Green vs. Clean: A Consistent “Brand Name” Could Help the Cause


This post was conceived during the recent State of Green Business Forum yesterday in San Francisco. Great conference, BTW. I recommend it to folks who are looking to hear about green business from folks in the trenches. Despite the success of the conference, one subject kept nagging at me.

I am a naming specialist by trade, but an environmentalist at heart. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a few opportunities to overlap these two passions. (Like last year, when Catchword compiled a study of the explosive growth of the use of the word “green” in trademark filings.) The conclusion of that piece was that companies need to do something else to stand out (since everyone seems to be using “green” these days).

Well, today there’s a new opportunity for a branding expert to help those folks who are working for a greener planet. Can we all please agree on one term to reference this incredibly important work? Can anyone tell me the difference between “green,” “clean,” and “sustainable”? And even if a real difference exists (I’ll at least acknowledge the possibility), do we really need all three terms?

In the product naming world, we tell our clients that fewer brand names makes for a better return on your marketing investment. Basic math here: if the objective of marketing is to establish awareness (and subsequent interest), the more brands one has to support, the thinner the application of marketing dollars will be on any one brand. Piling a mass of resources behind one brand is more powerful than adding drops of resources to a wide spectrum of brands.

Assuming that the do-gooders of the world want to build awareness around their cause (be it green, clean or sustainable), I would think that agreeing on one common standard for the industry would be a valuable exercise.

Yesterday it was the State of Green Business Forum. In a few weeks, I’m hoping to attend the Clean Tech Venture Summit. I’m sure there is a Sustainable Energy conference out there somewhere. Sure, the events are different (and should be differentiated from each other, as any good branding person would tell you), but the category should be the same. Let’s pile that o-so-precious awareness behind the one term that fits best, whatever term that may be. (IMHO, “green” should be the category, but I’ll keep an open mind for now.)

As they like to say in Los Angeles … Can’t we all just get along? It’s for the planet, after all. I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.


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