Going Green: How A Simple Transparency Tool Can Make Businesses And Consumers Put Their Money Where Their Mouth Is
If you’re reading this, chances are you buy a brand that supports a good cause at least once a month. Nearly half of global consumers do, a 47 percent increase from 2010.
“Not only are consumers making purchase decisions with Purpose [sic] top of mind, they are also buying and advocating for purposeful brands,” says the 2012 Edelman goodpurpose® Study.
The study found: “72% of consumers would recommend a brand that supports a good cause over one that doesn’t; a 39% increase since 2008. 71% of consumers would help a brand promote their products or services if there is a good cause behind them; a growth of 34% since 2008. 73% of consumers would switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause; a 9% increase since 2009.
High five, guys.
But the truth is, while we all would prefer to buy green products and buy them from greener companies, all things equal, it’s hard to know which “purposeful brands” are really getting the job done. As consumers, we don’t have enough knowledge readily available to us to make meaningful choices. So, we’re skeptical and, at times, confused.
“Right now, the ambiguity is preventing progress because everybody can talk about ‘going green,’ but no one really knows what anyone is doing specifically,” said Mitch Hedlund, founder of Recycle Across America, Eco-Profiles.org, and Environmental Advancement Foundation. “That makes it easy for some companies to not do much.”
Hedlund is an Ashoka Fellow who won a patent last year—with pro bono help from the intellectual property division at the William Mitchell College of Law in the Twin Cities—for Eco-Profiles, her project that was created to resolve this issue of green ambiguity.
The Eco-Profiles solution is a simple tool for transparency. “It will never just be an icon,” Hedlund said. “Consumers don’t need another icon, so it will always have a list of actions that a company is taking.”
“All of a sudden, when companies are more transparent, and that information becomes easily available and in one consistent format, consumers can make smarter decisions about which brands and products to support. And, subsequently, that puts a lot of pressure on environmentally inactive corporations and businesses to make a change. It makes going green competitive.”
An Eco-Profile can show up just about anywhere: on a company’s website, on a social media page, on a storefront window, and even on packaging. Wild Harvest Organic Foods, a brand owned by American retail giant SuperValu, Inc., has committed to publishing their Eco-Profile for the public to see. They have experimented with printing their profile on the packaging of some products. The bullet-point list of actions has appeared opposite the nutrient content of, say, a box of cheddar cheese crackers. In essence, the Eco-Profile could act as a nutrition facts label for planet Earth.
Eco-Profiles can inform consumers about what percentage of a Fortune 500 company’s waste is recycled, whether a restaurant uses low-flow toilets, whether a pizza joint uses hybrid transportation for delivery cars, whether an office building is LEED-certified, or whether the coffee shop down the street buys fair-trade products.
“Companies can share literally everything they’re doing environmentally,” Hedlund said. “This transparency tool is a gift from businesses to consumers, in a way.”
Individuals can create Eco-Profiles of their own. Oprah Winfrey, for example, could create an Eco-Profile to announce that her $85 million Montecito, California, mansion had insulated windows installed to save energy. Oprah could challenge her millions of followers to create a profile themselves, share how they’re going green, and she could track her influence online.
“Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook all have calculators on them, that’s what makes them sticky,” Hedlund said. “If there weren’t a ticker that showed followers, Oprah would likely have never tweeted. So, we installed a calculator on Eco-Profiles showing how many people, or businesses, she could inspire to be more green and create Eco-Profiles themselves. With this, she could be a hero for making green and transparency go viral.”
Here’s why an innovation like Eco-Profiles is really exciting. Seven out of ten people say they would switch brand loyalty to a company that is fighting for a social cause, and promote brands that “do good.” If even one out of every ten consumers followed through, that would mean a huge shift in market share to a company’s greener competitors.
Take note, CEOs: 50 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for goods and services from companies that have implemented programs that give back, according to The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility. Almost as many, 43 percent, claim they actually have paid more.
“I wholeheartedly believe that if a majority of consumers, the public, lean towards giving money to companies that are truly doing good business, and are being more transparent, that will force others to change,” Hedlund said. “Then we’ll begin to see real, systemic change.”
She’s right. Consumers—and we’re all consumers—do have the power to influence the way the world does business. Change will happen when consumers demand that the companies they buy from mix in a little green where the bottom-line has always been about red or black.
Change will happen when companies can’t afford not to.
Go to www.eco-profiles.com to show the world what you’re doing environmentally.
Calling all young sustainability entrepreneurs! Unilever and Ashoka Changemakers are looking for the next generation of leaders. Do you have an inspiring solution? Enter it today at changemakers.com/sustLiving.
Follow John Converse Townsend on Twitter at @JohnCTownsend.