Five Principles for Sustainable Brand Innovation: A Discussion of BBMG’s White Paper

By Greg McCarthy (Summer Associate Marketing Intern, Grossman Marketing Group. Undergraduate Marketing Major, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth)

Greetings all – Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Greg McCarthy and I am a senior Marketing major at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Over the last 3 years at school, I have developed a deep interest in not only marketing, but also in sustainability, specifically seeing the ways it is implemented in business. Today, I have the privilege of getting to write a guest post for Ben Grossman’s “Sustainable Ink” blog on BBMG’s latest white paper Disrupt & Delight, which focuses on implementing “Sustainable Brand Innovation” in 5 principles. I connected with Ben after his presentation on a panel at the 3rd Annual Sustainable Economy Conference in Boston in April, and recently started working for his firm, Grossman Marketing Group, as a Summer Associate Marketing Intern.

Ben has mentioned BBMG in the past on this blog as a firm based in Brooklyn, New York, that has been a leader in sustainability for many years. To download the full white paper, please click here and then follow the prompts.

BBMG’s five principles describe real world examples about how we can get the wheel turning towards addressing major environmental issues in the business world. The white paper’s first principle, “Start with what’s Sacred,” explains how in order to address economic and environmental threats and maintain a commitment to sustainability, the approach to innovation “must begin not just with the technical marvels of polymers and solvents, but the values, hopes and aspirations of our shared humanity.” The principle features Chipotle’s recent advertising efforts to grow more organic ingredients and provide customers with healthier food.  Please find the video below.

Principle 2, “Design Holistically” describes innovation as being “interconnected.” BBMG believes sustainable brand innovation needs a “holistic approach” especially within business, and that product and service design must occur in an ecosystem that reinforces the health, sustainability and success of each part over time.  Levi’s Water<Less jeans are highlighted in this principle by describing their stylish design that also use less water in the production process.

The third principle, “Create Collaboratively,” transitions smoothly off the message that principle 2 sets, and discusses open innovation platforms, industry coalitions, and community-driven platforms as examples of collaboration that are helping to drive change. I particularly found interesting the example they used on Unilever’s Open Innovation, which describes how Unilever started an online platform for outside experts to contribute to the idea of “doubling the size of its business while reducing the size of its environmental impact.” For a link to read more about this online platform, please click here.

The fourth principle is titled “Be Playful” and focuses on the correlation between play and innovation. The creativity behind sustainable ideas such as RecycleBank and Save Up has created effective ways to “mobilize behaviors that integrate play, sustainability and social impact.”

The fifth and final principle, “Disrupt and Delight,” uses Nike as a focal point behind its message that consumers want good products and expect them to be responsibly produced. Some terrific quotes by Hannah Jones, the vice president of sustainable business and innovation at Nike, are featured: “What we have to do with sustainability is to make today’s status quo obsolete so that it just becomes the norm and default option because it’s better, easier and frankly more delightful to the consumer.” Jones also talks about how to “never compromise performance and price for sustainability or you will do a disservice to sustainability.” Here’s an excellent Q&A with Jones on GreenBiz.

Overall, – I thought BBMG demonstrated a strong connection when linking Sustainable Brand Innovation to the current issues our planet is facing. When combining the principles together, BBMG believes they can create new ways “to do much more with much less.” I strongly support this notion, and urge others to draw their attention to these topics.

Some Good Year-End Sustainability Reading

As we approach the end of a very busy 2011, I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting year-end articles that I’ve been saving to read later.  I thought it would be helpful to include a selection of them for you in one place:

  1. “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” by Al Gore and David Blood, published in the Wall Street Journal on December 14, 2011.  They define sustainable capitalism as “a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value by reforming markets to address real needs while integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics throughout the decision-making process.”  They explain that research shows that “embracing sustainable capitalism yields four kinds of important benefits for companies:

    • Developing sustainable products and services can increase a company’s profits, enhance its brand, and improve its competitive positioning, as the market increasingly rewards this behavior.

    • Sustainable capitalism can also help companies save money by reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency in the supply chain, and by improving human-capital practices so that retention rates rise and the costs of training new employees decline.

