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Offer green products, not green-wash

Offer green products, not green-wash

Everywhere you turn these days you're confronted with the greening of America. Going green is now a mainstream concept and manufacturers, retailers and consumers are expected to get onboard, though some still may be skeptical.

It is a confusing arena where there are few widely recognized rules or regulations. Dozens of different certification organizations position themselves as the arbiters of green legitimacy — saying what is green and what isn't.

Green must be good for people and good for the planet. But most of all, being a successful "green-tailer" requires a serious long-term commitment to establish your own corporate credibility.

The product or service benefits you offer must have real value, not just be cosmetically green or have contrived eco-friendly attributes — which is where "green-washing" comes into play.

Green-washing is the practice of spinning products and policies in hopes of portraying them as environmentally friendly. It's a term used to describe exaggerated, misleading or inaccurate claims by a company regarding environmental benefits, the deceptive use of green public relations or marketing.

Avoid green-washing if your goal is to establish your company as a credible leader in the world of eco-friendly. "Green is really about what's practical, what's durable and about making a strong investment," said Sarah Beatty, former MTV executive who in 2005 founded a green building supply company called Green Depot.

It's not just about fuel

In the barbecue industry, there is a tendency to think in terms of which grills and which fuels are better for the environment, but this is complicated and difficult to analyze.

Like most barbecue-related things, there are few black and white answers to whether charcoal, gas or electric can be decreed the most green. To make a meaningful determination, you have to assess everything from the manufacturing process, fuel emissions, energy used in transportation to the point of sale, the efficiency of operation, packaging and useful lifespan of the products.

However, there are many other ways you can promote environmentally responsible products and services in your business. Remember, educating consumers to the benefits of supporting green is very important. Well thought-out green activities and products can net you lots of positive publicity locally, but you need to practice what you advocate for your customers.

Is your company an active participant in the community with green related activities and events?

Are you providing information on the composition of products such as grill cleaners or fire starters? Do you offer chemical-free alternatives to harsher traditional products? Do you convey these benefits with signage at point-of-sale?

Biologically based materials are desirable, safe ingredients that appeal to consumers. Seek out manufacturers that provide these "safe" products and let them know this is important to you. It may mean supporting smaller vendors who have the vision and are sufficiently nimble to produce innovative products.

Are the manufacturers of the products you carry socially responsible themselves? Do you make it known this affects your vendor decisions?

Does product packaging reflect concern for the environment? Are recycled materials used and do the manufacturers avoid over-packaging?

Are heating appliances you sell energy efficient? Do you remind consumers that cooking outdoors regularly can keep their houses cooler and cut down on air conditioning use?

Premium stainless steel or ceramic grills usually have longer life spans and warranties and won't need the frequent replacement that less expensive grills require. Promoting them results in fewer grills going into the waste stream.

Are your employees knowledgeable about the green benefits of the products you sell?

You want to be known for having a Green Team, and employees will be more engaged if they help come up with ideas for in-store eco-friendly activities.

Create large buttons with slogans like "Ask Us About Green" or "Join Our Green Team" or "Are You Green Savvy?" Have employees wear them and hand them out to customers.

Set up a customer Share Your Ideas For Greener Living suggestion box and each month award a prize and give in-store recognition to the best idea. You'll enhance customer relationships and it will also be effective for producing newsworthy releases for local media.

Post green factoids on your Web site to remind visitors your company is committed to improving the environment.

Do consumers care?

Hardware Retailing conducted research to assess consumer attitudes about green. It revealed today's consumer is more interested in saving dollars than whales and that "saving money" is by far the main motivator for shoppers to buy eco-friendly products. Many perceive these products will be more expensive and there is a limit to what they will spend. Still, 76% of those surveyed said they are extremely or somewhat concerned that retailers where they shop have a good selection of green products.

Not long ago the concern about using environmentally friendly products was confined to tree huggers, but today that concern is shared by a broader consumer base that includes young homeowners who think about their children's future, as well as 70-somethings who are often in the process of downsizing their households. They still are price-conscious and indicate the differential for green product cannot exceed 5% unless for energy efficient products that can lower utility bills — then the maximum difference can't exceed 20%. But you must convince them there actually is a long-term savings.

The marketplace is going green and you can't afford to be left behind. There are many opportunities for reducing your own costs by reducing your environmental impact and doing so will demonstrate to customers that you are committed. Going green is good business and it may even get you tax rebates.

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