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

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.

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:

New cause-driven social network, Karma411, could be excellent marketing tool for corporations, development channel for nonprofit organizations

A friend of mine, John Murcott (I went to business school with his wife, Gretchen), recently launched Karma411, with his former partner at FatWire Software, Mark Fasciano.

Karma411 describes itself as a “cause-driven social collaboration site.” The two principal purposes of the site are to serve as a social network for socially-minded people and to allow its members to “start a campaign to raise money and awareness” for their “favorite cause or nonprofit.”

Although Karma411 is in its infancy, I believe marketing professionals at nonprofit organizations and companies should be aware of this site for several reasons:

  1. For nonprofits, the network could be a new channel through which they can raise money. One of the main services of Karma411 is campaign management, and nonprofits can even set up microsites within the network to accept donations
  2. For nonprofits, Karma411 may be a great source of volunteers for their organizations. The site asks its members to highlight some causes/organizations that are important to them. If I were a development director, I would look for members who have stated that they care about my cause, and then would have someone from my organization contact that member. Quite often, people may care about the work that a group does, but have never been asked to get involved, and do not know how to do so. The right email to these people may make a huge difference.
  3. For corporations, Karma411 could be a great marketing tool. Much has been written about how socially-conscious consumers often earn more than the median salary in this country and are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are seen as good corporate citizens. Members of Karma411 will be a valuable source of potential customers for these types of companies, and once there is a critical mass of members, advertising and promoting through this site could be a cost-effective way to reach this group
  4. For both nonprofits and corporations, Karma411 can be an excellent research tool. The site easily allows a member to create a poll, a function that should help organizations gather important data about potential customers/donors/volunteers, etc.

Some pundits might claim that niche social networking sites cannot compete with behemoths like Facebook and myspace. However, smaller, more targeted sites have started to demonstrate excellent success as well, especially as focused advertising destinations. Here’s an excellent article from the Washington Post about this trend. As a focused site, once Karma411 signs up enough users, it should then be able to attract advertisers, who will want to gain access to this small, but likely higher-than-average spending group.

Regardless of the benefit to advertisers, I’m excited to see Karma411 launch, and as a site focused on helping its members improve the world, I wish it and its founders every success. I recently became a member and encourage others to do the same!