    • Third, focusing on ESG metrics allows companies to achieve higher compliance standards and better manage risk since they have a more holistic understanding of the material issues affecting their business.

    • Researchers (including Rob Bauer and Daniel Hann of Maastricht University, and Beiting Cheng, Ioannis Ioannou and George Serafeim of Harvard) have found that sustainable businesses realize financial benefits such as lower cost of debt and lower capital constraints.”

  2. GreenBiz.com’s “Our 12 Best Stories of 2011,” includes a wide range of articles, including “Soap and Glory: A Peek Behind Method’s Methods,” “The Story Behind Google’s Huge Appetite for Energy,” “5 Myths About Sustainability Executives,” and “The Future (and Past) of the ‘Office of the Future.'”
  3. Most Read Paper and Packaging Stories of 2011 from our friends at Environmental Leader. There’s been a lot of chatter and innovation around the lifecycle of packaging and the need for manufacturers to be responsible for the the stewardship of their products from beginning to disposal.  It’s been an issue close to my heart for many years – along these lines, I was recently asked to become a charter member of the Product Stewardship Institute Advisory Council. This organization has played a critical role in bringing government, industry, and other stakeholders together to jointly develop solutions to difficult waste management problems for many years and I’m honored to be part of such a great group.  To learn more about the council, here’s a link to a PDF press release.
  4. 10 Predictions for Cleantech and Sustainability in 2012 from GreenBiz.com.  It covers renewable energy, green marketing, transportation, and energy efficiency topics among others.
  5. Lastly, I’m excited to share some positive news on Cape Wind.  This plan to build offshore wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has long been delayed by lawsuits and controversy.  This week, Massachusetts’ highest court gave the project the “green light” according to the Boston Globe.  Cape Wind CEO said he hopes project construction will start in about a year.  Here’s a link to the Boston Globe article.

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and productive 2012.  Thanks for reading!

Environmental Leader’s Q2 2011 Environmental & Energy Data Book Available

Our friends at Environmental Leader have recently released their Q2 2011 Environmental & Energy Data Book.  Here’s how they describe the document on their website:

The book supplies busy executives and research teams with a collection of charts presenting environmental, sustainability and energy-related data on a quarterly basis.  Our goal is to make the job of gathering essential information and metrics a bit easier for corporate decision-makers.

Data topics include Energy, Facilities, Sustainability & Strategy, Management Systems & Reporting, Carbon Costs & Markets, Marketing & Public Opinion, Transportation & Supply Chain, Emissions and Waste & Recycling.

Here’s a link to the download form. Enjoy!

Interview with GreenMarketingTV on Sustainability

Hi all – I was pleased to be featured on GreenMarketingTV in late May, and wanted to share the article with you.  Here’s a link.  I have also included the text of the interview below:

Green Entrepreneur Interview: Ben Grossman, Sustainable Direct Mail | Green Marketing TV

http://www.greenmarketing.tv/2011/05/24/green-entrepreneur-interview-ben-grossman-sustainable-direct-mail/

Award-winning green entrepreneur, Ben Grossman of Grossman Marketing, talks about how to develop a sustainable direct marketing campaign and what it takes to transform a fourth-generation business into one with a strong environmental focus.

What was your inspiration for starting Sustainable Ink? When and how did you get started?

I started my blog, Sustainable Ink, in 2007.  I had joined my fourth-generation family business, Grossman Marketing Group, the previous year and was often thinking about sustainability and green business issues.  Our business was founded in 1910 as Massachusetts Envelope Company, and it’s evolved into an integrated marketing services firm.

Today, our main service lines are a design studio, envelopes and direct mail services, printing of all kinds, and promotional products.  In addition, we have a fast-growing e-commerce and rewards and incentives business.  As oil prices were rising, and global warming had gone from a fad to stated fact, I saw the writing on the wall – that we live in a world with finite resources, and consumers are increasingly interested in companies’ environmental footprint, commitment to environmental causes, and the sustainability of their products.

