Sustainable Branding: Why Leading With Green Misses the Mark, and What to Do Instead

In 1952, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. At the time, the entire river from Akron to Cleveland—about 35 miles—had no animal life. The water was a thick, rusty brown after years of pollution. This fire, only one of 13 on the river, caused over $1 million in damage to surrounding infrastructure.

I know what you’re thinking: How is someone from Ohio qualified to be talking about sustainable branding? Ohio, the place where water is flammable.

The Cuyahoga River fires helped spur the creation of the EPA and the Clean Water Act. And so, despite having painted Ohio with a broad, facetious brush, it’s because I’m from Ohio that I’m able to bring a unique perspective on the sustainable challenges facing us all.

I’ve overcome some hurdles—personally and professionally—to prove sustainability is important. Here are some things I’ve learned.

Why ‘Green’ Doesn’t Work

It doesn’t matter whether you believe climate change is the great existential threat of our time. “Green” or “eco” doesn’t always cut it when talking to your customers.

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