Green WorldIn my previous Wideangle post, I raised the question: ‘is there any point in trying to be ‘green’ in professional audio? And the conclusion I proffered was that it was, for two main reasons.

First, because of the increasing expectation from society in general that businesses act responsibly. Second, that there’s good evidence suggesting that not being green drives negative perceptions; while being green is strongly associated with leadership and innovation.

The evidence for this was taken from the strategic analysis of the Green Brands Survey 2010 by Landor Associates head of strategy Ian Wood. 

I’m fascinated by the insights that are provided by understanding exactly what companies are talking about. That’s why I run a brand language analysis company, Linguabrand. We’ve worked with Ian on several projects. That’s why his analysis, and the consequent discussion, threw up an obvious question – what exactly does ‘green’ mean? One of his key findings was that your ‘greenness’ needs to be communicated effectively if you are to alter people’s perceptions of your business. So if we don’t understand what green is we’re in danger of setting off on a journey without a map.

Here I’ll refer to some language analytics work on supermarkets and energy companies – two leading ‘talking green sectors’ – where we’ve started trying to answer the ‘what is green?’ question. It won’t give you all the answers, but it will suggest a framework for green thinking and expression. As usual on Fast-and-Wide, it’s your contributions that will help all of us improve our understanding.

Let's stick to greener business

We don’t have the space or place to discuss the deep moral and ethical issues underlying the relationship between humankind and our environment. So let’s stick to the business world. Yet even here green issues are often bundled up with other corporate responsibility (CR) issues like: community involvement, employee wellbeing (particularly when based in developing countries), supplier relationships, fair-trade, animal welfare and business ethics.

The lack of precision in understanding what contributes to ‘green’ hampers understanding of the ideas you need to engage with to make it work for you. One of the outcomes of the Green Brands research was that green probably means different things to different people. But during our work we’ve identified three pillars of expressing green thinking.

The three pillars of green thinking – a central concept

The three pillars of expressing green thinking are: Environmental, Sustainability and Climate Change. These three concepts overlap, and underlying each of them is a range of terms, numbering around 40, that share different classifications. These are all themes we’ve come across in analysing green language. But there’s one theme that’s central to all three – energy efficiency. But first, let’s talk through these three core green ideas.

In the business context ‘environmental’ is intrinsically linked mainly (but not exclusively) to sources. Certainly, it links into big themes such as biodiversity and deforestation – but often these strategic themes impact on tactical business sourcing. For example, the production of palm oil has led to hardwood forest clearance in Indonesia. Consequently brands like Unilever and Waitrose talk a great deal about palm oil sourcing. Waitrose actually leads its brand agenda with another sourcing issue – fishing and fish stocks, which links into the broader environmental issue of sea life. So what’s that got to do with AVL? For manufacturers there’s an obvious issue about the use of metals. Mining and processing is having a huge environmental impact in developing countries. So where your components come from is an environmental issue.

Perhaps the most relevance will come in the form of ‘sustainability’. In business, sustainability is closely linked to processes. Underlying themes include recycling and waste reduction. And, again, energy efficiency is present. So how you manage production and delivery processes is central to being able to claim a lead in sustainability. But also, for you installers out there, how efficiently are you running your own processes? Are you shipping kit you don’t need to? To what extent are you reusing existing materials? And how do you dispose of and recycle stuff you don’t use anymore?

Linguabrand Green Agenda Model

The Linguabrand Green Agenda Model

‘Climate change’ change is fundamentally, but again not exclusively, about your business’s impact. Core underlying themes include ‘carbon’, ‘emissions’ and ‘planet’. And like all good business impacts the output is measured, in this case with carbon footprint. You can see now how energy efficiency is central to all three pillars.

Some underlying themes

We’ve come across a number of different green themes most of which gravitate towards one or other of the three green pillars. I’m sure there are things missing, so please look for them and let me know here on Fast-and-Wide.

Green Agenda, Populated

The Linguabrand Green Agenda, Populated

You can see why it’s convenient to refer to ‘green’ as a catchall word for all of the above. But you can also see why it’s not a useful term for those who have to take action.

How 'green' could impact on your business

The balance of the conversation depends which sector you are in. Supermarkets are almost all about sustainability, with waste reduction and recycling their key green themes. Business sectors that deliver resources to the rest of us such as mining and oil exploration spend a lot trying to convince us that they are minimising their environmental damage. While every business, but particularly energy generators, is keen to minimise its impact on climate change. They also look at their processes of sustainability by investigating renewable energy sources.

In AVL it’s likely that the area to concentrate on is sustainability with support from minimising environmental impact through greater energy efficiency. Within your market it’s important to understand what people want you to do. But actually if you want to take the lead it’s more important to understand what you can do, immediately and in the longer term. The next paper in this series will propose a framework to help you do that.

You’ll be able to find ‘green’ initiatives by breaking down exactly what it means in your business. I hope that this paper has helped in establishing the themes behind what ‘green’ could mean to many different people.

I believe it’s not a useful term for those who have to take action – because it means everything and nothing at the same time.

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