I've known of companies with a focus on sustainability for several years. And to be quite frank, many needed help in marketing themselves. Their appeal remained quite localized and their efforts associated with an unfashionable past -- that was green the movement.
Now there's green the market -- big difference. In Europe, the green market has been around for much longer -- organic agriculture, differentiated recycling collections, and having less stuff -- out of necessity from living in smaller spaces. These collective forces have all have contributed to a different mind set. Less space, more past, greater conservation efforts.
Thanks to social media, the conversation on green and sustainability is taking hold worldwide -- witness Blog Action Day, spearheaded in the blogging community as a way to recognize the importance of conservation in conversation. I always wanted to say that. If only I could follow the advice of writing less.
[image: from eco-what? to eco-chic -- Portland fashion week 2007]
Green stories are finding their way to a wider audience thanks to the likes of:
- StumbleUpon's Environment tag
- The Environment category at Digg
- Green Digg clones like Hugg and Grow
- Green tumblelogs like ecoTumble
- Eco-oriented web sites with heavy social media components like Care2
If you're so inclined, you can also participate in a Green Festival near you and now you can even calculate the green factor in your travel, food, and home with the Zerofootprint Calculator, which brings together the power of social networks on the web -- the best environmental science, risk management and software engineering — to create an environment for change that focuses on an individual's impact as part of the human collective effort.
"Zerofootprint doesn’t work in isolation—we’re only effective when we team up with like-minded companies, companies that recognize not only that they have a responsibility to the environment, but that their customers feel the same responsibility.”
- Deborah Kaplan, Executive Director of Zerofootprint
According to Joel Makeower, the greening of PR has helped companies consider sustainability issues as part of their bottom line and surface a new found reality -- it's now safer for companies to tell their good, green stories. Makeower highlights the initiatives of giants like GE and Wal-Mart heralding them as success stories. He concludes that things could go either way for companies and the popularity of green initiatives -- will this PR angle be taken in its broadest meaning as relations with the public and long term views or will it be yet again seen as one more marketing tactic in the sense of just media publicity?
One company that has not enjoyed popularity for its business practices seems to have joined the conservation market big time. And it has enrolled an unlikely advocate -- lifelong environmentalist and former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach. According to his other former clients, he is now working with the enemy. Why did Werbach do that? It was a Jerry Maguire move (moral epiphany) as he had
[...] become increasingly discouraged by a supposedly progressive movement that didn't know how to be progressive with its own ideas. Within the first five minutes of the hour-long, 31-page speech [San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, December 8, 2004], he announced with the tone of someone reading last rites: "I am done calling myself an environmentalist."
In its effort to protect seal pups and redwood trees, he told his mentors, friends, and colleagues, the movement had forgotten human beings. What was needed, he said, was a new way of connecting sustainability to the aspirations of everyday people. "Make executive directors [of environmental groups] go to a red state and try to explain environmentalism to the average American. If they don't have a plan to activate the values we share [with] the majority of Americans, then they need to move on."
Enter social media. The text of Werbach's controversial speech had taken on a life of its own, circulating furiously online until it caught the eye of Andy Ruben, recently names VP of sustainability at Wal-Mart. After a thought that this might be just PR veneer on the part of the retail giant, Werbach reconsidered -- the company touches 90% of the American public every year. This was his "show me the money" chance.
Social media helped Werbach find a place to continue his work. It is helping us further the conversation on sustaining green for the long haul. Says Hank Green of EcoGeek blog:
"Social news is a huge part of what lets EcoGeek.org work. We get immediate feedback on whether or not people are interested in what we're writing, and the way we're writing it. It's fantastic to see that people care not just about the cool new technology, but also about how that technology is making the world a better place."
Social media is greening the planet. Witness Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to build up and disseminate greater knowledge of man-made climate change. The people who have been working long and hard to get the message out are also all of us.
[Bonus: how green is corporate America? Take the quiz]