Category Archives: GoGreen 2011 Phoenix

GoGreen Phoenix 2011 – Photomontage Excellence

Photos from GoGreen Phoenix 2011 are up! Many thanks to everyone that attended our inaugural event; you helped make our first year a smashing success! Shout outs to all of our sponsors, speakers, exhibitors and our awesome photographer:  Ken Baker —you made us all look great and really captured the excitement of the conference. Enjoy!

GoGreen ’11 Phoenix Green Vid: Kevin Tuerff Brings Straight Talk On The Evolution of Greenwashing in America

It might be a wee bit dramatic to say that greenwashing has reached epidemic proportions in America. But the truth is some companies and organizations are trying to cash in on the brand equity true sustainability can bring without walking the talk themselves. Also true—there are far more businesses doing the work to be green, but going overboard on their message unintentionally. The folks at EnviroMedia, and co-founders Valerie Davis and Kevin Tuerff in particular, are experts when it comes to spotting the phonies, the unwitting offenders and advising companies on how to communicate their sustainability values in an honest, transparent way. In this special video edition of the Green Line Series, Kevin shares with us his views on the politicization of sustainability, strategy to stay ahead of the regulatory curve and the evolution of greenwashing in America.

To learn more about greenwashing and how to avoid its pitfalls, come see Kevin live at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix, Tuesday, November 15! Kevin will give a special lunch presentation on the topic for attendees. Learn more about Kevin and Enviromedia at their website and the Greenwashing Index (created in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication)

GoGreen ’11 Phoenix Green Line Series: Miguel Jardine Solves The World’s Issues With Food Waste, Worm Wine + A Giant Sock

Food Scarcity. Erosion and desertification. Waste and greenhouse gases. Economic Downturn. Four major issues with one ingenious solution—VermiSoks. Miguel Jardine took his background in technology and finance, and coupled it with a keen interest in sustainable systems to create a closed-loop agricultural process that relies on natural cycles of breakdown and growth to provide local food , heal land that has been damaged, reduce waste and greenhouse gases, and positively contribute to the global economy. Read on to learn more about the innovative VermiSoks Virtuous Cycle and how it might soon change the landscape of a concrete jungle near you.

GoGreen Conference: You’re taking on an issue of massive global scale. Food scarcity is something that civilizations have been forged by and wars have been fought over. We’re curious—most people say to start small on sustainability and not to take off more than you can chew. You went to the absolute opposite end of the spectrum and took on one of the biggest issues challenging humanity since people began forming communities. What inspired you to do that?
Miguel Jardine: I actually look at what I’m addressing as four big issues. And the inspiration behind that was that I pulled the string, so-to-speak.  Remember how your mom told you, “Don’t pull the thread, just try to cut it”? Well I went ahead and pulled the thing.

The four big things we go after are hunger, health, economic development and the environment. And we’re able to tie all of those together through the VermiSoks Virtuous Cycle. The reason being that we simplified the challenge down to a more approachable scale. Unfortunately, up until now, big problems have stayed big problems because we have people saying, “Hey! This is a big problem!” That attitude makes everything seem very complex and sometimes overwhelming. It affects the way that you think about solutions.

I spent several years researching the subject. By recognizing the root issues, we have developed a clear system to solve all of them. When you’re looking at a business that involves food, you have raw materials coming in. Those materials get made into something and then get disposed of—party’s over. When you work with that type of linear model it causes a lot of the problems we are experiencing today. However, if you look at nature, it’s cyclical. You start at one point in the circle and you end at another point in the circle. That is how the VermiSoks virtuous cycle came about—by looking at an input and seeing the cycle of how that waste can turn around and act as an input again.

GG: Give us a brief rundown of what the VermiSoks Virtuous Cycle is, and how it works.
MJ: First let me say, I am something of an environmentalist. When I was looking at the environmental challenges we face, to me, all things kept leading back to human activity—and one of the biggest human activities is the generation of waste. Generally, what we’re doing to dispose of it is digging a big hole called a landfill and then throwing everything into it. There are two major problems with that: The generation of methane (which is 23 times worse at trapping the sun’s energy than CO2) and leeching (the seepage of nasty liquid made from the accumulation of oils and rotting vegetation) that seeps down into the landfill, which causes problems with the water table.

