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.

Green Tips for Marketing Success: Part 4 of 4 (Green Printing)

As I have written about on several occasions, my firm, Grossman Marketing Group, put together our 100 Tips for Marketing Success this year to mark our 100th anniversary.  21 of the 100 tips involve sustainability, and were broken into four categories: 1) General Sustainability, 2) Green Promotional Products, 3) Green Design, 4) Green Printing.  I am pleased to share the green printing tips below:

Let your colleagues, customers, donors and other constituents know that you are fully committed to environmental stewardship by using some of the following best practices in green printing.

  1. Encourage your constituents to either share or recycle the printed piece. Sustainability is more than the materials you use—it also involves the lifecycle of your item.
  2. Consider using chlorine-free paper. The best papers to use are bleached using an oxygen-based process, thus avoiding the creation of chlorine-related pollution.
  3. Use vegetable-based inks when possible. Not only are they generally refined in the United States, but they also reduce our use of petroleum, the majority of which comes from foreign sources.
  4. Consider papers with a high degree of post-consumer content, as they require fewer resources (energy, water, etc.) to produce.
  5. When using eco-friendly papers, make sure to explain the environmental benefits derived from these choices. These calculations should come from a third-party source rather than a calculation from an industry source. For a great example, please see www.papercalculator.org.
  6. Use renewable energy (like wind or solar power) in the production process. It is good for the environment and resonates well with the vast majority of Americans.
  7. You can make your collateral more environmentally-friendly without sacrificing quality or adding cost! For example, our house sheet of coated stock is 55% recycled with 30% post-consumer waste, and will not cost your organization any more than the non-recycled alternative!

I hope you have enjoyed reading these suggestions.  To download the full set of 100 tips, please click here. Many thanks for your interest!

Follow up to key idea from the Environmental Defense Unconference: Corporate Collaboration on Sustainability

collaborationOn this blog, my summer colleague, Lenora Deslandes, discussed her observations on the Environmental Defense Unconference in Boston.  One of the main ideas she highlighted was the need for companies to share best practices in sustainability in order to advance our common good.

Therefore, I was excited to read in the New York Times this month about some recent collaborative efforts among large companies to share environmentally friendly innovations.  The article, titled “Everybody In the Pool Of Green Innovation,” spotlighted two major initiatives:

  1. Eco-Patent Commons: According to the article’s author, Mary Tripsas, the Eco-Patent Commons was founded in 2008 and is a place where “Companies pledge environmental patents to the commons, and anyone can use them – free.”
  2. GreenXchange: A joint initiative between the Creative Commons, Best Buy and Nike to be launched next year that will allow companies to contribute patents and be able to charge licensing fees for interested parties.

It remains to be seen how successful either of these initiatives will be (there are only 100 patents currently shared on the Eco-Patent Commons, and the GreenXchange has yet to go live), but these developments are encouraging.  As I have seen in my business and those of our clients, learning about the tactics and strategies other organizations are employing to operate in a sustainable way has the potential to add tremendous value and contribute to the level of dialogue and ideas exchanged both in individual firms as well as in our society as a whole.

Unique Environmental Approach to Al Gore Mailing

Front and back of Al Gore mailing.

Front and back of Al Gore mailing.

My firm recently produced envelopes for a mailing on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for Nexus Direct, a full-service direct marketing agency located in Virginia Beach, VA.

This fundraising appeal, comprised of 1.9 million pieces, was signed by former Vice President Al Gore. In keeping with his unwavering commitment to fighting global warming, the envelopes that were used were produced using environmentally-sound practices, most notably recycled paper, containing 30% post-consumer waste, and 100% certified wind power.

Eco-statistics for Al Gore Mailing

The back of the envelope featured statistics on the following savings: trees, pounds of solid waste, pounds of greenhouse gases, gallons of wastewater and BTUs of energy.


Please click here to view the mailing
,
which features all relevant eco-logos and a union label, as well as a full environmental report of the savings realized by using the above-mentioned practices. The statistics are from the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator, which I have written about on numerous occasions as being an excellent resource, especially due to its independent and transparent nature.

