Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Business in a post-green world

by Marc Stoiber


A few months ago, Joel Makower of GreenBiz wrote an eye-opening article. He observed that with few exceptions, green brands had failed to capture more than a sliver of their markets.

The piece was thought-provoking, with a clarion call to rethink the way we position brands with strong sustainability credentials.

The subject deserves more analysis than an 800 word story can provide. So instead, I’ll touch on a few reasons behind consumer rejection of ‘green marketing as we know it’, and offer some thoughts on how we could build more resilient, successful green brands in the future.

Six good reasons to reject green

In 2011, OgilvyEarth released a study titled Mainstream Green. The research revealed that 82% of North American consumers had ‘good green intentions’, but only 16% acted on those intentions. Why? (

They feel guilty. Using green products implied making sacrifices in things like efficacy and price.  Buy a green cleaner, for example, and you feel bad about perhaps leaving the counters not-quite-so-clean.

It isn’t easy being green. Green = celebrity wannabe or crunchy granola hippie. Regardless of the moniker, making green choices means being labeled by your mainstream friends.

Green is the new pink. Half the population is male, and they think green is girly. Sure, green products used to tip the scales much more toward feminine (organics and spa products, for example). But today, green is energy, cars and lumber. Unfortunately, old impressions die hard.

Green costs. In some cases, it does cost more to make something green. But in a lot of cases it doesn’t. But similar to green being called ‘girly’, old perceptions die hard.

Green is confusing. When I got into green business, nobody could agree what the movement should be called: green, CSR, sustainable, and the list goes on. Sustainability may be a complicated, systemic issue, but our tendency to overcomplicate things like green certifications does the movement no favors.

Green suspicion. Why do more people buy Clorox Greenworks over Seventh Generation? Because they trust Clorox to get the job done. Mainstream consumers have a soft spot for mainstream companies. These are the companies who need to engage on the brand level.

Those are just a few of the reasons cited by OgilvyEarth for mainstream consumer reticence toward green. But is there a solution?

Futureproof brands

I believe we have to stop thinking about sustainability, and start thinking about futureproof brands.

Futureproof brands are brands that are resilient, that can thrive in a chaotic world. They’re brands that can weather storms created by sustainability issues (diminishing resources and punitive environmental legislation, for example). But they are also built for a world of cultural mashups, and a rapidly morphing communications landscape.

The following five pillars of futureproof brands may help us rethink our perspective on green for the mainstream.

Sustainability. Sustainability does make business sense. Unfortunately, as we see above, mainstream America isn’t buying it.

Smart brands like Nike believe the solution is to incorporate sustainability into every business decision, but not into the brand. That way, the promise of athletic performance is never diluted, but the company is positioned to perform more efficiently and sustainably.

Innovation. Many companies are ill-equipped to produce a steady stream of innovation. Most approach it haphazardly…a few pet projects in the pipeline, and little to no system for creating a steady stream of new products, services and business models.

For a brand to be futureproof, it must have an innovation plan that not only encompasses short term cosmetic changes, but longer term shifts that will line up with consumer needs 5, 10, 20 years from now.

Design. More than ever before, cultures are mixing and ethnic groups intermingling. English is not the de facto first language, America is not the sole generator of popular culture, and ideas do not flow in one direction from developed to developing markets.

In this cultural cacophony, what do all of us understand? Design.
Good design creates a visceral reaction in people. It conveys beauty while aiding function. It generates
feelings of wonder and drives desire.

Is your product well designed? Give it to a child or to someone who doesn’t speak your language, and see if they can understand how to use it. Even better, see if using it puts a smile on their face.

Perennial insights. Great brands are driven by great consumer insights.

It pays to hold up your key insights to scrutiny, and brainstorm on their relevance in the future. At worst, this exercise might provide you with the alarming news that people won’t need your product forever. At best, it will get you thinking with broader scope, and answering briefs that allow far greater innovation.

Social Interaction. I cut my teeth in an advertising world where brands were displayed in metaphoric show windows – consumers were only allowed to see them in their best light, and there was no interaction allowed.

Today, brands, and companies, are like fishbowls. Consumers can look at them from every angle, even stick their hand in and slosh around the water. There are no boundaries.

