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Sustainable Brands ’08 June 6, 2008

Posted by davidzweig in Uncategorized.

Over 500 people attended the Sustainable Brands ’08 conference, just concluded in Monterrey, CA.

The website is impressive and well worth a visit. The one attendee with whom we spoke came back suitably impressed. In the early days, sustainable products seemed to be developed by hippies working in barns in Ashland, Oregon. What is striking about the new generation of such products is the slickness of the language and the marketing thinking, much of it taken and adapted from large non-sustainable brands that still dominate the marketplace.

You cannot argue with success or results. The new meme seems to be, “We’re better, not different,” so this is a good indicator or the long-term viability of better products and services.

As a sample of the quality of thought, consider the analysis presented in the Conference blog by an environmental consultant and a Morrison & Forster lawyer. Here are the Six Deadly Sins of Greenwashing:

  1. The Sin of Fibbing – misleading customers about the actual environmental performance of products. A good example is “Energy Star Certified” – Energy Star does not actually certify products. The most grievous sin, fibbing is thankfully also the rarest, present in only 1% of claims reviewed, according to Case.
  2. The Sin of No Proof – occurs when a company is unable to provide proof of claims. This is definite potential target for the FTC and could be subject to penalization.
  3. The Sin of Irrelevance – refers to claims that are factually correct but essentially meaningless. For example, noting that a product is “CFC-free” when CFCs have been banned for years takes advantage of consumers’ lack of information.
  4. The Sin of Hidden Tradeoff – focuses consumers on a single issue while ignoring or hiding other tradeoffs, causing the buyer to perceive the product’s environmental performance as better then it actually is.
  5. The Sin of Vagueness – refers to claims that use meaningless terms. For example, one 100% petroleum brand listed “100% natural” on its label. When a person at the toll-free number was asked to substantiate the claim, the representative replied that oil comes out of the ground and was therefore “natural.”
  6. The Sin of Lesser of Two Evils – occurs as a result of attempts to differentiate products as having the best environmental performance in their class. But can a case really be made for organic cigarettes?


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