To be credible, make your green message concrete

Americans want companies to be green, but they’re skeptical.

Most corporations talk a good game about environmental responsibility but don’t make significant changes, say nine in 10 Americans in a recent Gallup survey. Eight in 10 say they’re generally skeptical of corporations promoting themselves as environmentally responsible.

Deserved or not, these are failing grades. They raise the question: How could you make your company more credible on the environment?

Gallup gives us a hint. Of the following five environmental actions companies could take, respondents were asked to select the one or two most important actions:

  • conserve energy or use renewable energy sources in their manufacturing and day-to-day operations (74% said one of most important)
  • use minimal or environmentally friendly packaging (42% said one of most important)
  • reduce the carbon footprint of the product they manufacture (36% said one of most important)
  • educate consumers about environmentally friendly products and practices (25% said one of most important)
  • provide financial support for environmental causes (16% said one of most important)

There’s a pattern here. The more tangible and immediate the action, the higher its potential to convince. These findings affirm the idea that something you can touch, see and feel – e.g., wind turbines, solar panels, post-consumer cardboard evoked by renewables and green packaging – is more relevant than something that’s abstract – e.g., carbon calculations, education and funding.

Even so, abstractions can certainly be brought down to earth and warmed up.

Say your plant is reducing carbon emissions by a ton. What does that equal in something more tangible, say, car miles driven? Or something more emotional, say, respiratory disease cases averted?

If you send one percent of your revenue to an environmental organization, what is that accomplishing on the ground (e.g., how many trees are getting planted)?

If you’re educating consumers, prove they’re learning something. Why not post a video of a real person in her home happily doing the green thing because you showed her how?

If nothing else, the Gallup survey points up the fact that when it comes to greening your company, Americans are fully prepared for a whitewash. And in this case, actions don’t speak loud enough. You need the right words