Highlights from Environmental Defense Green Business Unconference

338777292By Lenora Deslandes (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

Sustainability and the environment have been my main areas of study for the past three years at Boston University. After speaking with professors about issues and serving as an active member of a wide array of sustainability initiatives on the BU campus, I decided it was important for my development to receive some real-world experience in the sustainability space. After researching businesses that valued and were leaders in sustainability, I was excited to find a home for the summer as an intern for Grossman Marketing Group. One of the many opportunities I have had so far was to attend the Green Business for Innovation Unconference, organized by Environmental Defense, on Monday, June 22.

This conference, or rather, unconference, was different than any other I’ve ever attended. There was no agenda upon arrival. No keynote speaker, no panel of experts. Instead, the topics of each of the 45-minute discussion sessions were decided upon at the beginning by everyone collectively and then led by a volunteer attendee. This may sound like a recipe for chaos, but in fact, it was quite the opposite. In all the sessions I attended (Practical Tools for Sustainability, Greening Small Businesses, and Big Business/Small Business Collaboration) the discussions were freeflowing yet managed to be relevant and interesting. And when the moderator, Odin Zackmin of DIG IN, popped in to give the five-minute warning, the conversation was neatly wrapped up and attendees exchanged contact information.

The tone during the conference was one of shared experiences, advice lending, and support – very different from the cut-throat world of business I had expected to encounter. As so eloquently put by Holly Fowler, senior director of corporate citizenship for Sodexo, “the new competitive advantage is the ability to share what you have done with others. It is no longer exclusivity.”

If there is any embodiment of this new path business is on, it is the unconference. There were about 85 participants representing all areas of business from large corporations like Citizens Bank and Stop & Shop to local activists and small business employees and even interns. Although all participants were different, it was clear from the start that everyone had the same goal: to engage in a meaningful conversation about sustainability issues and how they can be best addressed by businesses combining everyone’s experience and expertise.

Some of my key takeaways were:

  • There needs to be a collaborative effort between big and small businesses to share best practices on how to become green
  • The need for a central database of information and resources where businesses can connect with each other was repeatedly raised
  • It’s important for businesses to motivate people to make green choices to ensure a long-term, sustainable future

The unconference brought to light many obstacles businesses face in addressing sustainability but also made it clear that a future of sustainable business practices being the norm is not only possible but well on its way.

Notes from most of the discussion sessions can be found here.

WSJ: Interesting report on eco-logos and green marketing

Courtesy Wall Street Journal.  Illustration by Michael Witte.

Courtesy Wall Street Journal. Illustration by Michael Witte.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting report in Thursday’s issue titled: “As Eco-Seals Proliferate, So Do Doubts.” The article discusses how a number of unregulated organizations that purport to verify “green” product claims have sprouted up, which only makes buying these products even more confusing for businesses and consumers.

Here are the two main points that the writer makes:

1) The U.S. Government may need to oversee the creation of Federal green marketing standards, similar to what the U.S. Department of Agriculture has done with organic foods.

2) Eco-seals that are verified by reputable third-party organizations are more reliable.  One example the writer provides is a Canadian-based organization, Ecologo.

I couldn’t agree more.  I have been pushing my industry and my clients to be transparent about green marketing claims, especially because consumers are smart and see through “fuzzy” and unsubstantiated claims that organizations make.  This is why when a client uses eco-friendly papers in their marketing programs and wants to explain the environmental benefits derived from these choices, they should not use a paper company’s calculator to arrive at these statistics.  Rather, they should use the paper calculator created by Environmental Defense, a leading non-profit dedicated to the environment.  I have written about this resource a number of times over the past several years.

I also believe that the Federal government should step in and begin to regulate green product claims.  I know this will be a difficult process, as it would be impossible to apply the same standards across all industries.  Nevertheless, it is important to start now, as it will help companies and individual consumers to better navigate the increasingly-complicated product landscape.

Here’s a link to the full article.