This piece was originally published on Marc Stoiber's blog. It was co-written by Brad Bate, Senior Analyst at GreenOrder, and Stephen Linaweaver.

This piece also ran in Sustainable Brands, and Fast Company's Co.Exist blog.

Perception vs. reality has always been a major source of tension for brands. And sustainability, once heralded as the next big brand advantage, has only made things worse.

It’s simple, really. If you promise people your soap will make them smell nice and it doesn’t, they’ll get over it. If you falsely promise your soap doesn’t have palm oil from orangutan-displacing plantations, people aren’t nearly as forgiving.

Brands like Patagonia provide shining examples of what can happen when you effectively align perception and reality. Their values, their brand, and their actions all convey the same sustainability message. Using this trifecta to engage more deeply with customers may have contributed to the fact that, during the worst of the recession, their sales continued to climb.

But the Patagonias of the world are few and far between.

This point is illustrated by studies like MapChange and the Sustainability Leadership Report.

This article was written by Jill Bunting, Analyst at GreenOrder and Devraj Banerjee, Associate at GreenOrder.

Supply chain sustainability is a key part of a company’s overall environmental innovation journey. Due to mounting stakeholder pressure and competitive forces, companies increasingly need to address environmental concerns like emissions, waste and water – as well as social priorities like the right to organize, slavery, and diversity in their supply chain. Advances in technology, the rise of social media, and the rigor of lifecycle analysis have made it easier and more important than ever before for companies to understand the environmental and social performance of supply chains – and communicate about it effectively.

But marketing progress towards supply chain sustainability represents an additional challenge beyond making supply chains more sustainable.  And it means a lot more than just advertising. Getting supply chain marketing right requires applying general green marketing best practices to the circumstances unique to your company and supply chain. While a nuanced approach is critical, there are some clear “dos” and “don’ts” that form the guardrails for effective supply chain marketing.

A winning supply chain marketing approach starts with making genuine progress improving a supply chain. This is the foundation of authentic supply chain communications. Your chosen approach to improving your supply chain will depend on where you currently are in the environmental innovation journey, what your overall sustainability goals are, and how you can effectively engage your suppliers.

Once you are ready to communicate real progress, you’ll want to ask yourself some important questions and follow some basic guidelines.

This piece is also featured on GreenBiz

Last week, Interbrand released its inaugural list of the Best Global Green Brands of 2011 following Newsweek by a couple of years.  The methodology splits out each company’s actual environmental performance as determined by a Deloitte analysis of publicly available Thomson Reuters ASSET4 data and Interbrand’s own analysis of public perception of each brand.  According to the study, companies like L’Oreal, Nokia, and HSBC are doing much more than they get public credit for, while for others like McDonald’s, GE, and Coca Cola the reverse is true.

Whether one is an executive, investor, or consumer, what are the implications of the gap?

By Michael Ellis

Last month, Joel Makower, executive editor of the GreenBiz Group, wrote that green marketing is over.  His conclusions, similar to those of a recent study by OgilvyEarth, ignited impassioned commentary among green consultants and marketers. 

But it hasn’t gotten broader attention--which may be a good thing, since Joel’s argument is easy to misinterpret.  Indeed, as Joel importantly points out, marketing green is thriving in many ways and evolving rapidly; just a narrow slice of the practice is fading away.

While Joel doesn’t directly define green marketing in the piece, his implicit definition is narrow.  “Green marketing… is aimed at getting people to buy stuff that is better for the environment,” he writes.  It focuses on a “more just and sustainable world;” any marketing that focuses on non-environmental aspects of a product (e.g., hybrid cars’ convenience) isn’t “green marketing”.  Furthermore, Joel points out that “the business-to-business landscape is wholly different.  A wide range of things companies buy… are being marketed effectively for their environmental attributes.”

The FTC’s long overdue update of the Green Guides announced last week will help protect consumers from vague green marketing claims.  Among other proposed changes, summarized by the FTC here, the Guides will bar unqualified claims of “green” and “eco-friendly,” further clarify how companies can use “compostable” and “recyclable,” and require specifying what attributes of a product an eco-label applies to. 

There are shortcomings in the proposed revisions. For example, they do not offer guidance on claims involving a product’s life cycle or hidden tradeoffs (e.g., a product that saves consumers 50 gallons of water but consumes 5,000 to produce). They also don’t address claims relating to Cradle to Cradle design or green chemistry, as Joel Makower points out.

Share American: Finding that Freecycle Feeling

Posted by: Stephen Linaweaver  /  September 22, 2010 / in Green Marketing and Branding

(co-authored with Rupesh Shaw, Intuit)

When Deron Beal, executive director and founder of Freecycle, first started down this path seven years ago, he thought that the joy of getting stuff for free would drive the growth of the community. What he found is that the emotional satisfaction, the feeling of giving something you have but don't need to someone who really wants it, kept bringing people back.

Feelings create loyalty, drive behavior and will enable “Mesh” companies to thrive by making consumers as content about using a shared service as they are about buying and owning. Scaling that will require a lot more of us to get a taste of that Freecycle feeling. It will also take ingenious marketing, world-class service levels and drop-dead ease of use for any company that enters the fray. The public sector, however, can also help.