When looking at the methane issue, I saw that the gas was being created from the way that organic matter rots in a landfill. If we’re able to divert that organic material from our landfills that’s a big step towards reducing the amount of methane generated by this process. Again, through continued research that looked to nature as a guide, we discovered we can deal with this issue through composting. Composting is not something people tend to do frequently. In most parts of the country, we have one trash can and everything goes in it. It is difficult to separate organic material from inorganic material.

We’re looking to locate the food waste and divert it away from the landfill. Then we take that food waste and liquefy it. That substance acts as the foundation for VermiSoks worm wine, which is the liquefied waste with additional nutrients. Our worm wine is useful in several ways. First, it’s useful to the earthworms. It also builds up the soil with nutrients and this is beneficial to the crops which grow in the soil. This worm wine is drip irrigated into the actual “VermiSoks,” which are mesh tubes filled with ground coconut husks and earthworms. The earthworms eat the coconuts husks and worm wine and convert that into soil.

It’s a very fast process—the earthworms will plow through worm wine in approximately three days to a week, and will convert it into nutrient rich compost in the process. All of this is going on inside the sock. When this part of the process is complete, we then have an ecosystem inside the sock that is essentially arable land. All we have to do is lay the VermiSoks tube down on the ground, or even a parking lot, cut a hole in it, plant a seed, feed it worm wine and—viola!—we get a crop growing out of it.

Continuing around the circle: As the crop grows, we harvest it, turn it into an amazing dish—salad, lasagna, etc.—and collect the scraps and leftovers to start the cycle all over again.VermiSoks is all about is showing that we can use nature’s cycle in business as a competitive advantage with this particular model.

GG: It sounds like a very integrated system involving the coordination of multiple stakeholders. Does there have to be some behavior change? Some policy change? What are the accompanying issues you are working to solve beyond the physical process of closed-loop food production?
MJ: Yes. A massive amount of education is needed, mainly with our audience and customers. We have three main products: A food waste disposal service, the VermiSoks themselves and a monthly subscription to the worm wine. The VermiSoks and the worm wine constitute what we call our “growing platform.” They are products for customers who are actually growing and harvesting crops. The other side of it is our food waste disposal offering. For that group, it’s a matter of showing them how their food waste, something that traditionally has absolutely no benefit to them, can be turned into something extremely useful to their communities and themselves.

One of the more obvious beneficiaries of this whole cycle is your average restaurant. So a restaurant has two main cost centers—the amount of produce they need to make the dishes they sell and the amount of waste generated through the food making process. So it’s very effective to be able to go into a restaurant and say, “If you use our waste disposal service, you’ll both reduce the cost of your inputs and increase the availability of those inputs. We can convert your waste into a solution for growing fresh fruits and vegetables that can be used in the restaurant again.” It’s an opportunity to create a great CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) story and it bolsters their bottom line.

Because education is one of our bigger challenges, we are really excited about working with Whole Foods. They have taken a real leadership position in working with us in utilizing our waste service, but also supporting our growing platform and educating their community.

GG: Let’s talk about scale. Does the VermiSoks Virtuous Cycle only work on a small scale or can you plant acres and acres of land this way? Can it support millions of Arizonans?
MJ: Yes it can. VermiSoks is a very local solution that’s applicable on a global scale. That aspect of the system was completely by design. One of the first pieces of education we work on when we collaborate with community organizations is letting people know that having acres and acres of farmland far away from where the food is actually being consumed is not the best model. When something comes from a great distance away and is perishable, like produce is, it has to be picked early in order to be transported without rotting. That means it doesn’t have the ability to develop on the vine with all of the nutrients and flavors it’s supposed to have. Unfortunately, we then use a lot of chemicals to do a ripening process on the way to the consumer.

So, on average in the United States, food is traveling between 1,200-1,500 miles before it is consumed. The VermiSoks Virtuous Cycle addresses that issue. We bring the growing space—the arable farmland—right into the city where people are. This essentially allows you to convert an abandoned parking lot or blighted land into arable space that can be used to grow the food that will support a community. Our vision is one where urban Phoenix will be filled with these small urban farms growing food for the local population. VermiSoks satisfies these sweet spots—anywhere from 48 VermiSoks (about a 20×20 space) all the way up to an acre of space.

