Creative Activism & The 3 Types Of Green Brand

Creative Activism & The 3 Types Of Green Brand

April’s Creative Review is a special issue devoted to sustainability. For it, the publisher asked Sara Rich, editor of, to explain how their readers can help genuinely green businesses to thrive.

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 27 march 2007

April’s Creative Review is a special issue devoted to sustainability. For it, the publisher asked Sara Rich, editor of, to explain how their readers can help genuinely green businesses to thrive. Here’s a (rather long) extract here:

Conscious consumers in the modern marketplace rarely face an either/or proposition. Gone are the days of choosing between pleasure and principle. Gone is the sacrifice of flavour, colour and style in the name of environmental responsibility. With the likely exception of toilet paper (which it seems still cannot be made both recycled and soft), many of our everyday items can now be found in a luxurious shade of green. Savvy advocates of sustainability know that business is not the enemy of the good…

In fact, business can be a vehicle for doing better in the world, and making a comfortable living with a guilt-free conscience as well. But in an increasingly crowded green business sphere, knowing who’s authentic presents a challenge. The responsibility for giving not-so-sustainable products a green face – as well as for making truly green products as desirable as their counterparts – lies entirely in the hands of designers, as the make-up artists and storytellers for brands. In a consumer culture teeming with excess and endlessly driving our desire for more stuff, designers become responsible, too, for reconsidering how we engage with products, and how we might transform the consumers’ motivation from quantity to quality, and from singular to whole systems thinking.

There are three primary categories into which green-oriented brands fall. The best of them don’t craft their identity around sustainability. Their social and environmental characteristics tend to show up as if they are a given in the bigger picture of a current, cutting-edge brand; because the reality is that a lack of awareness around these issues equates to a lack of viability in the twenty-first century. A second category comprises campaigns that do direct their messaging squarely on green, but intentionally incorporate an urban edge and a modern aesthetic in order to combat the stereotype of something four decades too tired. Finally, there are those brands that aggressively present an “eco” image as a way to capitalise on the green consumer movement without matching their practices to their pretence. This “greenwashing” trend has fairly well permeated the industry and it’s now up to consumers to develop a radar for spotting duplicitous brands. As a New York Times article on greenwashing put it, “When a trend starts to show success, it’s a design pile-up…[But] merely dressing up the package is not enough. There is value in telling a story, but it must be true.” Companies whose story is real, compelling, and smartly designed are the ones who are starting to shine.

Then there is another category, which transcends or stands peripheral to the others, and may represent the direction green consumption is headed. It’s design for the elimination of excess – dematerialisation – in which user experience takes precedence over acquiring more things. Product service systems, or service designs, reconceive goods as functions and permit users to obtain access to the outcome yielded by a product without actually owning it, meaning each of us needs to consume less in order to get the same result. The concept has taken hold well in the UK – perhaps better than anywhere else in the world – where sharing of commodities such as cars, office space and power tools has become relatively commonplace.

…Brands can design all manner of slick packaging and alluring ads, but in order to achieve credibility, they have to deliver transparency with every product and interaction. The conscious consumer wants to know what’s in her cake before she eats it. Creatives and designers face the challenge of telling the true story behind a brand in a way that’s sincere, engaging and reassuring so that green business can thrive and the bar can keep rising on what sustainability means in the market.

Read. Buy. Learn. Change: Creative Activism

Also, while we’re on the subject, check out Russell Davies compelling thoughts on whether we can “create a minimal-impact version of consumer society that’s attractive enough that the developing world will want to adopt it as a vision for their future (assuming they don’t come up with something better)?”


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