It turns out that it is easy being green—too easy. As anyone who’s ever visited a supermarket lately has noticed, brands of all stripes have been slapping labels attesting to eco-friendliness on their products, making all manner of green claims and generally touting their membership in Club Green to anyone and everyone within sight. The problem is that overuse and misuse has robbed green of its meaning. Where once it meant planet-friendly (made with recycled materials, organically grown and the like), now it’s very often used to connote sustainability, with its far broader range of issues, ranging from Workers’ Compensation and Fair Trade to social activism. In sum, green can mean virtually anything. And that suggests it will eventually mean absolutely nothing.
What today’s more mindful, savvier and more demanding consumers are seeking are brand partners that have evolved beyond green to something else: clear.
These companies communicate a clear vision and goals, and operate with a clear corporate conscience. Just as household brands are promoting their “free and clear” product attributes (“No dyes or perfumes! No artificial ingredients!”), future-focused corporate brands are working to rid themselves of business impurities. Being clear is not just about letting people see who you really are; it’s also about developing a deep understanding of your business and brand, and determining what and where you intend them to be five, 10, even 20 years down the road.
We’ve been watching this trend developing for some time and believe that “clear” companies of tomorrow will share some key attributes. First among them are well-defined and communicated goals. We’ve all read mission statements that simultaneously promise everything and nothing (“To improve and enhance the lives of those whom we touch,” etc.). But such feel-good, amorphous pledges are simply not enough in an era in which consumers demand transparency and accountability. When U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer announced its “Plan A” sustainability program in 2007, for instance, it didn’t speak in generalities about its high-minded goals; rather, it detailed 100 specific actions and goals the company would work toward over five years, including becoming carbon neutral, reducing energy use in stores 25 percent per square foot and changing over all company cars to diesel or hybrid. Customers can track M&S’s progress through its Web site.
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