THE BLOG
01/31/2012 06:46 pm ET | Updated Apr 01, 2012

Getting Practical With Your Sustainability Brand

When it comes to green, virtue doesn't work.

That is the sadly obvious conclusion reached by the New York Times' John Tierney a few weeks back.

Ever since the Kyoto Protocol imposed restrictions in industrial countries, we've made it our objective to create less carbon dioxide emissions. Only problem is, we won't do it if it entails any form of sacrifice.

It comes down to human nature. If virtue brings largely intangible global results, and vice brings immediate gratification, I'll pick vice. Usually while preaching loudly for everyone else to up their virtue ante.

Tierney quotes a study in Science that offers an incredibly practical solution: become more efficient with our fossil fuels, cap and tap C02 waste, and generally just stop behaving like profligates.

The key is to make green practical, not painful. To innovate our way past sacrifice to shiny efficiency without really letting consumers know they're using less.

I believe this sage advice is key to building a futureproof brand.

Consumers Love Carrots. The Recyclebank Advantage.

I asked my friend Javier Flaim, SVP Global Marketing at Recyclebank, about practical green.

Flaim firmly believes consumers need tangible rewards for their actions. What's more, they need green brands to connect on a personal level, as opposed to selling virtue from on high. Consumers, Recyclebank believes, are looking for practical ways to make a difference, feedback that lets them know they're making a real impact -- and ultimately acknowledgement that they matter. Certainly a departure on the 'traditional' sustainability model of engagement.

"Recyclebank helps create a more sustainable future by rewarding people for taking everyday green actions." Flaim says. "Through our digital offerings and partnerships with municipalities, haulers, small businesses and corporate brands, we incentivize green actions with points that can be redeemed for discounts and deals at local and national businesses."

Flaim echoes the Science study -- he firmly believes in creating a world where nothing is wasted. And he believes Recyclebank's model of creating a better carrot is the way to do it.

The numbers back him up. Recyclebank launched in Cincinnati October 2010, working with the City to implement its recycling rewards program in conjunction with the deployment of larger recycling carts to residents, and a conversion to single stream recycling. As a result of this combined effort, participation in the program increased by nearly 75%, and the City increased the amount of recyclables collected by nearly 50%.

"The concept of doing well by doing good is certainly overused. But the ethos is still powerful, and can be applied to the most microcosmic 'business' possible: the individual consumer." Flaim says. "If we can imbue this approach at an individual level, using economic and social incentives to motivate a real shift in consumer behavior, we can foster that personal connection to sustainability and drive a measurable collective impact on the environment."

The Intersection Of Sustainability, Innovation, And Insight.

Practical sustainability -- especially of the Recyclebank variety -- has everything a brand could want. Real virtue as a reward, personal selfish gratification, and measurable results that make us feel part of a positive movement.

It also incorporates the excitement of real innovation (as opposed to purely cosmetic change) and is founded in an insight green marketers have been slow to acknowledge: people don't like sacrifice.

Interested in building your own practical green brand? These tips would make a good starting point.

1. Make it a 'trade-up' - People need to feel that they are trading to something better, not sacrificing what they love. Give them innovation that is efficient and wrapped in reward, and they'll soon forget the old ways.
2. Make the change real - There is a difference between non-painful action, and non-action. The environmental impact of adopting your brand has to be real, and measurable. Your consumer wants to behave selfishly, but wants to know they're making a real difference.
3. Tap your consumer insight - A cornerstone to building a Futureproof Brand is insight. While all consumers behave selfishly while secretly yearning virtue, they do it differently. Don't assume your consumer is in the same frame of mind when they're considering your product as they are when they're using Recyclebank. Dig into insights before you start building your practical green brand.