To be, or be seen to be – that is the question.


More and more businesses are going green. On the surface, this has to be a good thing – doesn't it? But delve a little deeper and it soon becomes clear that many are just going through the motions in a cynical attempt to tap into the growing environmentally consciousness of consumers.

Just today I saw a billboard for a fabric conditioner that apparently requires 14,000 less trucks to deliver it all to the supermarkets because it is 'concentrated' (Ooh let's all dash out and buy some, even it does put more cars on the road rushing to the supermarket).

Another radio advert for a car windscreen repairer claimed that if we get the chips in our windscreens fixed immediately rather than leaving them until a crack develops, we are somehow helping the environment! How this actually works I'm not sure.

There's even a term for this – greenwashing. It means pretending to be green to seek advantage. And it is becoming more widespread. Only recently, the president of the National Farmers Union here in the UK accused supermarkets of pretending to be environmentally friendly but at the same time driving farmers out of business by squeezing their margins to breaking point.

These businesses seem to think that we're all green behind the ears

These businesses, like many others, seem to think that we're all green behind the ears (or just soft in the head) and are cynically exploiting well-meaning popular sentiment. But they are on dangerous ground. It won't be long before people start to see through them.

A Datamonitor study of consumers in the USA and Europe found that almost nine out of 10 of us are less trusting of companies than we were five years ago. We research more, we question more, we challenge more - and the web has made this much easier to do.

Companies that pretend to be something that they're not tend to get found out. Remember the Dasani fiasco? Back in 2004, Coca Cola were found out when it was discovered that their bottled water was nothing more than filtered tap water. To make matters worse, UK authorities found a potentially carcinogenic chemical in the product and pulled it from the shelves.

But honesty goes beyond green issues. The principle applies to anything. Mcdonalds can promote their healthy eating credentials all they like, but let's be honest, how many of us think of heading there for a healthy fresh salad.

I like McDonalds in moderation and eat there occasionally, but when I do it's because I WANT a Big Mac and fries and all the comfort and instant gratification that goes with it (and that's a large fries please!).

Like companies that try too hard to prove to kids they are cool, those that try to dress up their products and services in green clothes will soon find that most of those clothes simply won't wash. Even in eco-friendly washing powder.

So, what does this mean for your business?

It's not about whether you are environmentally friendly or not. It's about authenticity. Are you actually what you say you are? Or are you guilty of masquerading as something or someone else?

Why not get back to basics? Work out what you stand for - I mean really stand for - and stick to it. Find the customers who genuinely share your beliefs in it and buy into it. Live it, promote it, and demonstrate it. Aim to make it your difference.

Jump on a bandwagon with no real conviction and you're in grave danger of quickly falling off – and falling hard. Believe me, it's better to 'be', than trying too hard to 'be seen to be'.

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.