We all tend to think of social interaction as synonymous with social media. As a new technology. That’s missing the point.

The point is, people are getting involved. Communication is a two way street. We’re not creating communication campaigns, but movements. Can your brand embrace that?

And Your Brand?

Is your business ready for a post green world?

Here’s a good place to start looking for the answer. I call it getting outside the jar.

Once you’ve been at a company for more than 6 months, or working on a problem for more than that time, you’re inside the jar. The world looks normal, but you can’t see the most obvious things. Like the writing on the label.

The result? You end up going along the same old path, with the same old results

That won’t work if you’re trying to find your way in the post-green world. Because we need new ideas.

So I would challenge you to find someone, or a team of people, who can help you think outside the jar about where your company is going.

Get these people to study your company, or brand. And get their candid opinions on where it’s is going.
95% of what they say may not be relevant or useful. But I can guarantee you it will be surprising. And a few of their points may start your brand down the right path to future success.
Marc Stoiber is a creative director, entrepreneur, green brand specialist and writer. He works with clients to build resilient, futureproof brands.

Marc's leadership positions have included VP of Green Innovation at Maddock Douglas, President and Founder of Change Advertising, National Creative Director of Grey Canada and Creative Director of DDB Toronto.

He has helped two ad agencies rise from obscurity to market prominence, and his work has been recognized by virtually every international industry award for advertising and design.

Marc writes on brand innovation for Huffington Post, Fast Company, GreenBiz and Sustainable Life Media. He also speaks on the subject from coast to coast, and has been featured at TED. He can be reached at marc(at)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Launching and Supporting a Green Team

Every spring, eBay hosts an innovation expo that inspires its employees to come up with innovative ideas to benefit its users. In September of 2010, eBay announced the winner was a powerful idea called “simple green shipping.” This eBay-branded box reduced the environmental impact of the eBay marketplace because it was reusable and composed of 100% recycled content. The eBay Green Team was so enamored by the idea, they worked to make it successful world-wide. 100,000 boxes were sent to 100,000 people and eBay found that if each box was used 5 times, they would save 4,000 trees, 2.4 million gallons of water, and over 293 thousand watts of energy. EBay’s customers loved it too because it saved them money while saving trees. The commercial success of the box can be attributed to the efforts of the Green Team. This story has inspired us at Angelpoints to explore and think intuitively about the importance of Green Teams.

Typically, Green Teams consists of a voluntary group of employees that are dedicated to supporting waste reduction, recycling, and responsible purchasing of items such as light bulbs and paper. In the eBay example, a Green Team tested a sustainable innovative product design. Whatever your goals, here are some important steps to consider when establishing a Green Team at your company.

How do You Build a Successful Green Team Within an Organization?

· Strong Executive Support - The company must believe in the ideas that the Green Team puts forth, take it seriously and initiate it in a proper manner. The executive support validates the importance of team work within the organization and helps to prioritize and remove obstacles.

· Align Green Team Goals With Sustainability Goals of Company - This is significant because Green Teams won’t receive support if they are taking their goals in a different direction then the company’s goals.

· Foster Diversity Amongst Team Members – Choose representatives from different business units, department levels and cultures in order to provide varied perspectives and insights along with new ideas. Having management, administrative assistants, with IT and housekeeping as team members can give everyone the ability to contribute and become unique assets.

· Keep Teams Fresh - Move around positions of leadership among different people to create new opportunities for leaders and ideas.

Source: Webinar Powerpoint Slide #14 (Password: greenteam)

How do You Make Sure That Launching The Green Team Goes Smoothly?

· Appoint One or Two Team Leaders –Leaders should be committed to the program so they can manage the Green Team, oversee programs, and act as a liaison between management, maintenance staff, employees, and recycling vendors.

· Hold Meetings Consistently (Every Two Weeks Seems to Work Great) – The meeting should help to set up a basic program and discuss how to best implement this program. The team should make decisions and split up tasks.

· Come up with Project Ideas as a Team - The team should then come up with project ideas that can range from deciding what exactly to recycle, to deciding whether solar panels would be a worthy investment for the company.

· Create systems For Measuring And Tracking Initiatives - Technology and software tools are available today to help keep track of your progress and prove the worth of investment resources (i.e.

