A few other noteworthy nuggets that came out of the PSFK conference on Tuesday were from the panel discussion titled “Eco Shift or Greenwash.” The panel was comprised of Tamara Giltsoff, Hemal Vasavada-Gill, Jill Fehrenbacher, and Marc Alt.
The first few people to speak, Marc and Jill, both noted companies that they felt hadn’t received proper credit for their Green efforts. In Marc’s case it was Wal-Mart (several initiatives) and in Jill’s case it was H&M (organic cotton). I had expected fire-breathing eco-dragons on this panel and instead heard some rational discussion of corporate Green efforts. This, along with some other discussion, made me feel that the eco-ground is truly shifting for activists. With opinions expressed in the media and among the urban cognoscenti swelling in their favor, they seem to be shifting into business mode from fire-breathing mode. If I’m right, this should mean that companies can stop trying to please activists with their Green products and start trying to please consumers. I’ve said many times before that Green products will only become widely accepted when they offer benefits beyond their Greenness. Those who truly believe in the cause should work on creating superior Green products, not just Green products. It looks like there may be hope that the shift is beginning to occur.
The danger for companies is not over yet, however, as evidenced by an interesting quote from Hemal: “Green is a liability.” She wasn’t entirely clear on what she meant, but I took her to mean that if you do Green “wrong,” the price you pay is high. To me, this brings to mind the lessons learned by the college football world as a result of the criticism Notre Dame received when it fired Ty Willingham. Whatever it was that the critics wanted to teach, the lesson learned was don’t hire a black coach unless you are absolutely positive you won’t need to fire him. With Green products the lesson may be don’t bother unless you are willing to make your product, initiative, etc. absolutely unassailable. The shame of this is that it leaves no room for companies to make honest, but flawed, efforts. What I heard from this panel, I hope, means that is also beginning to change.
The best evidence of a change in the air came from Tamara who said she has been, somewhat controversially, “pro-greenwash.” Her belief is that even if flawed, a Green initiative at least starts the conversation. I think that’s a healthy attitude and one that may actually result in truly remarkable Green products.