Thursday, January 3, 2008

Defination of Green Products

Not only is it an interesting question, it's an important one. Vendors and their marketing departments are, of course, keenly aware that organizations have green in their sights and are thus cranking out products and unveiling services touted as being eco-friendly. But how do you know whether an offering is a victim of a vendor's green-washing scheme or if it really is "green"? And that goes back the original question: What defines a green product or service?

Well, I find it difficult to devise a simple and succinct definition on which everyone can agree. On the most extreme end of the spectrum, one might argue that any product or service you can buy off the shelf, via the Internet, or over the phone isn't technically green. The process of transforming a natural resource into something else requires the use of additional materials and energy and, even in a minute way, detracts from the environment. In that realm of thought, a soybean growing in the wild would be green whereas tofu wouldn't.

Now, if businesses were to exercise that level of discrimination in their ambition to invest only in green products, they wouldn't accomplish much. Hence, that definition is pretty useless in the context of commerce or generally going about one's day-to-day life, unless one happens to live in the forest naked, scrounging bark and berries fallen off of trees and bushes.

But here's what I consider a more practical definition that companies might employ to gauge a product or service's "greenness": A green product or service is one that delivers comparable or superior performance, utility, or other benefits to an alternative one while utilizing fewer resources, containing fewer toxic materials, and/or boasting a longer lifecycle.

What about systems management software that lets admins ensure that a server is using just as much electricity as it needs to in order to run effectively? So long as it performs as well as other management software, yeah, that's green. Virtualization, which lets you wring the same amount of work out of fewer machines? Again, green. Electronic document management outgreens paper-based systems. Solar power beats coal power. And the list goes on.

A couple of final thoughts on this subject: First, if a vendor comes to your door hawking what it deems a green product, be sure to ask just what makes it so green.

Second, bear in mind that a product deemed green today will be considered wasteful and eco-unfriendly tomorrow. Technological advancement coupled with relativity is funny that way.

Green products alone simply can't make your company green. A blueprint for long-term sustainability is a must, and the products you employ are but a piece of the puzzle. Deploying virtualization in your data center may very well help you make better use of your resources in the short- or midterm. It may also reduce your company's carbon footprint. But you most certainly need to plan beyond that for the sake of your organization's future prosperity -- as well as for the sake of the environment, if that is, indeed, a concern for your company.

How would you define a green product or service?


Pete Shield said...

I couldn’t agree more on what is fact predominantly a rise in greener- rather than green/sustainable product.

In the 1970s until really the millennium green/ethical products were essentially a bit sack cloth and ashes. For those of us as old as me can you remember that terrible Nicaragua Solidarity coffee, or for that mater the stodgy mess that use to be passed off as veggy food?

Nowadays green products have to pass the user value test, that is that they give a comparable if not better than average performance, combined with a sustainable supply chain, and lower than competitor’s energy consumption, and achieve all of this at a price we are prepared to pay. Yes there is some intangibles in there, like the feeling it gives the user to have a low carbon footprint product, but ultimately green products have to be life time price effective. That is no easy challenge but more and more products are starting to achieve that.

As for marketing, John Grant in his new book, Green Marketing, reckons that the challenge for marketers is to make ‘green things normal, not normal things green’- couldn’t have said it better.