, many companies have developed innovative solutions that have helped cut costs. For example, with packaging being an integral part of its supply chain, Dell is piloting a mushroom-derived product as a packaging material for its servers. The product looks and functions like Styrofoam, but it is organic, biodegradable, and compostable. The material makes for more environmentally friendly disposal, but is also durable and strong. Such packaging alternatives not only help to reduce carbon footprints but can also contribute to substantial savings.

In a market where consumers are educated, conscious individuals, it is increasingly important for companies to avoid one of the most common branding mistake – OVER PROMISING. More often than not, consumers can identify the gap between what’s promised and what’s delivered; a concern that becomes even greater in social causes like environmental conservation – to the extent that a term has actually been coined for such false promises – “Green Washing”. Companies are accused of green washing when they attempt to conceal their real motive of profit making under false pretenses of genuine concern/corporate social responsibility.

In order to maintain customer loyalty, global brands must remain true to their sustainability efforts and make sincere and genuine strides towards practicing what they preach.



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