That’s more than enough in the city setting, because a complete acre that isn’t spoken for is hard to come by. That speaks for one level of our scalability. The other is being able to replicate this model all over the world. That introduces a different perspective on scale, because now we don’t need hundreds of acres of farmland to grow enough food for everybody. Each neighborhood will be able to grow its own food.

This model also lends itself to a creating a lot of jobs. The VermiSoks cycle needs individuals to manage the garden/farm, to run distribution, and work in the industries we service. Then there are additional value-added products and businesses that become available as a result: a salsa line or beauty and spa products for example. You can have a grower who is specifically growing lavenders and mints and thyme for their particular formula or recipes for soap for lotion or essential oils. You also have the development of a naturopathy industry around medicinal herbs that again can all be grown close to where they are utilized.

This localized model is what we see going forward. We believe you’re going to get lots of farms and gardens all over the place that are able to feed millions of people by bringing the solutions in closer. What we do here in the Valley is replicable all over the world. You just need a “wine cellar,” which is what we call our facility where we bring all of the food waste to undergo liquefaction, create the worm wine and manufacture the VermiSoks. Wine cellars are the hub for processing that food waste, for creating this growing platform and then servicing a set of local installations of VermiSoks gardens.

GG: You mentioned getting in cahoots with Whole Foods. What’s next? What is your vision for 2012 to take VermiSoks to the next level?
MJ: The big thing our investors have been looking for is to see the whole cycle proven out—for us to have a facility working through the whole process. We now have our first wine cellar up and running. We are collecting food waste from Whole Foods and we will be installing gardens come the first of November. All of this will show the big picture. At that point communities around the world can replicate our model and develop their own wine cellars and waste source and then grow food.

The cool part is that in doing so, they will be actively addressing those four big things I mentioned before. We address the hunger issue by having the capacity to grow more food. We address the health issues, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, by providing healthier food to our communities. We’ll spur economic growth by providing a foundation for jobs in all the industries I mentioned earlier. And we will regenerate the environment by adding back nourishing soil to the land.

That is actually one of my favorite impacts and I tend to not name it sometimes because people say “Miguel you’re harping on that one too much.” In all of this process many people would think the primary goal is food. But there’s more to it then that. At the end of season you have a sock full of 1.25 cubic ft of nutrient rich, composted soil. We know that a big part of environmental issues, especially around food security, are happening because of de-climitization or  the erosion of farmland because the soil doesn’t have the root infrastructure to keep it in one place. VermiSoks begins to regenerate the environment because the soil we create is latent with all of the nutrients necessary for healthy soil. So at the end of life for the VermiSoks, we not only got a naturally grown crop, but if you cut open the sock and then till the material inside into the ground, that begins to heal the soil.

GG: What people, books or ideas have influenced your outlook and helped you open up your mind to new ways of thinking?
MJ: Wow, that list is long! One of the big ones for me was “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore. That one really got me to start asking the question “What can I do?” The other book was written by William McDonough called “Cradle to Cradle.” I also love Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class,” “The Flight of the Creative Class,” and his latest book is “Who’s Your City?” The third one is really cool, it’s very much in line with Malcom Gladwell’s “Tipping Point.” The final book, and it’s something of a Bible for me, is Frans Johanssons book, “The Medici Effect.” That book is what got me to think about putting together an entire system of solutions as opposed to just solving one problem.

GG: Final question: Are there any topics we didn’t address that you would like to speak to.
MJ: The one thing that I’d like to touch on, before we finish, is collaboration. Now, more than ever, we need people to start talking together. Not just people with the same backgrounds, but people with very different life and professional perspectives. In my average day, I am working with a multi-national corporation like Whole Foods, local non-profits and regional businesses. It’s through something transferable like VermiSoks that we’re all able to see how this is not a situation that will be solved by a big powerful company donating either money or a non-profit working in the field. Each sector has a role to play in the solution. For us, the business model is also a model for collaboration between disparate groups who might not always think about talking to each other. We want to get them thinking about how this cycle can bring them together to not only talk to each other, but also be very successful at their respective missions, models, and objectives.

Miguel Jardine is the CEO of Vermisoks and will speak on the Collaborative Approaches to Achieving Zero Waste at Your Business panel session at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix, November 15. To learn more about businesses wanting to go green, come see Miguel live at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix! Event details and registration can be found here. For the latest event announcements and sustainability news, follow us on Twitter (@GoGreenConf) and be a fan on Facebook ( Join the GoGreen Phoenix email list here.

