Relevance: Green Businesses, Just Be Real (Book Review)

Relevance, book is relevant to green businessesBook Review– At the beginning of “Relevance: Making Stuff That Matters,” Tim Manners states that “an epidemic of irrelevance has brought once-powerful brands to their knees”. Perhaps, I am a bit younger than Manners, but I do not see what he calls an “epidemic” being anything more than business as usual, but perhaps I just lack perspective.

Some businesses have always been better than others, and once-good companies often lose their way. However, despite Manners’ [Armageddon-sounding] lead-in, I liked this book. The mini case studies Manners has collected show that having a quality, useful product or service is usually a primary requirement for success. You can’t tell consumers you are something fantastic and then not deliver upon that in terms of product usefulness, product quality, the sales experience, customer service levels, etc.

A Strong Brand Is Authentic and Relevant

Your brand is the sum total of the experiences people have with your company and product. If your product is irrelevant or your way of distributing the product is not really

matching customers’ needs (even if only vanity needs), then your company is almost doomed to low sales volumes and/or high levels of returns.

Although the “Relevance” case studies are about companies in a wide variety of industries, very few of which are focused on green or sustainable strategies, Manners’ thesis provides an interesting discussion point for green businesses.

Most green businesses are counting on the fact that a potential customer will care about the green business practices of the company and/or that the customer is buying the product or service in order to live more sustainably. As a green company, you have a trmemendous opportunity to make a difference in the lives of green-minded consumers and acheive both brand loyalty and possibly even advocacy.

Greenwashing Is Topical, Not Relevant

This is good for green business owners. Manners’ thesis implies that companies who are not truly sustainable but who are greenwashing their brands will fail. If a company is not as green as it can be throughout its operations and product development, the public will eventually show their green preferences by taking their business elsewhere.

Your Brand is Everything

One of Manners’ case studies that best encapsulates “provide something unique and useful first, tout it later” has to do with Staples, the office supply chain. In 2001, when the Company was swimming in customer complaints, Staples researched what customers wanted. The answer was just that they wanted to be able to easily find the product they came into the store to get. (Business is not rocket science.)

Staples re-branded the Company by:

1. paring down the number of products in a store (removing 800 items)
2. adding larger signs to help customers find what they came in to get
3. training sales people to walk customers to the ailse where a needed product is located
4. making sure they kept sufficient inventory of the most popular items (printer cartridges) in all stores

After a year spent implementing these changes, Staples launched a “That Was Easy” campaign. If they had launched that marketing campaign before the real experience of shopping in a Staples store was truly easy, you can just imagine the number of angry customers they would have had. Instead, Staples has a brand, store experience and product selection that they can stick with and that customers want to stick with.

More reading on branding for green businesses:

Be True to Your Brand

The Six Sins of Greenwash and How to Repent

Less Is More, A Truly Green Product is Packaged Green

About the Author

A strategy and marketing consultant, Leah enjoys highlighting the efforts of, and providing information for, social entrepreneurs. In her consulting practice, she works with cause-related businesses and enlightened investors--to see people succeed at doing good for the planet and local communities while doing good for themselves. Leah has a B.S. in business from UC Berkeley and an MBA and Certificate of Public Management from Stanford University. More information at
  • I agree that companies that are guilty of greenwashing will fail (at least as green companies). The trouble is that too much greenwashing can lead to green fatigue, which is not good for companies that are legitimately providing Earth-friendly solutions. My client, StalkMarket explores this topic on the company’s new blog at (see posts on greenwashing and green fatigue). I hit the topic from a PR perspective on my blog

  • Yes, that is a problem. Truly sustainable companies need to differentiate themselves with “proof points”, such as facts about ingredients, transparency about sourcing, information on their websites about energy savings and other in-house green initiatives, etc. That way consumers’ response to green claims will be “prove it”. — Leah

  • Brewse

    One simple benchmark is the 100-mile sustainable radius; produced, manufactured and consumed.

    Company’s can then argue their points from this fundamental.


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