Building a Global Green Brand

MesserWoland

It difficult to say exactly what a green brand is, because there is no single definition that everyone can agree upon. People come at it from different perspectives. I think the two strongest progressive brands are (RED) and the Pink Ribbon. Neither of these are green. Part of what has made them successful is their simplicity, something which is near impossible for a green brand.

(RED) was started by Bono and raises money to help fight AIDS in Africa. (RED) products donate a portion of their proceeds to the cause. The catch is that it’s not really transparent – something a green brand would have to be. It’s unclear what the percentage is and the products do not need to make any special health or environmental claims. The Pink Ribbon campaign has been around since the early 1990s. It’s now in the public domain and companies can use it as long as they support breast cancer research.

A green brand has much higher hurdles.It should either be completely sustainable (think cradle to cradle) or at least environmentally superior to the next best commercial alternative. Interbrand took a crack at ranking the 50 Best Global Green Brands. Here is their top ten:

1 Toyota 64.19
2 3M 63.33
3 Siemens 63.08
4 Johnson & Johnson 59.41
5 HP 59.06
6 VW 58.90
7 Honda 58.85
8 Dell 58.81
9 Cisco 57.66
10 Panasonic 57.32

 

Interbrand is the world’s largest brand consultancy and the list reflects that. It reads like the S&P 500. There are no small, pure green startups here. These are the companies Interbrand consults with and tries to put a value on their brand for. Toyota – number one on Interbrand’s list – deserves a lot of credit for driving the development of the hybrid car and pushing the whole industry to become more efficient. But it still sells large and inefficient SUVs, so you can’t call it truly sustainable.

If you go further down the list, you will find McDonald’s at number 45. I like buying my Newman’s Organic coffee at McDonald’s as much as the next person, but it’s really tough to think of them as a green brand, however much they might reduce their packaging. They still promote people to eat non-sustainable meat.

Should Interbrand have put Tesla at the top instead of Toyota? It’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges. Tesla has sold a little over 2000 cars since 2008. Toyota sells more than that in a day. Even incremental eco improvements to Toyota’s automotive line can have significant global impact.

Nothing Interbrand did was wrong per se. It will just take some time before some of the truly sustainable companies have the necessary global footprint to make their list. Unfortunately that’s probably a long way off. But could we have a global green brand without the massive international footprint of a Toyota?

(RED) just sort of burst onto the scene. It would be interesting to see if it was possible to do something similar with a green brand. (RED) was built around Bono’s celebrity and the importance of the cause. Not every product could be (EARTH) branded. But a global campaign around environmentally positive products would certainly be worthwhile. Andrew Winston in a recent post at HBR.org examines the difficulty of creating an eco label. That said, it’s certainly an idea whose time has come.

 

 

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