GoGreen ’11 Phoenix Green Line Series: Carolyn Bristo on Phoenix’s Legacy of Conservation + Resources For Today

The City of Phoenix has a legacy of conservation—it’s had to. Building and maintaining a major metropolitan area in the desert takes complex infrastructure and smart management of resources. That’s something the city has been doing for 50 years. Looking ahead, Phoenix expects more growth and is taking measures to ensure that growth is sustainable, both from an economic standpoint and an environmental one. In this installment of the Green Line Series, City of Phoenix Sustainability Officer, Carolyn Bristo, merges past and present, with a vision for a very green future in the desert.

GoGreen Conference: What is your vision for a sustainable Phoenix? How is the City working to make Phoenix the most sustainable city in the country?
Carolyn Bristo: The end game, for the City, is always to ensure our residents have a high quality of life, now and in the future. The main spheres of influence that we’re concerned about are community, economy and the environment.

GG: Are there any elements—renewable energy, sustainable mass transit, etc.—that are key focus points for the City as you move forward?
CB: The areas you mentioned are very important to us. Because they involve complex planning, we have set stages of goals and priorities around these areas. One is that 15 percent of our energy needs will be met by renewables by 2025. Another is that our greenhouse gas emission levels will be 5 percent below the 2005 levels by 2015. We also have a goal that we will achieve 20 percent average shade canopy coverage at all city parks by 2030.

These are just some of the goals that we’ve set, and we’re working with our communities and agencies to prioritize values around neighborhood development. They’re outlined in Mayor Gordon’s 17-point Green Phoenix Plan that focuses on greening Phoenix neighborhoods, homes and businesses. That plan looks at energy sources and transit, but also waterways, efficiency measures, homegrown agriculture, urban mobility, transportation synergy, etc.

GG: How important is it to have buy in from the top levels of city leadership in Phoenix?
CB: We’re very fortunate at the City of Phoenix to have visionary leaders in our history that have fostered a culture of innovation and outstanding environmental stewardship for almost 50 years. We’ve implemented many ground-breaking initiatives over that time. We were one of the first adopters of using recycled tires in our asphalt and that started in the 1960s. We developed a water conservation plan over 30 years ago and we’re actually using less water now than we were in 1997. We have also had an energy efficiency and conservation program for over 30 years and have quantified over $120 million in cost savings or avoidance over that time. Today we are looking at how we can buffet our environmental sustainability legacy, get to the next level and achieve our goals over the next decade.

Finally, we have embarked upon a update process for the City’s general plan that will certainly focus a lot more on community well-being and sustainable economic development in the near future.

GG: How does Mayor Gordon’s Green Phoenix Plan specifically support the development of sustainable businesses in Phoenix?
CB: Much of the Green Phoenix Plan focuses on partnership and collaboration. The community and economic development part of the plan is very important. One of our key programs is called Energize Phoenix and the goal of that is to create a higher level of building stock and neighborhoods by making them more energy efficient. Our goal is to enhance 30 million square feet of office space through energy efficiency upgrades along the 10-mile stretch of the light rail corridor.

That’s just one example of the many programs we’re putting forth as a collaborative effort between the business community and the City. Another very successful partnership with the business community is the Solar Phoenix program. This program is for residential upgrades, but this program could not have happened without financing from National Bank of Arizona and working in close concert with Arizona Public Service, our public utility in Phoenix. We also needed a well-qualified work force to install the upgrades. So far, with a $25 million investment, they’ve been able to install solar on 444 homes and have generated over 2,800 kilowatt-hours of solar energy. Through leveraging the investment of our private sector and the dedication of our public utility to advance renewable energy, we’ve created one of the largest residential solar programs in the nation.

GG: How does the City of Phoenix ensure the viability of water as a resource moving forward, as the metro area grows and expands? Are there ways for businesses to better manage this shared resource in partnership with the City?
CB: The City has an aggressive water conservation program and has worked extensively with businesses to manage our water for decades now. We have a long established set of best practices that the community works under, including reusing 90 percent of our waste water for industrial, agricultural and recreational purposes. That infrastructure is a huge support for our parks and golf courses.

We’ve also reduced ground water usage from approximately 35 percent of the water supply in 1984 to less than three percent in 2010. And we continue to promote water efficiency and re-use programs through new commercial and residential plumbing codes. We recently passed a voluntary Green Building Code to encourage building green through commercial code, which ties into efficiency as well.

