There is widespread interest in green products and entrepreneurs are increasingly eager to reap the benefits. This abbreviated case study reviews some of the challenges associated with green start-ups, it is also a cautionary tale for those seeking to profit from the rising tide of green consumerism.
The client in this case study changed my firm’s consultation process, so from our perspective, this is Client Zero. In the spring of 2007 we were engaged to conduct a feasibility study for an entrepreneur looking to open a food services business in a large affluent suburb of a major metropolitan city. After interviewing Client Zero, we conducted a thorough situational analysis. We researched local demographics and surveyed local residents. We then explored different options and presented our recommendations. Our research indicated that the local residents were very receptive to a green food services concept. The results confirmed that locals had a distinct preference for a green-themed eatery.
After Client Zero accepted the conclusions of our feasibility study, we were engaged to write the business plan. Upon completion, the actionable components of the business plan were implemented by Client Zero with the exception of a few key elements. Although Client Zero did a lot of things right, he also made some fundamental mistakes. A few crucial omissions compromised his message and hampered his ability to establish his brand.
Despite our recommendations, Client Zero opted to use a name and logo inconsistent with a green offering. Client Zero also neglected to implement various aspects of the marketing plan (e.g.: advertising, promotions, and interior signage). He also opted to include some menu items that contradicted the core message of his brand. The result was a poorly communicated message and a broken green promise. Inadequate and poorly targeted marketing prevented him from reaching his audience, and consequently he fell well short of his projections.
A marketing strategy is the vehicle by which a green offering is communicated. It works as a cohesive whole. When you are going green the details matter, and maintaining the purity of a green brand is a constant challenge.
Few things are as harmful to a company’s reputation as the perception of a disconnection between the promise and the actual offering. Promoting green demands that authenticity be at the core of the offering. To be serious about green business means you must be serious about environmentalism. Entrepreneurs, business owners, and marketers need to understand that green is not just pretense to flog a product.
Consultants need to understand that clients cannot communicate the value of a green offering if they do not understand it themselves. Clients are less likely to assume the additional responsibilities that come with sustainable business practices if they are not genuinely committed to going green.
As consultants, we must assume some of the responsibility for protecting green’s image. Advocating for sustainable business practices in industries where they do not fit, or with individuals who do not care, undermines green’s reputation.
The market will punish businesses that are not serious about sustainability as well as those companies that merely exploit green’s marketing appeal. Responsible stewardship of sustainable business demands that we take interest in the way green is represented as well as the general perception of the green economy.
To reap the rewards that come from investing in green, prospective entrepreneurs need to understand the additional burdens and responsibilities that come with a more environmentally conscious business model.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources for information and tools on sustainability. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, politics and economics.