Segregation is alive and well in the media and in the grocery store.
There are websites, magazines, TV shows, and even TV channels devoted to the eco lifestyle. And there are mainstream media outlets that devote special columns, issues, episodes, and entire weeks to green themes.
Similarly, there are retail stores that specialize in sustainable goods and there are others that might have a small section. In the grocery store, for example, green brands are often quarantined to the heath food aisle, or a specialty store altogether.
If you ask us, this is not the most efficient way to change the way people make and buy things. Instead all brands and branded content, ecological and not, must live side-by-side in order for consumers to compare and businesses to compete. And let's not forget the importance of discovery and the element of surprise.
GREEN IS NOT THE CONVERSATION STARTER.
No offense to Tom Cruise, but which would you rather attend: A FREE pancake breakfast? Or the Church of Scientology's Open House? Most people would choose the free pancake option when, in actuality, they are one and the same. The main difference is how the two options are marketed.
Like Scientology, green comes with a lot of baggage. While the mainstream is becoming more and more aware of what it means to be green, there are also a lot of companies jumping on the green bandwagon. Few get it right. All contribute to what is quickly becoming known as "green fatigue". Because of these factors, and the niche, fringy ways that the majority of green brands are being marketed, green is quickly becoming a ubiquitous brand that is no longer ownable, especially when every brand walks and talks the same. Green, earthy colors. Nature imagery. Names with words like green, eco, natural, earth, world, blah, blah, blah. These are all dead giveaways and a huge warning sign to anyone who might not have any interest in green, are actually put off by it, or have a mountain of barriers to overcome, namely time, pressure, knowledge and price.
MORE POP. LESS CRUNCH.
Live Earth or Warped Tour? Guru or Red Bull? Seventh Generation or Method? Doesn't it make more sense to have a concert that appealed to the masses and then surprise them with an important message about global warming? Wouldn't a healthy energy drink sell more, thus having a greater positive impact, not only because it tasted good and worked, but also because it appealed to our pop culture sensibilities? Wouldn't more people do less harm if they bought cool, sexy hip brands that were unknowingly green? In other words, brands shouldn't act green. Instead, they should be green and act pop.
Conscious consumers will seek out constructive brands. The rest of the world, however, would rather discover a company's story of sustainability through other means, like the list of ingredients, word-of-mouth, the news media, etc. Even if they don't, who cares? The world is still better for it. Take Method, for example. Their designer cleaning products are sold at Target as well as Whole Foods. While the green community buys Method products because they are green and sexy, there are still countless other people that buy Method products simply because they are sexier than any other cleaning products on the market. If Method was simply another Seventh Generation, they wouldn't have had the same appeal or impact on the world.
The same approach can be applied to the media. How many NASCAR and WalMart consumers in middle America are going to tune into Discovery's Planet Green? Bor-ring. Instead, there needs to be a show on the Speed Channel, CBS or Cartoon Network, for example, which translates green in a way that they can identify with.
LOOKS BETTER. DOES BETTER. MUST BE BETTER.
Mainstream consumers don't want to have to seek out green alternatives. They simply want to go about their business the way they always have without compromising. Therefore, change needs to happen with business first. If consumers have to demand change in order for businesses to step up and do the right thing, it might be too late.
In order for positive change to happen efficiently and on a global scale, business has to act as if they snuck into someone's house and replaced all the destructive products with sustainable ones. And without the homeowners knowing anything has changed— unless, of course, it's an improvement. In other words, the clothes have to look and feel the same way. The food has to taste just as good if not better. It has to have a comparable price point. (Do you really need to make that much profit?) And the design and communication has to be relevant. (FYI, don't hire green marketing and branding agencies.)
Consider things like world illiteracy, immigration, and media access. UNICEF estimates that more than 16% of the world population is unable to read and write in any language. One in five Americans speak a language other than English at home—which means they probably aren't reading Treehugger.com, either. It also means that they are probably unable to read things like instructions or warning labels. As a result, they unknowingly harm themselves and the environment with dangerous levels of harmful chemicals. If they were offered a safe product to begin with, there wouldn't be a problem.
So, we ask, what's a faster solution? Making sure everyone on the planet is educated? Or creating responsible products to compete with the destructive ones? As seasoned entrepreneurs and mainstream marketers who can successfully create demand, influence and social currency for just about anything, we'd like to believe the latter.
The race is on, folks. Those individuals and companies that align capitalism with their global responsibility will prevail.