05/16/2010 01:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Your Company's Green Credibility: Everything Is Communicating Something

Consider for a moment that you're selling a green product. You come up with a catchy slogan like "Think Before Your Write" for a line of biodegradable, disposable pens made from non-gmo potatoes instead of petroleum (which actually happens to be the clever slogan for an excellent, new product created by a company called DBA).

Your advertisements are smart and engaging. Now potential customers come to your website. But, uh oh, your web design looks a little dated. Or maybe it's hard to find the "Add to Cart" button. Or it's built in Flash and takes too long to load.

Guess what your website is saying about your green product? It's saying that your green product probably isn't so great. There's probably a quality issue. Maybe the product will fall apart after a few uses. Maybe it just doesn't work well to begin with.  Why? Because your website is communicating to the marketplace that your company isn't completely professional.

Or maybe you have an awesome website and an awesome green product, but for some reason you've refrained from putting your name as the founder and the names of your other team members on the site in the "About" section. Know what your website is communicating now about your green company? It's communicating that it can't be trusted, that the product probably really isn't so green after all. Your oversight is causing potential customers to question the authenticity of your claims to environmental responsibility.

Or maybe you have an awesome website, an outstanding green product, and an amazing executive team whose bios are proudly displayed on the site to boost your company's credibility. Only problem is that when you ship your green product it arrives packaged inside numerous boxes surrounded by loads of packaging materials to help protect it against damage. Despite all your best intentions, you've just communicated to your customer that your green company doesn't really care about the planet because you're either fine with or haven't thought about all the packaging materials that will most likely find their way to a landfill and that are generated every time you ship an order.

Or maybe your website is great, the bios are clearly displayed, packaging is minimal and designed for reuse, and your green product is of really high quality, but it looks frumpy. The design is lame. Know what you've just communicated? Your whole company is lame. Part of great green communication is offering fantastic products that look absolutely fantastic, that are gorgeously designed, and that clearly fit your customer's aesthetic preferences and lifestyle.

I learned many of these lessons -- often the hard way -- while running my own green retail company, Vivavi, which I started in 2003. Through my various roles as The Lazy Environmentalist, I've met hundreds of green companies, managers, and entrepreneurs who wrestle with these issues as well. It's the reason why I recently added a green consulting arm to my business. 

Too often those of us with the best green intentions fail to achieve the impact we hope for because we fail to recognize that every single element that comes in contact with our customers or stakeholders is communicating something about the credibility of our product, brand, and company. Unless every aspect of your business presence is in alignment with your values-based environmental proposition, the results will not follow the effort.

Green businesses are held to a higher standard because green businesses usually claim to be working towards higher standards. Nobody said running a green business would be easy. The idea is to use the power of business to make going green easy for your customers.

As for DBA and its new line of green pens, I spoke recently with the company about adding the names and bios of its founder and executive team to its website. I'm told it's going to happen. I think the company does just about everything really well - website looks great, product is well-designed and functional, packaging is minimal and made of recycled materials, etc. - though it's important to know who specifically takes responsibility for the company's green mission and who is making sure customers are satisfied.