Posts Tagged ‘eco-friendly’
As I get ready for my summer vacation in the Northwest, my thoughts are in the South, specifically New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. That area is about to mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. No doubt residents fortunate enough to have homes and jobs and politicians and government officials charged with the region’s recovery will cite the many signs of progress. Others, with equal claim, will point to the vast stretches that have yet to recover, looking virtually as they did when the floodwaters receded.
My reflection is of a different sort. I only experienced the storm and its catastrophic aftermath through the media. A year after Katrina hit, I traveled along the Gulf Coast and into New Orleans. I needed to see with my own eyes what had happened. I returned to New Orleans a few months later as part of a volunteer crew that gutted and cleaned homes for a week. Needless to say, what I saw with my own eyes has left a lasting impression.
I realize now that Katrina is as responsible as anything for the shift I made in my work. I had spent 20 years in high tech marketing and was running the PR and advertising agency I co-founded in 1993 when all hell broke loose in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The storm and a tragically flawed response at all levels of government laid bare for the entire world to see the outrageous inequities and injustices that remain in our land of the free and home of the brave.
By coincidence, I departed my previous business and the high tech industry a year after Katrina hit. I had decided I needed to shift what I knew how to do — branding, marketing, communications — in support of businesses and organizations whose values and actions are making the world a better place. When I formed a new firm to work at the crossroads of sustainability and marketing, I wasn’t seeing sustainability through the single lens of saving the environment. As much as we humans have disregarded and damaged our natural world, we have caused no less harm to each other. Katrina was simply the most recent evidence.
Efforts to create a sustainable future must treat the Earth and all of its inhabitants as one. Sustainability isn’t saving the old growth in the Pacific Northwest forests and ignoring the rights of all humans to have their basic needs met and to live in peace. By this standard, green marketing falls short. Its preoccupation with promoting eco-friendly products is often little more than dressing up unsustainable consumption in a different color. Even more significantly, green marketing doesn’t go far enough to address the broader human and social dimensions of sustainability. If you’re a retailer touting your green product lines while paying employees low wages and no benefits, you fail the sustainability test.
Management guru Peter Drucker said the function of marketing is to create and keep a customer. In this post-Katrina world, maybe it’s worth remembering that customers are humans first. Forget that, and one day marketers will have no customers to keep.