The “greening” of America is not a trend. Green has gone mainstream, and smart businesses are capitalizing on it. That said, companies who want to be green need to do more than just recycle paper waste. A successful corporate sustainability strategy strives to balance the triple bottom line: accounting for the financial, social, and environmental impacts of doing business. However, implementing green initiatives cannot be successful without getting your employees and clients to buy in. Whether you are trying to rally employees around a conservation initiative, or devise a green marketing campaign to win customers, here are seven tips for selling your company on your green strategy:
1. Understand how change works. Many business leaders struggle with how to present a green strategy to employees. Seeing yourself as a change agent will empower you to navigate these channels. Any organization will have a mixture of leaders, followers, laggards, and curmudgeons. As a change agent, try presenting your green strategy in an appropriate context for different personalities. For employees who are driven by the bottom line, explain the quantifiable costs and benefits from your green initiatives, such as increases in sales projections from new eco-devoted customers. Your approach with customers should mirror your marketing message. For example, if your technology company promotes itself as being a leading-edge solution provider, choose and promote green initiatives that incorporate the latest green technology. Also try introducing one green product at a time to capture customers’ attention.
2. Inspire your audience. People are afraid of change. Laying a foundation of education for customers will help you grow green roots in your corporate culture. Use communications methods such as e-mail and newsletters to share messages about your sustainability goals. Intertwine facts with personal experience to engage people in your mission. Find creative and fun ways to spread awareness in order to build a foundation for more strategic sustainability efforts. Elect an eager intern or admin to send weekly green messages, such as those found on idealbite.com. Consider inviting an expert to deliver a motivational seminar to your employees, or start a discussion group with workbooks provided by the Northwest Earth Institute (nwei.org).
3. Emphasize practice, not theory. A common misconception is that sustainability is an esoteric pursuit of the intellectual elite. Discussing deep ecology issues will not win the support of your average executive or your average customer. Instead of talking theory, emphasize the practice. For your employees, begin by answering real questions: What are the tangible benefits? How exactly will the plan work? For customers, give them a simple understanding of how they are making a difference by purchasing the green product or service. For example, you can offer an “eco-sensitive” option to receive paperless invoicing, and then share their green values with a sign or fun factoid on your website. For example, “Did you know that 687,000 tons of paper could be saved each year if every US household stopped receiving paper bills and statements? That’s enough to circle the Earth 239 times.” This lends a new dimension of personality to any kind of company, which can’t help but increase customer loyalty. Even an accounting firm can find a way to make conservation and energy efficiency appealing by educating their clients. Something as simple as signs communicating “We saved X amount of CO2 emissions this year by turning out the lights” can send the right message, as long as you are being sincere.
4. Build consensus. Without building consensus, your great green idea may remain on the ground. People support what they help to create. Invite key staff members from each department to join a “green team.” Invite customers to visit your website to make suggestions. Paul Mitchell (paulmitchell.com/headforchange/) has a fantastic green micro-site to engage customers. Your stakeholders will feel engaged and appreciate the opportunity to help take the company in a new direction.
6. See your sustainability program as a system. When I recently visited an Apple store, I was excited to see that the new Mac laptop has an aluminum casing with recycled content. A sign told the customers about the product’s green features. I asked if they had a brochure I could take home with me. “No, it’s part of our environmental policy not to produce a lot of marketing collateral on paper. We invite you to go online to learn more.” You don’t have to be as big as Apple to carry your commitment through to all your operations. Companies that roll out a green product, but change nothing else, will not realize all the benefits of sustainability and may come off as insincere.
7. Be bold. Sitting on the fence guarantees that your competition will beat you to the punch in the growing green economy. You don’t need a PhD in environmental science to get into the game. Some of the boldest approaches are coming from entrepreneurs with no previous green credentials. If you learn how to sell people on your green idea, you’ll make your company more competitive and create a cleaner world at the same time.