I wanted to start a blog through which I could discuss these issues, with an emphasis on marketing services and my industry.  I have been very proud to see the site’s readership grow over time, and have some of my posts picked up by national green news sources, most recently Environmental Leader and Ecopreneurist.

I launched our firm’s green marketing and sustainability practice the previous year with the goal of working with my team to help clients identify environmentally-conscious business practices as a way to differentiate them from their competition and establish a competitive advantage in their respective fields.  For this work I was the 2009 recipient of the New England Direct Marketing Association Prodigy Award.  The Prodigy Award is given to one marketing professional each year in New England under the age of 30 who has added the most to the art and science of direct marketing in the prior year.

Is interest in sustainable marketing growing or declining?

Green marketing is definitely not out, but consumers have been inundated with an array of green logos, claims and messages, and they are becoming increasingly skeptical of the green claims they read and hear.  Much of the research I have seen, as well as my own experience, point to the need for transparency in green marketing claims.  People want to know not only how a product is green, but according to whom.  The third-party reference needs to be a legitimate one – not an unknown group with a confusing website.

In the print world, the best example of a strong and respected third-party authority is the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator.  On this site, people can calculate the savings derived from using papers with post-consumer recycled content.  These savings include energy, wastewater, trees, etc.  I like this because it’s a resource that is industry independent.  Although I respect the savings calculators put together by paper companies, using a third-party resource rings truer to consumers.

How do you help your clients target and reach green consumers?

There is a wide range of ways to target and reach green consumers.  They include buying ads on websites that cater to these consumers, as well as on-the-ground outreach at community events.  In addition, using sophisticated direct mail techniques, the right brand can reach the right people with useful, actionable direct mail.

How do you help businesses communicate their green-ness to their customers?

The most important advice I can give to companies is to tell the truth and be transparent in their claims.  Companies get in trouble by greenwashing – when they mislead consumers about their environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product, and consumers are getting fed up.  As I mentioned earlier, when making a claim, try to use a respected third-party resource to verify it.

How do you find your customers?

The best customers come by referral, but we also find them through speaking engagements, direct mail, networking, social media and online ads.  We believe the best campaigns are integrated ones, and we try to practice what we preach!

What are consumers looking for in a green company? What messages do they want to hear?

Consumers are looking for green products to be made from renewable resources, use recycled content, or with less materials than in the past.  For service providers, consumers are looking for consistency.  For example, if a hotel claims to be green because of an array of practices, it is somewhat of a contradiction when there are no easy ways to recycle plastic bottles, cans, paper, etc.  I have seen this too often when traveling on business, and I wish some hotels would give greater consideration to waste management practices.

Does sustainable marketing typically cost more money?

Sustainable marketing shouldn’t necessarily cost more money.  In the print business, people can generally use recycled papers, vegetable-based inks and renewable energy in the production process for no extra cost.  There are of course premium eco-friendly papers that add cost (New Leaf, Mohawk Options, Neenah Environment, to name a few), but if a marketing professional is working with the right vendor partners, they should be able to reduce their footprint without adding much cost.

What recommendations do you have for businesses to green their marketing without breaking the bank?

As I mentioned earlier, people can use vegetable-based inks, renewable energy and recycled materials for little or no extra cost.  Some practices can cut costs – like considering the production of an item during the design stage, so it gets optimized for printing to use the least amount of paper.  In addition, when people manage their mailing lists well, they mail fewer pieces to a better audience, thus cutting postage and printing costs.

Are all your marketing services eco-friendly? How is your business greener than your competitors?

Our services are fairly resource intensive, so we try to be conscious of our footprint at all steps in the process.  For example:

1)      All metal printing plates are collected after use and given to a recycling company.

2)      All press solvents and washes are low VOC (volatile organic compound) formulas that minimize impact on the environment as they contain no acetones.

3)      All non-metallic inks are vegetable-based (i.e. non-petroleum based).  The ink contains approximately 35% oil, all of which is vegetable-based (soy and linseed).

4)      Our inks are made from a “stay open” formula – meaning that the top layer does not skim over and form an unusable layer – this reduces ink use by about 10% annually.

5)      All waste ink is sent to a recycler where it is mixed with other waste to form a low-grade heating oil.

