Quite frankly, I wasn’t intending this post to be particularly insightful. I was simply reporting on some interesting research. I thought the results of the study indicated a heartening trend – that Americans are finally concerned enough about sustainability issues that “green” messaging is actually getting through to them.
However, my little article touched off some intense emotional responses. One man in particular brought up an issue which needs to be addressed, because it touches on the heart not only of responsible marketing but of our very chances of achieving sustainability in our modern world:
Perhaps you should step back and take a look at what you call green marketing… (followed by a lengthy discourse on the environmental consequences of the coal and nuclear plants which power the Internet and make modern commerce possible.)
Green is a self-aggrandizing rationalization that people use to assert that they are living well for the common good of their fellow man and the planet earth. Sorry folks, this posture ended with Plato’s Republic.
He also sent me a scathing private email ending with:
“Do you really believe in what you write? Or, are you selling your soul for the sake of money?”
Wow. Talk about a soul-searching question.
Here was my response:
Yes, you’re right.
Marketing is not green. The entire military-industrial-corporate society we live in is completely unsustainable. But I think one has to start somewhere. There are companies and organizations out there that are working to change it for the better. I’m privileged to work with some of them.
Whether or not the messages in question were honest and worthwhile, or whether it was all greenwashing, and whether it’s even ethical to use green messaging is beyond the scope of this post – good topics for another day, for sure.
Yes I know the whole issue of marketing and business and how it relates to the environment is a sticky one at best. It’s amazingly complex and there are few if any straight answers. I welcome your thoughts.
Privately, I went on to explain that I choose to work with forward-thinking companies so that I can put my talents to their highest and best use: promoting the shift towards a sustainable world. Many of my clients are start-ups, nonprofits and small-scale entrepreneurs. Quite probably I could make substantially more money working with larger, more established companies. (On the other hand, like everyone else, I do have bills to pay and kids on a collision course with college, so offering my services free is just not realistic no matter how much good it may do the planet!) I pointed out that the vast majority of Green initiatives he himself champions can only exist if they’re capable of feeding the hands that drive them.
The next email I got from him was much calmer. “Sorry I came out with my guns ablazing. At the very least, communicating via the internet saves some trees and diesel fuel pollution.” He ended by inviting me to review a feasibility study for his green business!
The Irony of Marketing Green
To be sure, it’s easy to get downhearted trying to be sustainable in an unsustainable society. It’s easy to see “green marketing” as an oxymoron when we think about how many resources we’re still consuming even when we try to cut down on our consumption. But we have to start somewhere. And despite all the greenwashing, if you look at the change in public consciousness in the past five years alone, you’ll realize that collectively, we are making a difference. Personally, I think business and marketing can exist and thrive within a sustainable society. In fact, it has to. Just as sustainability in Nature depends on the flow of energy or life, so economic sustainability depends on the flow of profits. However, achieving such a goal will result in a radically different business climate than we may be used to. We’re going to have to change from a linear to a circular understanding of the flow of both products and profits. Which for many of us will require a radical shift in our physical, mental and spiritual relationship to and understanding of the world we live in.
And what about selling one’s soul?
Well, you could look at it another way.
Sell, baby, sell
Most entrepreneurs I know pour their heart and soul into their businesses. If your soul is truly aligned with your purpose in life, and if your life’s purpose is in harmony with the greater universe, then you should sell your soul. You should promote and sell the heck out of it. Because the more people begin to buy it, the more value – and harmony – you will bring into the world.
I know scores of people who are burning with purpose and are taking real action to make the world a better place. They’re running nonprofits, starting businesses which offer sustainable alternatives to conventional products and services, and working with school districts and government agencies. They’re opening people’s minds and instituting new opportunities and infrastructure that support a sustainable future.
Each one of these people – even if they’re unaware of it – is engaged wholeheartedly and unabashedly in the act of selling.
The trick is to be brutally honest with yourself. Is your reality truly aligned with your ideals? If not, what can you do to bring them closer together? And if they are, are you doing it justice with your sales?