President and Chief Executive Officer of TerraChoice, North America's premiere environmental marketing firm. TerraChoice helps environmental leaders win market share, and thereby helps move the entire market towards sustainability.
Scott is a biologist by education and has devoted his career to management and marketing in the environmental field. Before he joined TerraChoice in a fulltime role, Scott served on the TerraChoice Board of Directors and was the Regional Vice-President at Jacques Whitford Group, a North American science and engineering consulting firm.
Scott: I am struck by the energy and sense of optimism in the Australian "green" business community. The general state of the industry, it seems to me, is a few years behind Europe and on a par with North America but there is a feeling of momentum in Australia that is quite unique.
This may be deep-rooted in the Australian entrepreneurial culture, or it may be unique to the "green" business movement, you would know better than I, but it's an energy of which Australia can be proud.
Our international market research suggests that Australian business is responding with particular leadership on issues relating to water conservation, energy conservation, and air quality. At a product level, there are notably more claims related to these issues than are found either in England, the United States, or Canada.
Scott: In this last visit, I was struck by the rapid development of environmental marketing in Australia since my last visit in 2008. There are many new companies doing interesting and useful work on all aspects of this challenge: from market research to advertising. And all of this is happening under the high profile scrutiny of the ACCC which has shown much more leadership in scrutiny of green claims than has its counterparts in North America.
Scott: As I mentioned above, Australia's ACCC has shown real international leadership in scrutiny and pursuit of greenwashing. That scrutiny is good, since greenwashing threatens the good that environmental marketing can do. (Interestingly, greenwashing is a threat either because it works and discourages continual innovation or because it fails and consumers give up on all green claims.) But the balance we need to strike would both encourage green innovation and entrepreneurial risk-taking while ensuring transparency and trustworthiness in claims.
If the scrutiny actually discourages innovation, that would be a counter-productive and perverse effect. This is a delicate balance to strike and it's one that I'm sure ACCC is conscious of. However, some Australian friends have told me that - at the moment - there is something of a chill created by the attention to greenwashing.
Scott: Sure. First of all, start with the science. Environment and sustainability are grounded in science. Sustainability-oriented claims need to be similarly science-based. And start with a really self-honest understanding of the whole lifecycle-based footprint of your product.
I don't mean that only perfectly-green products should go to market (there is not such thing - yet); indeed, our movement relies on consumers rewarding incremental progress. I do mean that most companies get in trouble by exaggerating their progress or misunderstanding the actual product footprint.
Second, think about what your customers care about. Not about what you think is great about your product. Green innovations don't necessarily have to be sold as such. They just have to be sold. Promote them, honestly, according to what your customers care about. We talk about this as the challenge of translation; translating your green values into the values of your audience.
Third, don't be bashful about making money. The sustainability cause is accelerated when "greener" businesses win market share. Making money is part of that puzzle.
Scott: Sustainability isn't a goal line. At least not yet. It's complicated, and we're only beginning to understand how truly sustainable companies will operate. But as we make progress, expectations and standards will increase. So companies that are sustainability leaders today need to recognize that what counts as leadership today won't count as leadership tomorrow.
Staying ahead of the curve, innovating, having a deeper understanding of the issues, are ways that leaders stay leaders. This is true of any technology (that's why companies have R&D divisions) and it's true of sustainability. So, in other words, continual improvement on sustainability is what it takes to maintain a position of leadership.