Thanks to…

…for publishing my green marketing article “Are Green Marketers Selling Their Souls?”

GreenBiz is a great resource for anyone interested in sustainable business and it’s truly an honor to be included as an author.

Thanks again, guys!  And kudos on a terrific site!

Green Marketing: Are You Selling Your Soul?


A few months back I published a post about a market study entitled Green Marketing: What Works; What Doesn’t – A Marketing Study Of Practitioners.  In the study, a significant percentage of marketers who tracked their responses reported an increase in effectiveness when they used Green messaging in their campaigns.

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?

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer who helps Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into Green marketing and sales writing, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

Sustainable Business: A Matter of the Mind

Business man with sledgehammer
It's not just the tool, it's how you use it that counts.

What should a young person do to prepare for a career in sustainability?  John Howley, internationally recognized expert, educator and thought leader on the business of sustainable energy, recently posed this question to a group of green industry professionals on LinkedIn.

Predictably, many of the respondents suggested earning certification in renewable energy and other Green technology.  This reflects a common tendency to equate sustainability with technology.

It’s understandable.  After all, just look around at the world.  The awesome technology our species has developed over the past 200 or so years has enabled us to soar to heights our ancestors could never even have dreamed of.  Unfortunately, it’s also unleashed environmental destruction on a scale even we don’t fully understand.

Mind over Matter

It’s a natural reaction to blame the technology – and to look to alternate technologies to fill in the gap and save us from our own creation.  Solar panels, organic agriculture and the like do indeed hold the promise of a more sustainable approach to living on Planet Earth.

However, the most powerful force for sustainability we have at our disposal is not technology at all.  It’s the human mind.  And it’s our minds, not our technology, which will save – or fail – humanity.

It’s a Matter of Choice

Are you reading this at home?  If you are (or even if you’re not) you probably have access to a somewhat primitive but very useful piece of human technology:  the hammer.  Pick one up if you can.  (Or do so mentally if you can’t.)  Feel its weight in your hand.  You could use this hammer to build a home that can provide shelter and comfort to your family for generations.  Or you could use it to bash someone’s head in.  Same tool.  Same user.  How – and whether – you choose to use it follows from the thoughts in your mind.

We can switch to cleaner technologies.   But without a deep understanding of what is truly sustainable, and a deep desire to get there, what will it mean?  Like the mythical Icarus, we’re likely to keep pushing beyond our limits until we come unglued and fall to earth.

Preserving the Flow

What is sustainability in business but the flow of profits such that the company remains solvent and thriving?  What is sustainability in the world but the flow of life and the conditions it depends on so that the living communities on Earth – including humans – may live and thrive?

Personally, I think in the very near future virtually every career will be – of necessity – a career in sustainability.  We have finally reached the point where we can’t pretend any more that economic sustainability is somehow separate from and independent of ecological sustainability.  The technologies we turn to must then be not only economically viable, but must fit into the natural world in such a way as to support it rather than tear it down.  And that means not only choosing our technologies carefully, but also, like Icarus’s father Daedelus, using them responsibly.

Using our Heads

As marketers and business leaders, of course, this puts us in a hot spot.  After all, it’s our job to get people to buy as much product as possible, right?

Or is it?

Again, let’s use our minds.

Our job is to maximize profits to keep our companies and the economy solvent.   And in the new economy it’s in our best long-term interest to do so in a sustainable manner so the world and future generations also benefit from what we do.  This means we have to work smarter, rather than just mindlessly cranking out more and more product regardless of the consequences.

Here are some ideas for how we can accomplish this:

  1. Be honest with ourselves. Is what we’re doing really viable in the long-term?  If not, how can we start moving in a more sustainable direction?
  2. Educate both ourselves and our customers. True sustainability requires a shift of purpose and a shift of mindset.  It requires us to be far-sighted.
  3. Pay attention to personal relationships and customer service. It’s costly to gain new clients.  The better the relationships you have with your existing customers, the greater your per-capita return – and the more influence you’ll have over their attitudes and future decisions.
  4. Build value. When you can really prove the value of what you offer, you’re less likely to have to lower prices to make the sale.  Being able to command a higher price per item equals greater profits and/or less expense.  And if you’re selling a sustainable product, it places a higher value on sustainability itself.
  5. Use our heads. What business are you really in?  Are there ways you can sell additional services to the same customers?  Can you come up with more efficient ways of doing things?  Remember, few things are more valuable than human ingenuity and good information – and these things can often be sold without harm to the environment.

The physical world is finite.  But there are no limits to human imagination.  And that’s something that can be put to work – and profited from – in any field, technical or not.

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.