Cashing in on the latest trend

Consumers across the nation are disproving the misconception that concern for the environment is exclusive to the few and the proud.

As businesses are discovering, the best way to make the green is to go green, and consumers are no longer blindly buying based on marketing ruses.

A recent global survey by The McKinsey Quarterly revealed that a corporation’s role in environmental and climate change issues determines customer trust and loyalty.

“As a business leader, it’s your responsibility to look at trends and see how they affect you,” said Roberta Fernandez of Planet Partnership, who spoke at the Going Green Tampa Bay Expo on Saturday. “People care about where they spend their hard-earned money – that’s what it comes down to.”

Success is based on how a company’s image is perceived by consumers, said Fernandez, who has worked alongside climate change activist Al Gore. She also stressed the role of college students and how they can impact business trends.

“What college students care about matters, because they are the ones who will soon be in the job market and choosing which companies to work for,” she said.

This trend of “going green” spans all sectors, according to the State of Green Business 2008 report released by The problem is, however, that it is difficult to determine true progress, as executive editor Joel Makower stated in the report’s introduction.

“Companies are getting cleaner and more efficient, but only incrementally, and many of the gains are offset by the ever-growing economy. So, while greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of economic activity may be dropping, the growing economy means those emissions are largely unchanged,” he said.

One thing consumers need to be wary of, though, is the threat of “greenwashing,” or companies marketing products to make them appear more environmentally friendly than they really are.

“Greenwashing is pervasive,” according to a report released by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing. “Well-intentioned consumers may be misled into purchases that do not deliver on their environmental promise.”

The good news, said TerraChoice Vice President Scot Chase, is that consumers have access to more information to help them make better choices on truly green products.

“I don’t think the marketing departments have quite realized what strong demand there is for that kind of transparency,” Chase said. “So I hope that … people are expecting a higher level of scrutiny than they used to need for these kinds of claims.”

Despite the numerous deceptive behaviors and labeling of some companies, there is still a sense of progress in green business.

“The state of green business is improving, slowly but surely, as companies both large and small learn the value of integrating environmental thinking into their operations in ways that align with core business strategy and bottom-line goals,” Makower said. “Green business has shifted from a movement to a market. But there is much, much more to do.”