Last semester I met a Gallatin marketing student named Annie who had an intriguing idea: applying the co-branding strategy of Product Red to environmentally sensitive products. In the past year, Product Red has successfully leveraged Bono’s star power and the cultural influence of brands like Apple, Converse and the Gap to raise tens of millions of dollars for AIDS. What would happen, Annie wondered, if a similar cross-company brand was created for goods with greater environmental sensitivity?
At first glance, it seems like Annie was onto something. But for it to actually have a positive environmental impact, there’s a number of issues that would have to be thought through. First off, standards would have to be developed to assure that the co-branded products were truly green; if they weren’t stringent enough, the result would merely be greenwashing on a massive and coordinated scale. Maybe there could be a LEED-style checklist of attributes, with separate symbols on the (minimal) packaging certifying that the product contained non-toxic materials, recycled content, fair trade, or a low carbon footprint.
The second issue with environmental co-branding is the danger of the token green product. Suppose H&M decided to offer a fair-trade recycled hemp shirt – what about the hundreds of unsustainable products on their shelves? Running a special promotion like a co-branding campaign creates the mindset that sustainability is a bonus, when it should be an imperative. Finally, even the most environmentally responsible co-branding campaign wouldn’t get across the message that we most need to hear: that we’re addicted to consumption, and the environmental crisis is bound to worsen until we recognize and break that addiction.
Still, even as a Lime Green idea – that is, one that benefits the economy more than the environment – “Product Green” is worth a closer look. It has the potential to raise awarness of environmental issues to millions who currently could care less. And even if H&M doesn’t switch their entire line to recycled hemp right away, they’d at least have something environmentally responsible for sale. And that’s a lot more than you can say about them at the moment.