Do ants play Xbox? (and other sustainability marketing issues)

The more I hear it, the more I hate the phrase “green wash”. While it is a tremendously important issue it is too often used glibly as a catch-all put-down against corporate environmental responses.  I am sure that often the term is merited  but the phrase unhelpfuly hides and detracts from the complexity of what it means to become sustainable. Even the term “becoming sustainable” misses the point. Anyone looking at this seriously from a corporate perspective knows  you can never actually become fully sustainable. 

In the inspiring Cradle to Cradle  the lives of ants are frequently held up as an example of the sustainable ideal. The argument goes something like this: there are loads of ants, in fact more biomass in the form of ants than there is human biomass, but they carry on doing their ant thing without harming the planet.  We need to be more ant-like in our outlook.

The trouble is, and I am no biologist,  ants dont drink lattes, play Xbox or take vacations. With issues surrounding sustainability no company or even individual can be 100% sustainable (unless you’re an ant). At some level any organisation that promotes their environmental activities with wholly good intentions, can be lazily accused of green wash.   

Like it or not, the phrase green wash is here to stay which gets me to the purpose of this post. At what point do you get the marketing involved in developing your sustainability strategy? I had a conversation with a Seattle conference speaker today who suggested the Action for a Sustainable America – Seattle program was missing a solid discussion on marketing within strategy?

It’s not a simple answer and therefore might make for a good discussion.  If marketing is involved in strategy from the start isn’t that putting the emphasis on doing something that sells and promotes rather than doing something that is sustainable? If you leave marketing to the end – simply labelling and promoting a product as green or sustainable then that really is shallow and green wash.   Smart companies realize that sustainability and marketing are about continuous engagement, dialogue and input  – which is not a business as usual approach and would be good to hear about. Any thoughts?

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