Benefits of The Green Team

Green Teams can have a profound effect in an organization, and for the planet. Shoshannah Lenski, from the Boston Consultancy office, found that 75% of surveyed employees thought that becoming environmentally conscious within a company was significant to morale, talent retention, and recruiting. This means that employee retention and engagement goes up by merely becoming greener! It also is critical in professional development. Clorox’s Suzanne Henricksen said her experience in managing a workplace change project was instrumental to her development of leadership skills.

The most evident benefit in establishing a Green Team comes from the reduction of costs and the environmental impact. Becoming efficient and sustainable pays off in the long run, because it saves energy and conserves resources. Betsy Hansen, a Senior Marketing Manager at Sun Microsystems, decided to eliminate one printed direct mail piece, which saved the company 4.63 tons of paper along with thousands of dollars. This can lead to an enhancement of brand reputation and profitability because consumers are more willing to buy from a company that shares similar values as them. In eBay’s case, the work of their Green Team led to product innovation and increased customer satisfaction.

Source: Webinar Powerpoint Slide #7 (Password: greenteam)


A Green Team is an excellent resource to gain a step ahead of the competition for companies moving towards sustainability. Employees will be willing to volunteer their time to move towards a greener company the majority of the time as long as the executives seem like they are encouraging it, and thus management should push the concept. If an organization uses these tips as guides to initiate and run the Green Team, the company may see very positive changes towards creating a green future.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Adding 3D to Tech Innovation

Just got back from Fortune Brainstorm Tech, a gathering of innovators from all walks of technology, hosted at the stunning Aspen Institute. A super event put on by a great team at Fortune Magazine. I felt lucky to be among the speakers.

Tossed together were investors, large-company executives and start-up entrepreneurs, all in search of the best technology ideas. I can't capture it all here. We talked gaming, gadgets, security, social, mobile, media, clouds, commerce, and much more. Here are three new companies that stood out for me and epitomized the spirit of innovation I found there:

1. Sound Cloud - youtube for sounds.
2. Clever Sense - pandora for everything except music
3. Lytro - a camera that lets you take a shot and then, with ease, re-focus any part of the shot and create 3-D perspective. You could hear the "ooohs" and "ahhhs" during that demo.

On the final evening, two beers into a reception surrounded by blue-maroon peaks and lavender, our host greeted us with what felt something like a challenge. "You are change agents," she said. "You have the unique ability to change the world." Standing there at the height of dusk, shoulder to shoulder with some of the brightest entrepreneurs on the planet, it was hard not to feel like the possibilities were endless.

But here lies the rub. During two full days of seeing the coolest apps, games and devices under the sun, I can't recall one panel discussion or demo focused on this goal. I kept waiting for it. Instead, there was this recurring theme, playing over and over again: "we make the coolest stuff, which will make a ton of money, which we'll use to make cooler stuff that will beat our competitors, which will make us even more money." Coolness and riches reverberated through the hills like the sound of music. It was fun and addictive, but it was, in a sense, just hurling pigs at birds.

I found myself wanting more. Couldn't PhDs who had locked themselves in rooms for two years dreaming up ideas come up with ones that would inspire us and make the world better while making bundles of cash? The answer had to be "yes."

"Hey," I said to the CTO of Clever Sense, "what about using your app to serve up causes that match peoples' tastes as seamlessly as Pandora serves up their favorite tunes?" "We could do that," he said with genuine interest. To the hip, boyish founder of Sound Cloud I asked, "Could you guys crowd-source every bird call and capture the voices of refugees?" "Yes!" he declared, a grin revealing every one of his teeth.

These were change makers to be sure, and yet the whole conference seemed stuck in a two-dimensional world of coolness and wealth, when it could have achieved 3D vibrancy simply by adding the dimension of social consciousness. (In this regard, Katzenberg was both there and not there.) Fusing strong business models with strong social missions is one of the most important innovations in business today and companies young and old must explore this dimension if they hope to become and stay great.

Next year, I would like to lead a panel of three innovators who use their technology to address social issues that they are uniquely positioned to address. The questions I will ask are: 1) what issue(s) are you addressing? 2) how do you measure your social impact? and 3) how does your social mission affect your brand and your culture? I expect it will be a lively and inspiring conversation. I cannot wait.