GG: Are there any public/private partnerships that have been particularly successful that you could highlight for us?
CB: There have been several that come to mind through our Energize Phoenix program. We worked with many local businesses, including CB Richard Ellis, American Cleaning Systems, Nibblers Catering and Hines GS to upgrade commercial facilities through our grant program and incentives, make their space more efficient and save them money in operating costs—as well as conserve resources. Businesses interested in the program can learn more at the program website:

Carolyn Bristo is the Sustainability Officer at the City of Phoenix and will speak on the Overcoming Barriers to Sustainability panel session at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix, November 15. To learn more about the City’s resources for businesses wanting to go green, come see Carolyn live at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix! Event details and registration can be found here. For the latest event announcements and sustainability news, follow us on Twitter (@GoGreenConf) and be a fan on Facebook ( Join the GoGreen Phoenix email list here






GoGreen ’11 Phoenix Green Line Series: Al Halvorsen Talks Efficiency + Making BHAGs Happen

You might be wondering just what in the world a “BHAG” is—never fear. Al Halvorsen, Senior Director of Sustainability at Frito-Lay North America is just the guy to tell you all about them. Accomplishing BHAGS—or “big, hairy, audacious goals”—is Al and his team’s specialty. In just over a decade they’ve fundamentally changed the way Frito-Lay does business by integrating sustainable best practices into the corporate culture and operations. In this Green Line Series Interview, Al tells us how they turned their BHAGs into reality and saved the company millions in the process.

GoGreen Conference: When did sustainability and efficient energy use hit Frito-Lay’s radar and what was the initial motivation for the company to get started in this? Did it come from the employees at the grassroots level or was it something the leadership embarked on from the top?
Al Halvorsen: We started with a program back in 1993 when we created green teams in all of our facilities. The primary responsibility of those green teams was to ensure the environmental compliance position of our manufacturing facilities was met. But out of that initiative came a focus on resource conservation as well as environmental compliance.

Officially, Frito-Lay created our own department of energy in 1999. At the time, we were focusing mostly on energy efficiency and water efficiency—plus helping to drive costs out of the system and improve the bottom line results of our manufacturing operations. We set some pretty aggressive goals in ’99 to shoot for drastic energy reductions and we put a team in place alongside our global productivity initiatives.

GG: You’ve achieved those original goals for the most part. Have your sustainability initiatives been profitable as well as socially responsible? Do you find that sustainability and profitability can be uttered in the same sentence?
AH: Yes, absolutely. So your first question was about profitability— and I would say that our sustainability initiatives have been very profitable. Back in ’99 we set targets to reduce our water usage by 50 percent per pound of product produced; our natural gas use by 30 percent; and our electricity use by 25 percent. Right now, we have achieved a 45 percent reduction in water, 33 percent reduction in natural gas and about a 25 percent reduction in electricity. This goes along with our initiative to drive efficiencies in our motor fuel usage, which we started a few years later. Overall, if you combine all of those reductions, Frito-Lay, as a company, would have spent about 80 million dollars more on those commodities to run our business and operations if we had not put those sustainability measures in place. When you look at profitability, these sustainability initiatives are delivering daily to the bottom line.

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GoGreen ’11 Phoenix: Park Howell on Incorporating Sustainability Into Your Brand

Park Howell HeadshotPark&Co founder and CEO, Park Howell, knows a thing or two about branding and marketing. Lucky for us, he’s also got an award-winning perspective on how to successfully incorporate sustainability into your brand. We sat down with Park to talk shop on building a sustainable brand, avoiding greenwashing and putting your green initiatives into context your audience can relate to. Park will also be leading our Green Branding & Marketing panel at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix on November 15—so if you like what you read, consider joining us for our first event in Arizona!

GoGreen Conference: Park & Co. focuses on the storytelling aspect. It seems like a lot of companies sometimes get nervous because they think, “Well our story is not perfect. In one aspect of my business we are working on sustainability, but in others we might be falling short.” How do you think businesses should handle talking about sustainability while they are still early on in their journey?
Park Howell: It’s a great question. You always hear that you want to be completely transparent and accountable—and all of those buzz words. That’s all true, but I think where some companies miss the mark is they think that they have to be perfect to tell the story. There is no such thing as a perfect story and, if you think about it, any great hero has to go through something really tough, otherwise they don’t have what it takes to be a hero. It’s the same with a company.

