Power Players' Lounge: What is your green story?

What is green messaging? In a nutshell, it's how we tell an environmental story to our audience. But as the green movement grows, consumers are being bombarded by vague and confusing green messaging and we are losing their trust.
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In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).

"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors."

To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry. Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times.

We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.

Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.

This column was written by Beaver Theodosakis, co-founder of Prana. (beaver@prana.com).

What is green messaging? In a nutshell, it's how we tell an environmental story to our audience.

For the most part, the outdoor industry has long been a leader when it comes to green initiatives. In the past three to four years, being green has become considered an almost necessary element in defining the brand/value equation. As a result, as brands, vendors and retailers, we have forever woven environmentally sustainable and green business practices into the fabric of our industry culture.

However, with this growing green movement and the marketers desire to be unique, we are now in danger of confusing our audience. We loosely use words like eco-friendly, sustainable, organic, recycled, recyclable, renewable, environmentally friendly, carbon footprint, etc.

Consumers don't know what to believe and "green fatigue" is now happening. Meaning, consumers are getting tired of being bombarded by vague and confusing green messaging and we are losing their trust.

Since the outdoor industry is a leader in sustainable business practices, it's our responsibility to bring clarity to the way we talk about our environmental commitment.

The Outdoor Industry Association's Eco Working Group has made great strides in developing a consistent language and measuring metrics to help us (raw material manufacturers, product manufacturers, brands, retailers, consumers and the media) understand it all and build consistency into our messaging to consumers. More information on the OIA Eco Working Group can be found by clicking here.

The critical link between what the industry offers and the consumer is the retailer. The educated outdoor specialty retailer has an opportunity to yield a mountain of influence on the purchasing decisions of customers looking for sustainable products. Not all products in our industry claim to have a green agenda. Consumers must rely on the outdoor retailer's knowledge of what they are selling. Yes, consumers are using the web more to do research about the environmental soundness of certain products, what specific brands are claiming and also the reputation (or perceived reputation) of a company. But ultimately, a retailer with a solid knowledge base on sustainable products can become a strong resource to customers.

So, how do we market "green" in a credible and effective way?

First of all, this idea must be authentic to the organization and the people throughout the organization. If you are just going to put on a front in hopes of attracting green-minded customers -- don't do it! You will eventually get busted for greenwashing and it will ruin the reputation of your company and hurt the reputations of other companies that are truly being green with integrity. If you can honestly build the idea of sustainability into your company, then by all means please do. Keep it simple, approachable and believable.

1) Be transparent: Transparency about your approach to sustainability from the inside out of your company is critical. No company is perfect -- be honest about your goals and your progress toward them.

2) Craft the message: Use your entrepreneurial spirit and honest environmental commitment to create a real message that resonates with your consumers. Vehicles to tell your story could include print, web, video, blogs, word of mouth, social media, window displays and point-of-sale materials. Don't be preachy about it and don't tell the "doom and gloom" story -- it's a turn off. Instead, inspire people by your actions. SHOW, DON'T TELL how your company has adopted the idea of sustainability.

3) Green products still need to be innovative: When selling a specific product, focus on the primary benefits of the product -- sell innovative, high-quality products that look good, fit well and perform. A small percentage of consumers buy products for their green attributes only, so don't make it the headline.

4) Help the consumer understand: Consumers have to feel like they are making a difference by purchasing a green product. They must be aware of, and concerned about, the issues that the product claims to address. Storyboards titled, "Why organic cotton" or "Where this recycled content comes from," could add perspective and value to a green product.

5) Watch the price value equation of "green" products: If you are charging more for a green product, the consumer has to feel that it's worth it. We have found at Prana that if a green product is more than 15 percent higher than a comparable non-green product, we see the sales drop off.

The last point is the crux of the situation. As an industry, we have not given consumers a compelling reason to spend more to buy green. It doesn't matter how many new green fabric innovations come out or how creative we get with our manufacturing footprint -- in the end, it's the consumer's decision. As an industry, we have some work to do here. We can only push so much -- we have to create a pull strategy so consumer demand catches up with supply. The ball is in the court of the marketers and the people on the front lines who have the direct relationship with the consumer. We have to tell them why it costs more and the reason must resonate with their core values and beliefs.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to telling a "green" story. Each company that ventures down this road will do it in its own unique way -- big or small, fast or slow. Make it real, honest and transparent, and your business will prosper with this growing conscious consumer. Most importantly, it is my belief that personal fulfillment will come to you for doing the right thing and spreading this important message with integrity.

We have made this article public access, to ensure all may be able to read it. If you like what you are reading, and want to be able to fully participate in the discussions and view articles and expert corner columns in our archives, you'll need your own SNEWS® subscription, which we've made really easy – the SNEWS Freebie. Click hereto activate your own SNEWS access today and become part of the strongest and most interactive outdoor and fitness industry community on the web today.

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