Sustainable Brands 10 Day Oneby Bill Roth, Founder of Earth 2017 and Author of The Secret Green Sauce

The buzz in the halls and from the podium at this year’s Sustainable Brands 10 conference is on how to sell to consumers when consumers are confused upon what is green and who is green.

The numbers are in, Annie Longsworth, President of Cohn & Wolfe opened the conference with a report that 75% of consumers want to buy green. In the words of Suzanne Shelton of the Shelton Agency, “Going green is mainstream.”

But where it gets muddy for consumers and businesses is in trying to figure out who is green and what is green.

Starbucks supplied a classic example. They presented a candid assessment on their efforts to have 100% of their cups recycled by 2015. Their challenge is that their cup is both their strongest brand image and their disposal is a major consumer. From their perspective all of their other environmentally responsible efforts are diminished in their ability to align with consumers because of the importance consumers place upon solving the problem of how to dispose of the cups in an environmentally responsible manner.

The seemingly obvious solution is a biodegradable cup. But two realities confront this solution. One is that 50% of America cities don’t have recycling systems. And the process of achieving biodegradable results is still not a normal result in the overwhelming majority of waste recycling management systems. Thus, Starbucks is taking a leadership role engaging the entire supply chain from paper to waste management to local government officials in an effort to achieve a systemic redesign of waste management to provide for the biodegradation of biodegradable cups. An example of their target for success would be a system similar to that achieved in Europe where car manufacturers have a comprehensive system for handling end of life car disposal.

However, many in the audience questioned the need for a biodegradable cup pointing to the core principal of sustainability, reduce. Their proposal was to encourage customers to bring their own cups that can be re-used for the next visit. Starbucks in fact did run a special promotion to encourage the use of a customer-owned cup and reported positive results. Several times the Starbucks representative acknowledged the value of focusing upon changing consumer behavior but noted that Starbucks has offered a price discount for over a decade to customers supplying their own containers. The back of the room buzzed over the reality that this discount was only 10 cents or less than 3% of the cost for a $4 latte and less than the sale tax charged on the drink. A more vocal attendee noted he had been offered pastry and music CDs by Starbucks associates but never encouraged to bring his own container.

A separate but equally candid discussion was held on how to increase business transparency on their environmental performance. The discussion began its focus with the observation that scandal and product recalls were businesses’ number one motivation to be transparent with an observation that this is often too little and too late. More encouragingly, examples were brought forth of companies like HP that were taking the initiative. One reason for this trend maybe the demand retailers are placing upon their supply chain to deliver products that are safe for both the consumer and the environment. Another identified motivation was the growing influence of the Millennial Generation and their expectations for transparency that is so readily generated in their social media connected collaborative cloud.

Here’s my take away. The ship is leaving the dock. It is a big ship and it takes time to get pointed in the right direction and for all systems to be fully aligned. But the attendees at this conference are focused upon on how to go green and how to connect customers who now expect to be buying green products. New products are coming, innovations in supply chain management are occurring and prices for sustainable goods and services are gaining parity with less sustainable alternatives.  The Green Economic Revolution is moving mainstream for consumers and businesses.

Photography by Gustavo Fernandez

© 2010, Bill Roth. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Bill Roth (10 Articles)

Bill Roth is President of NCCT and is the Green Business Coach for Entrepreneur.com. Bill has helped a broad range of companies in designing and implementing strategies, plans and projects that are profitable and green. Bill is also the founder of Earth 2017 and author of The Secret Green Sauce: Best practices used by actual companies successfully growing green revenues">The Secret Green Sauce. Follow Bill on Twitter @earth2017. Connect with Bill on Linkedin.