6)      All paper waste and cardboard packaging are sent to a paper recycling company.

7)      Our prepress system is entirely chemical free – only water is used to rinse the plate after imaging.

8)      All waste oil is recycled with an oil recovery service.

9)      All wood pallets are returned to our paper merchants for re-use.

10)   In addition, here’s a blog post I wrote about recycling, in which I explain that we allow our employees to bring in batteries, CFLs, fluorescent tube bulbs and paint from home to be recycled by a partner of ours. We recently added a Big Green Box to our office so our colleagues can bring in electrical waste from home as well.

What kinds of mistakes do green businesses generally make that you would advise against?

The worst mistake is to not tell the truth or to make misleading statements and we strongly advise against them.  In addition, we make sure that green marketing underpins an organization’s overall commitment to sustainable practices.  If they are just surface changes, consumers will see through them.  In addition, employees want to work for socially responsible organizations.

What mistakes have you made as a green entrepreneur and what advice would you give others looking to start a green business?

Sometimes I have had the tendency to try to make a product or offering perfect before rolling it out.  One piece of advice I would have is to “beta” test everything, as early customer feedback will always help you improve.

You can get in touch with Ben through Twitter.

Expanding the reach of Sustainable Ink

Thanks to amazing support from you, our readers, traffic has steadily grown to Sustainable Ink as sustainability has become a more critical issue to our future.

As a result of this momentum, I was honored to be tapped to become part of a group of “Sustainability Thought Leaders” on a new site built by Netline Corporation. Please click here to visit the site.

Here’s a description of the site’s focus: BlogNotions Sustainability delivers a diverse series of perspectives provided by thought leaders in the areas of sustainability, renewable energy, the environment and related topics.

They plan to repost articles from Sustainable Ink, so you can continue to read them here.  However, I didn’t want to let any time go by without saying thank you.

Video of Panel Discussion at Columbia Business School: The Returns to Social Enterprise


I had the privilege of serving on a panel in April at Columbia Business School during Reunion weekend titled “The Returns to Social Enterprise.”  The panel was moderated by Ray Fisman, the Co-Director of the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School. Please click on the image above to watch the video from our talk. 

The conversation covered trends in social enterprise, renewable energy, as well as green marketing and the issue of transparency around green claims.  There were also some excellent questions from the audience about sustainable procurement strategies.  I was really impressed with my fellow panelists, and I think the whole video is interesting.  In case you’re wondering, my portion starts around the 13-minute mark.The other panelists were:

Post From Yesterday on FSC Picked Up Nationally

The response to my post from yesterday, “A Negative Tipping Point for FSC Certification,” has been overwhelming.  In my 4 years of blogging, it has been far and away the most widely-read and distributed post.  Most notably, it was picked up by Ecopreneurist, a leading green business news website, which you can view here.

I have received dozens of tweets, as well as messages on Facebook and Linkedin, and virtually every comment has been supportive of my suggestion that FSC’s best days may be behind it in the printing and marketing industries.  I welcome your feedback as well!

A Negative Tipping Point for FSC Certification

Turning the page on FSC?

Over the past few years, awareness has grown about FSC-certified papers and printing.  FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, a group that works to ensure that the materials used are sourced responsibly.  Each step in the chain (i.e. from forest to printer) must be traceable.  The intent of the FSC system is to eliminate habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples and violence against people and wildlife that can accompany logging.

Although I believe this is a meaningful cause, I wanted to report to my readers that I believe that FSC certification in the commercial printing and marketing communications industry has hit a negative tipping point.  By this, I mean that the future of FSC certification in these fields is murky at best.