Even throughout the process of “greening themselves” or becoming more sustainable, companies need to be talking about the journey—answering the questions of what’s working for them and what’s not working for them. Second thing to consider is: Are you sharing best practices? Because that helps educate everyone else on a couple of different levels. First, it tells the consumer they are dealing with an honest company and that your company is not only trying to do better, but its also bringing people along for the journey. Most people like that. There’s a humanness about that kind of behavior from a company that people can relate to.

Number two, it shows leadership by example. People and other companies can learn from their experience—especially from where someone has blown it and it’s not quite working for them. I can apply those lessons to my own life—whether it’s personally or professionally through my company.

There’s also something really endearing about a company that admits it isn’t perfect, but can show the steps it’s taking to improve. I think Patagonia does a really nice job with that. It earns trust. I’ve seen immense distrust lately in large corporations, specifically because of their role in bringing on the worldwide recession. Wearing your greenness on your shirtsleeves in an ethical way—both the successes and the things you’re working on—is going to help win over consumers and earn back their trust. You’ll also likely find evangelists and experts willing to help your brand take sustainability initiatives further.

GG: What are you looking for in potential clients at Park&Co? How do you determine if a company is far enough along in their sustainability journey for you to work with them?
PH: We work on a case-by-case basis, but we can start from the very beginning—at the zygote stage, if you will. Even if a company is just thinking about embarking on this kind of journey, and figuring out how to start enacting green practices within their business, we can help them build a brand story around those values.

A good example of a company where we did that is Adelante Healthcare. The whole case study is up on my blog ( What they were, and still are, is a 30-year-old community healthcare center here in Arizona. Their roots literally started in the fields working with migrant workers and those who didn’t have a lot of healthcare insurance, or those with no healthcare insurance whatsoever. Well, times have changed since they were founded, especially in Arizona with our immigration laws and the decline of farming in favor of development and so forth. The result of this is that their market completely changed. Despite that, Adelante still wanted to maintain their mission—which is to make healthcare available to everyone insured or not.

In order to maintain relevancy for the next 30 years, we had to change their brand and their approach to healthcare through the development a brand of sustainable healthcare. For Adelante that goes well beyond just saving the planet. There’s really three legs to their particular sustainability stool.

1. Sustaining the health of their individual patience through world class, comprehensive care.
2. Sustaining the availability of healthcare for everyone by pursuing their original mission of treating all patients regardless of their ability to pay.
3. Sustaining health in the home, neighborhood, community and planet by advocating for healthier consumer habits.

In developing the sustainable platform for Adelante, one of the first tasks was to quickly start assessing how their operations needed to become more sustainable and making changes for things like handling bio-waste and recycling. They took a really comprehensive viewpoint of things when switching over their brand.

For instance, instead of just completely gutting all of their clinics and rebuilding them, they saved as much of the leftover materials as possible for reuse. And if they couldn’t reuse something in the redesign of the building, then Adelante made the materials available to local non-profits or contractors. We helped them create a new vision for themselves and discover new relevancy in their market based on core values that had always been in place. And we helped them tell this evolution of their story in a way that resonated with their audience.

GG: You mentioned that Adelante was taking a “balanced approach” to sustainability. In general, should brands lead with their green credentials or is sustainability something that plays more of a supporting role for the most part?
PH: Sure, if sustainability really is your primary brand attribute, then certainly lead with it. But I think for the vast majority of companies, their primary brand attributes are something other than being green. Take Adelante, for instance, their main brand attribute is to provide the best, most efficient, highest quality healthcare for their patients. Sustainability supports that, but it’s a secondary brand attribute. I think that’s pretty true with about every brand.

Consider, GreenWorks from Clorox. Do you buy it solely because it’s a greener cleaning option? Or do you buy it because it works well—oh and by-the-way it’s green as well? I think most companies should first lead with their primary benefit and then secondarily they can benefit from building and sharing brand attributes around being sustainable.

GG: What are a few examples of things you see in the marketplace that make you cringe? Anything that makes you roll your eyes, because it’s so overused?
PH: Ha! Well, I’ve gotten to the point finally where I am so tired of leaves—green leaves on logos are starting to make me cringe. It’s such a visual cliché at this point.

