Natural Foods Merchandiser

Storytellingnot green claimsare key for marketing sustainability

In a constant deluge of “green” claims, the key for companies trying to differentiate their sustainability efforts will be storytelling, said Joel Makower, founder and executive editor of, Thursday at Natural Products Expo West.

Getting the message out
“More than data or claims, people want good stories,” said Makower, who has written dozens of books on sustainable business and authors the “Two Steps Forward” blog about green business at Though shoppers might not be aware of it, he said, many companies are “walking more than talking. And that’s a problem.”

The challenge, Makower said, is that green stories aren’t always easy to tell. For example, choosing to say your company is “less bad”—as in, using one-third the harsh chemicals it used to—implies there is still “some bad.” And often, companies’ green efforts aren’t actually visible in the products themselves, as in manufacturing a new soda can that uses less metal.

Stepping up to the plate
Sustainability claims lead shoppers to a paradox, Makower said. Consumers want to shop green, but they don’t want to change. “They’re waiting for companies to step up to the plate,” he said.

A company must be truly aware of its environmental impacts before it can address it with corporate commitment, he said. And once the company’s making progress, it must start talking about it in the marketplace.

Makower left the audience with a challenge: “Doing no harm is no longer sufficient. It’s time to be thinking bigger, being creative and get to scale.”

Hilary Oliver
Senior editor
Natural Foods Merchandiser

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.