The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

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Thursday, April 22 marks Earth Day: a day when, as a primary school student, I would pitch in to pick up trash from a neighborhood park. And a day now which, as a twenty-something –strapped-for-cash-urbanite, I will probably forget is even Earth Day until I see something about a climate rally in the 6 o’clock news.

I know! This is not the picture of the altruistic, socially conscious enlightened being I had imagined I always would be. Unfortunately, for me and a class of similarly situated consumers, this is reality. The Earth, though a fundamentally important part of my world (:nudge:), is not a driving factor in my every day consciousness or purchase behavior. There you have it, the secret’s out.

The Boston Globe recently featured an article on Daniel Goleman, the famed author of “Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Evidently, the man previously hailed as the emperor of elucidating intelligence has been deemed the official “Guru of Green.”

In Goleman’s new book, “Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy,” he illustrates consumers’ general illiteracy regarding green product branding and marketing strategies.  Essentially, Goleman’s pegged us on the behaviors we’ve been trying to stifle beneath a façade of social responsibility: we are passive consumers, whose purchase behaviors are influenced primarily by the marketing messages we are inundated with daily.

Worse yet, Goleman points out that even the pro-active consumers among us – the ones who go out in search of green and organic products – are buying items blind to their questionably green status. According to Goleman, just because it looks green and it says green, that doesn’t mean it is green—especially if the company making the green (profit) off of the product is the one who says it’s green. It’s an ugly game of he-said-she-said, and all that back and forth is making me a little green.

In the book, the Guru does what he does best: raises our understanding of the issue and calls on us to become empowered, literate, pro-active consumers who recognize the true nature of what is green.

In Goleman’s world, once this newly empowered army of ecologically savvy consumers rises up against the wheels of big industry demanding truly ecologically sound products, companies will be forced to restructure their manufacturing processes and put only USDA certified green products on the market.

But I’m not buying it – no, not the green product; maybe, I’ll buy that—but I’m not buying Goleman’s theory.

Feel free to disagree, I welcome the discourse, but I don’t think that as I become more literate about green products and their manufacturers my purchase behaviors will change. Sure, I desire a healthy world for the generations to come, and I’d like to do my part to help that happen. But it’s simpler than that: I have a bottom line, too.  When my time comes in line at the grocery store, I only have a certain amount of change in my pocket – and that change will determine what I am able to purchase. Much like your neighborhood grocery, if you’ll visit peapod.com, you’ll see a head of nonorganic broccoli at .99¢, versus a head of organic broccoli at $2.99. I’d rather take the value and keep the change.

Goleman isn’t the only one talking green; the movement has garnered attention from consumers and vendors alike. As the pocket of consumers who appreciated green products grew, green marketing certainly gained ground as an “innovative” strategy to produce gains for a brand. But in a recession where cost is king, how can a brand benefit from green marketing?

I’ve never put much stock in the capability of green product marketing to produce actual financial gains for a company. As an example, Business.gov offers green marketing tips and strategies to help your company “add green claims to your products that enhance brand image” and help garner a larger purchase audience –one which includes those eco-savvy elite who can afford the pay the difference.

Yes, elite. With hybrid vehicles driven by celebrities and the rise in specialty grocers offering gourmet eco-friendly eats, it’s easy to see how “going green” is an image thing. You’d like to be seeing buying the right product, the one that says “I care,” but when there isn’t an audience, would you still buy it for yourself?

I read Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence,” as part of course curriculum in school.  In that book, he told me what being smart really meant.  Perhaps with that literacy, I’ll call out the green issue from a removed perspective: will going green actually increase brand success, if consumers can’t discern the messages? And why should companies invest in green marketing strategies if consumers can’t afford to care?

Goleman points out that our better world will come when doing what’s right for the environment becomes synonymous with doing what’s right for a company’s bottom line. Already it seems, the bottom line isn’t everything. B corporations have emerged with a Declaration of Interdependence, a mission to “use the power of private enterprise to create public benefit.” Though still a newborn movement, I believe that with their help, what little altruism I have  left in me can jump on board –as long as “going green” will keep the “green” in my wallet.

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