May 22, 2008

Go Green and Mean It

by Beth Ziesenis

After 2.5 years in the proverbial African mud hut in Peace Corps, I decompressed for a few months by working as the head housekeeper for a dude ranch in Colorado. The general manager approached me with small placards she wanted me to place in every bathroom. “We love the environment,” the cards proclaimed. “Please reuse your towels to save water and energy.”

“This will save us money on the laundry service,” she said, “and it’ll make us look good.”

I balled my fists and put them on my hips before sputtering out the reply. “You’ve got to be kidding me! We don’t recycle; we don’t compost; we don’t do anything for the environment. I’m not putting these up in the rooms and lying to our guests!”

After we determined that my outburst was just shy of grounds for termination, she and I compromised. She let me start a recycling program at the ranch, and I put the cards in the room.

That was 1995, a few years before “An Inconvenient Truth” and the ubiquitous acceptance of the need for environmental awareness. As a freelance copywriter, many of my clients ask me to write articles or flyers about how green the company is, describing their recycling policies, energy savings, green marketing strategies, etc.

My question is still the same one I posed to my boss at the dude ranch: Sure, you have recycle bins near the main printer. But are you really green?

BusinessWeek listed a “Green Crisis” as one of its Ten Likely Events in 2008.

“There will be a backlash in the green movement after it becomes clear that many of the companies claiming to be green are in fact nothing of the sort,” the article states. “Businesses that proclaim they are ‘carbon neutral’ will find that such proclamations no longer carry much weight among far more skeptical media and consumers.”

More consumers are looking for proof of an environmentally conscious agenda by the companies they choose. Before your marketing department wraps your website in a green border, examine your company’s policies to make sure you pass the consumer green sniff test.

Here are a few tips for making sure you’re communicating a truthful message about your company’s green efforts.

1. Don’t exaggerate.
Buying carbon offsets or wind energy credits can actually give you the “right” to say your company is powered by alternative energy sources even if you’re plugging your computer into the same power plant you always have. But companies like Native Energy can help you reduce your carbon footprint and spread a truthful message about your environmental efforts.

2. Write a green philosophy statement.
Put down in writing the things your organization does to reuse, reduce and recycle. If you’re just getting into the green scene, say so, but detail how you’re making changes. Post the information on your website, and be ready to share it with people who ask.

3. Share green tips with your audience.
Everyone wants to be greener these days. Share small tips on what you do to think green in your regular communication such as emails (try your signature line!), eNewsletters, promotions, etc.

4. Just the stats, please.
Spend some time calculating how much paper, energy and resource your organization’s green efforts have saved. This info can make a nice press release.

5. Participate in green events.
Organize your staff for a Saturday trash pick-up in your area, or volunteer for a storm drain cleaning project. Then let your clients know about your events and give them resources to participate as well.***

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