I base my assertion on a lot of anecdotal evidence I have seen in the field, both from printers, and especially from marketing professionals and print buyers.  Back when I started conducting green marketing seminars (and writing on Sustainable Ink) in 2007, there was growing interest in FSC, and a sense that it would become the industry standard, on the level of recycled paper.  It was on its way there, but I believe it was hurt in three major ways:

  1. Lack of awareness of what FSC means. As I mentioned before, FSC is a system designed to ensure the chain of custody of paper, from when it was a tree to its final printed form.  The fact is, many people in our industry do not know what FSC is, and therefore do not sell it.  More importantly, I have seen many research studies that show that most consumers do not know what it means and are therefore not interested in it.
  2. Lack of tangible environmental benefit versus other green attributes. When people use recycled paper, they know they are consuming less natural resources than they would if they chose virgin fibers.  Vegetable-based inks sound like they make a positive difference, as they cut down on the use of oil, and are renewable.  Papers made with renewable energy send a message that an organization wants to reduce its carbon footprint and support a green economy.  Those terms, recycled, vegetable-based, and renewable energy, all are easy to understand and therefore end consumers of print and marketing collateral feel comfortable around these terms.  If they feel comfortable around these terms and believe they know what makes them green, they will continue to ask for papers and printers that meet these standards.  FSC, on the other hand, is difficult to understand, and the green attributes may not be immediately obvious.
  3. The combination of the difficult economy and the perceived greed of the Forest Stewardship Council. It is not surprising that FSC grew dramatically in 2007 and 2008, when the broader economy was stronger, and the environmental movement was top of mind.  However, as printers fell on tough times, FSC continued to charge large annual fees from printers to allow them to maintain their individual plant certifications.  One printer told me the following: “Look, I’m a small company – we do $3-$4 million in sales per year, and when I had to sign up for FSC certification in 2008, and spend $10,000-$15,000 to make this happen, with ongoing overhead expenses, I did it.  I thought it would be a cost of doing business, and that I would lose business from eco-minded clients if I wasn’t FSC certified.  When sales fell in 2009 and 2010, I appealed to FSC to get a reduction in my fees, as I was facing the choice between paying my FSC bill or my payroll.  FSC wouldn’t budge, so I didn’t renew, as I was more interested in protecting my employees than I was in paying what I saw as an FSC tax.  I haven’t noticed a sales drop off due to this decision.”  After hearing this, I spoke to several other printers, many of whom no longer maintain their FSC certification, as they said the costs outweighed the benefits.  Some questioned the mission of FSC, with one saying it seemed to be an “overhead-heavy organization” that “charged small printers large fees to pay for their bloated staff.”  I found this large organizational chart on their website which did not contradict this assertion.

In some sense, printers have been FSC’s sales force.  Once printers became certified, they sold FSC as an incredibly valuable brand, and one that all companies that wanted to send a green message should strive to put on their printed pieces.  Now that many of these smaller printers have declined to renew, FSC has lost a powerful constituency that will not continue to spread the word about FSC.

One other constituency FSC has partially alienated is designers, due to their strict rules around usage of the term “FSC.”  Several years ago, if an organization wanted to explain their green choices with words instead of symbols, they were allowed to do so.  As an example, if they printed a brochure on Neenah Environment PC 100, one of my favorite green papers made from 100% post-consumer recycled content, at an FSC-certified printer, they could use a simple sentence like “Printed using FSC-certified 100% post consumer recycled content.”  Now FSC no longer allows this, and insists that the term “FSC” only be used along with its official logo.  FSC is clearly trying to build awareness of its brand, but this shouldn’t be the responsibility of the end user.  I have seen this rule cause designers to sacrifice the use of the “FSC” term.

FSC is a worthwhile organization, and serves a good cause.  However, I believe its lack of obvious green benefits relative to other green elements like recycled paper is hurting adoption.  More than that, however, are the large fees charged to FSC’s sales army (printers) during this recession.  Those, coupled with strict rules around design, are a sign that FSC may have overplayed its hand in the marketing communications industry, and its best days are behind it.

Interesting Survey on Green Supply Chains

Hi all – this is from Stephen Jannise, who writes a blog on the software industry.  He is hosting a survey on how a vendor”s efforts to go green can influence corporate purchasing decisions.

This survey coincides with an article he has written about five companies that are greening their supply chains. In the article, he discusses the efforts of IBM, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Patagonia, and Pepsi to reduce their respective impacts on the environment.  He also asks whether they should be doing more, what are the real motivations behind a greener supply chain, and whether consumers are aware of these efforts.

Please click here to visit his survey as well as read his article.