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Are Green Brands a Thing of the Past?

Today, we’re witnessing an explosion of green brands. But will supermarkets soon be full of products loudly proclaiming their sustainability? Or is sustainability destined to become a soft-spoken part of brand credentials?

We are witnessing an explosion of green products onto the
North American market. By some measures, launches tripled between 2008 and
2009, and show no sign of slowing down.

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True, of late there’s been consumer fatigue in green
sales. But this seems to be a natural reaction to the number of products flooding
the market, and a symptom of the ongoing recession. It certainly hasn’t put a
damper on the pace of green products being launched.

The inevitable conclusion would seem to be supermarkets
glowing green with brands espousing sustainable, organic, or fair trade
credentials. But there are signs this scenario could be off the mark.

Shhhh, it’s green

Nike is arguably one of the greenest consumer brands in
the world. The company itself just won a gigaton award for carbon reductions at
the Cancun climate talks. And shoes like the Air Jordan have been celebrated for their green
innovation. But you won’t find a green logo on the shoe.

Nike believes sustainability is simply a new criteria to
be applied to all its designs.
Technical merit and athletic performance are the company’s calling cards —
green is simply baked in as part of the package.

This isn’t an isolated case. In conversation with
Christine Kennedy, Sustainability Manager at Unilever, I asked about the brand
ramifications of Unilever’s ground-breaking Sustainable Living Plan.

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Kennedy said that sustainability is part of the entire
company’s agenda; all brands and countries are working on sustainability goals.
But green is not a marketing strategy, or a platform. Much like Nike, green
credentials will be built into Unilever products without fanfare.

Kennedy underlined that Unilever products are used by two
billion people a day, and those people want efficacy and value first. In short,
they need a brand that promises to work for them, before it promises to work
for the world.

Henry Demone, CEO of High Liner Foods, echoed Kennedy’s
sentiments.

His company, like Unilever, has made the news with an
ambitious sustainability program. High Liner’s plans include purchasing only
from sustainable and responsible sources by 2013.

But Demone believes green branding is going to be less
and less of a differentiator in products. In fact, in a few years ” … it will be
like quality control or hygiene–something buyers and consumers simply come to
expect.”

Like Unilever, High Liner is not launching a green brand
line. Instead, Demone’s vision is to have his company stand and be counted for
quality. Part of that quality, alongside taste, safety and value, will be
sustainability.

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What to learn from the leaders?

Is your company developing its green brand? Are you
looking for signs of what the future might hold?

If so, remember these pointers:

1. The future is a pipeline. We counsel clients to think
of innovation as a continuum.
In the short term, existing products can evolve to meet current consumer needs.
In the long term, however, clients need to consider entirely new products to
stay relevant and fresh. Given this, evolving your brand message to encompass
new green credentials may make sense today. But it will lose its competitive
advantage in the future.

2. A successful innovation needs to start with a strong
consumer need.

That need has to include both friction (“I want something, but can’t get it.”)
and universality (“A million of us need the same thing.”) As Christine Kennedy
of Unilever pointed out, two billion Unilever customers want personal products
that perform in terms of efficacy and value. That need surpasses their need for
products that work for the environment. That doesn’t mean sustainability is off
the agenda. But it shouldn’t be the lead claim on the packaging.

[Photo by WallyG on Flickr]

About the author

Marc Stoiber is a creative director, entrepreneur, green brand specialist and writer. He works with clients to build resilient, futureproof brands.

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