Can Transparent Production Green Consumption?

Scandals and brand dilution makes consumers increasingly suspicious and mistrusting of producers. To counteract this trend, producers are reinforcing their brands to make buyers keep trusting their brands. I discuss the weakness of that approach and propose openness instead.

No matter how perfected a product is, it’s not going to sell itself. With consumers ever increasing awareness, putting environmental, social, health and all kinds of demands on products besides price, it is imperative for producers to convey a trustworthy image to consumers. For that purpose Branding is the number one, most important tool, but since suspicion and mistrust against producers are becoming widespread, branding as a marketing tool is getting weaker. To counteract that, producers are reinforcing their brands to make buyers keep trusting their brands.

One very popular such reinforcement are independent control organizations that ”certify” products. In essence what these certification organizations do is lending their credibility to a brand that does not have enough credibility on it’s own. A banana company may for example put a sticker from a control organization on their organic bananas to prove they are organic.

Is there a problem with this? Yes, it certaily is because these labels divide goods into good and unknown which is basically the same as good and bad.

But what if the world isn’t so black and white as they want to make us believe? What if a banana company, for example, realized that their organically grown bananas trees on a certain plantation where so water demanding that they induced local water shortages, yet decide to continue to grow bananas despite their knowledge? Their bananas would still be organic but would it be sustainable?

Another example: Is it better to buy locally produced food that is shipped in small trucks to the local farmers market or from a big store that ship much more efficient? I would agree with Mother Jones and say neither is sustainable.

Or take this German example: Is it more environmentally benefitial to junk your nine year old car and buy a new one than to keep it for a few years more? Well, how about moving closer to work and/or getting yourself a nice bike instead? The point being that new cars are often marketed as green and sometimes even subsidized by the state. Last year in Germany the state went in with subsidies for just this, and reinforced not only a brand but the whole automobile industry. In this case of course mutual interests are behind. The auto industry wanted to sell cars badly since it had been in a slump for years, and the state may have needed to stimulate consumption, decrease unemployment or something else, the environmental argument echoing very hollow.

As a parenthesis to this case it’s worth mentioning that German bicyclists raged at the car trade in subsidies and said that if it was a genuinely green initiative the money should also be given to those who make a truly green choice by junking their car to get a bike instead. One have to agree that they have a strong point there.

To sum up it’s fair to say that the actors on the market are doing as good as they can, while many are merely pretending that they do, while maintaining hidden agendas. People know this and have developed a healthy attitude of suspicion attitude towards producers who’s primary target is making money.

In terms of branding, what makes a company worthy of loyalty and support is not that they’re always right, it’s that they’re committed and sincere. It’s about authenticity, not perfection. And authenticity isn’t conveyed by being right. It’s conveyed by being true to your ideals. The best way to make that point is not just by making a big deal about your decisions, but by being candid about the discussions behind them.

US President Barack Obama has several times made a point that we need to show Virtue in a true meaning: ”we’ve made a virtue out of selfishness, there’s no virtue in that. We made a virtue of irresponsibility and we need to usher in a new spirit of service and sacrifice and responsibly.” I think Obama may be right since virtue in it’s true meaning means to promote well-being, or to do good.

Virtuous however is not something you become by putting a sticker on a banana, it’s something you are or possibly may become. Its a value that comes from your heart. But how can consumers know wether a product is made by a virtuous producer or not? My answer to that is transparency and openness and letting consumers have insight in all decisions, the obvious good as well as the hard ones. Like for instance the banana company example above where it was shown that it’s virtually impossible to be all good.

Transparency is to trust not only that your companies decisions are right, but also that the consumers are intelligent enough to agree with that and keep being a consumer even if some issues may be less desirable.

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