Authentic Organizations Turn Green from The Inside Out

by cv harquail on February 4, 2009

How does an Authentic Organization create green products?


In her advice to organizations that want to reposition their corporate brands as “eco-friendly”, Susan Gunelius of Corporate Eye argues that organizations need to start being green before they claim to be green. As Gunelius explains:

Your customers aren’t going to believe messages claiming your (corporate) brand is green if your employees don’t even recycle.

An organization can’t gain a competitive advantage by being green unless it starts first with green behaviors inside, and moves only later to making claims of eco-friendliness to the outside. Just like pears, authentically green organizations ripen from the inside out.

Obviously, an organization can’t effectively claim to be anything that it does not support with its internal action. But this link between internal action and external claims hold true not just with claims about the organization’s brand, but also with claims about the organization’s products.

What’s true about your eco-friendly corporate brand is also true about your eco-friendly product brand.

Only green organizations can grow authentically green products. Customers will not and should not believe claims that your product’s brand is green if your organization itself is not at least trying to be (more) eco-friendly.

Why would stakeholders look to your organization to substantiate eco-friendly claims about your organization’s products? Since when does the attribute of an organization’s product depend on the behaviors of the organization’s members? Said another way, when I’m wondering whether to believe that Tide really will get all the dirt out of my kids’ clothes, would I even think about how clean the offices are at Procter & Gamble? Then, why would I need to know something about the organization before I can believe in the eco-friendliness of the product?

Green claims and eco-friendly claims are not like other types of product/ brand claims.

Most brand claims have to do with either a product performance attribute (e.g., gets the dirt out) or some recognizably fictional attribute (e.g., unleashes your real beauty ). Consumers can confirm and authenticate performance-based attributes simply by putting the product to use. With fictional attributes, consumers don’t even there to be any basis in fact. We understand that these claims exist exist in our minds, and we don’t expect to authenticate these claims.

Eco-friendly claims are different, because they have a different authenticating process.

When we want to authenticate claims of eco-friendliness, we can’t consider only how the product performs. Instead, eco-friendly claims must be authenticated through:

  1. the processes that the organization uses to produce the product, and
  2. the behaviors of the organization itself.

From the power source for the manufacturing plant all the way down to whether the employees use recycled paper, the organization’s systems must also be eco-friendlier.

revolutionary girl pear Organizations promoting eco-friendly products need to go green from the inside out for another reason — to protect their integrity as organizations.

When organizations are found to have made false claims about their products, they damage their reputations and their perceived trustworthiness. The damage occurs in three steps:

  • First, organizational stakeholders get angry at the organization for having been mislead.
  • Second, once stakeholders’ ability to trust claims about your products has been damaged, they are likely to distrust the organization’s future claims- about anything.
  • Finally, stakeholders raise their standard of evidence and become even harder to convince the next time.

Claiming to have eco-friendly products is a high stakes marketing strategy, because with eco-friendly claims, the authenticity of the product rests on the authenticity of the organization.

Unless the organization has gone green from the inside out, the whole package goes bad.

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