Keeping Things Green

jiffylubePacing around the endearingly dingy lobby of a Glendale Jiffy Lube this weekend, I encountered this message among outdated corporate ad campaigns and framed photos of hot rods.

Jiffy Lube wants you to know that it “wants to protect the environment” so much that it “incurs a variety of expenses” related to environmental compliance, including equipment for cleaning up spills, spill prevention training, and proper uniform and rag cleaning techniques.

I’m not in the business of environmental auditing and I won’t knock JL’s corporate policies; for all I know they do manage to keep oil out of the storm drains and chemicals out of the washing machines.  But they sound far from enthusiastic about it.

Here’s the problem: Jiffy Lube — and almost every other company feeling pressure to green their image — faces a tough brand paradox.  “Keeping Things Green” means publicly trumpeting the fact that you’re in the business of harming the planet.  And that you’re willing to meet the minimum standard, or maybe just a bit more, for how much harm you’ll do.  It’s admitting you’re evil and icing it with marginal mediocrity…  hardly something to get excited about.

What’s an oil change franchise to do?  They fundamentally survive on a planet-wasting car culture, and they make the most money on the worst offenders.  Thanks to empowered activists with fingers to point, the cost of doing and saying nothing is high and rising.  But the payoff to doing and saying something is in many ways still elusive, and the risks in doing and saying the wrong thing are enough to make any copy approver paranoid.

Too many firms are stuck with a myopic perspective and few good choices — ‘Going against our core business model to do less harm than we normally would’ is why most CSR strategies have always rung hollow to me.

It’s time we started finding better alternatives.  What about ‘leveraging our core brand and business strengths to contribute to a proactive solution?’

© Ryan Cunningham 2008

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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