The word is green is also getting overused. It’s not just about saying, “I’m green.” It’s also about how you’re going about being green. What are the actions and operations of what you’re doing to back up your “greenness”? The use of the word ‘green’ in company names products and services is getting old. And there are others too. I just did a post on 10 big green clichés that you want to avoid—and one of them is to avoid calling yourself green unless you’ve got the kahones of Greenpeace to back it up.

GG: How do you approach incorporating hard data in more compelling ways in order to avoid both greenwashing AND going over people’s heads?
PH: I see companies doing that more through their corporate social responsibility reports. And they’re doing a better job of getting consumers involved. Gamification of reports and information—where you are rewarding the consumer going through information and at the same time making it fun for them to take in the data—is an interesting new trend you’re starting to see sparks of life in.

It’s difficult, and you have to find and cater to a very motivated consumer that’s going to take the time to dig into what your product is about. But, it goes beyond offering simply offering a product benefit. You’re also asking the consumer to be accountable in their purchases.

I was just talking to Jacquie Ottman, who wrote a really terrific book called, The New Rules of Green Marketing. She’s been doing this a long time, and what she and I were talking about is that it goes beyond the basic consumer and product relationship. Consumers have to be engaged and pay attention to how they will use, repurpose and recycle that particular product. And even more so, Jacquie will go as far as saying there is no such thing as a truly green product because you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet—and that’s true in every green or non-green product’s case.

There’s always something. Diapers are a good example of this concept. Maybe you want to use cloth diapers and keep waste out of the landfills. But then you have to account for the energy and water that it takes to wash those diapers. So consumers have to get involved and be accountable if they are really interested. And for brands, it’s most likely going to be a secondary thing, because what consumers want to know first is: Does the product work? Is it convenient for me to get? Is it an affordable price? Is it healthy for me? And after they’ve gone through all of that—then they start digging into the numbers.

GG: What ways do you see people most connecting to sustainable stories? Is it on things that relate human health or perhaps on locally relevant issues?
PH: Geography and health are certainly going to factor into it. But I still get the sense that consumers are being bombarded with so many things in their lives—from the recession, to regular advertising, to getting their families though the day—that the green industry is a bit of a blur to them. They don’t know where to turn. It may come down to product placement—when they walk into a store and see a Seventh Generation product and roll with it because it’s right there, on sale and buying it makes them feel good.

Another area that’s interesting is the automotive industry. Rising and fluctuating gas prices are forcing auto companies to develop greener cars very quickly. But they’re also building gamification into their product. The gamification response mechanisms are built right into the dashboards, so that people can see just how effectively they are driving in terms of fuel savings and efficiency. That sort of education plays really well in the operation of that product, but it also gets ingrained in people’s minds and transfers to other activities in their lives. They may start to think, “Well, how can I apply this to my dishwasher, my swimming pool and my electrical use?”

GG: What message are you bringing to GoGreen attendees? What are you hoping they will learn from your session?
PH: What I want to do in that session is based on your first question: Is it OK, if you’re company is not beautifully green or perfectly green, to still talk about your journey into sustainability with the world and see if you can get them to come along with you? I want to show and talk about ways to do that through real world examples. And we’ll talk about inspiring consumers to change their behavior. Not just the behavior of purchasing a greener product or service, but the behavior that transcends these things and makes people more responsive participants of the planet Earth.

GG: Real quick coming out of your last response—why do you think sustainability is important? What is your particular entry point to perusing a lifestyle that places sustainability and social responsibility in the forefront?
PH: It’s really simple—I’m in it to protect this planet for my kids and grandkids. We have three kids, and humanity has absolutely ravaged this planet. We’ve got to get global warming in check and do something about conserving our resources. The amount of waste we produce is mind-boggling. Now, I am not a perfect green individual and I think that’s one of my strengths—I talk to consumers from a relatable standpoint. I advocate doing your part in incremental ways, which can not only save you a lot of money and avoid stress, but it can also save the planet. We can all be a part of the solution for saving the planet.

Park Howell is Co-founder and President of Park&Co, a full-service advertising agency based in Phoenix, AZ. He’s also the moderator for the Green Branding + Marketing panel session at GoGreen ’11 Phoenix, November 15, 2011. For more information about GoGreen ’11 Phoenix, please visit: Follow us on Twitter (@GoGreenConf) and Facebook.