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Etymology: The New Shades of Citizenship

Posted by: Jennifer Vasilache on June 20, 2013

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The Language of Sustainability

This is a special Best Global Green Brands 2013 issue of Etymology. To experience our full report, click here.

The New Shades of Citizenship

When it comes to long-term brand strategy, corporate citizenship is now mandatory. But as the shade of that responsibility shifts from green to blue and beyond, how can brands raise awareness of the ways in which they give back?

As we’ve noted before (and Clorox has so eloquently stated), "something's gone wrong with green." The green gold rush went bust and the term went from being a powerful symbol of sustainability to a suspicious and undifferentiating claim.

Some brands have already taken a simple approach toward solving the green-light jam: give sustainability another color. Blue has become the color of choice for those who want to signal new, renewable energy sources and technologies, while signaling that they’ve gone beyond green (a.k.a. building value into their supply chain) and designed their business to give back more than it takes. Volkswagen brings this concept to life literally, with “BlueMotion” technology and its “Think Blue” campaign, but across the board, brands are beginning to ambitiously name with the net positive they hope to create for the world in mind.

Then Then Again Now

Is this color trend sustainable (pardon the pun)? Or, as responsibility and sustainability become part of everyday business, will there be a point at which we become color blind?

Brands early to exit the “green” conversation in favor of owning a bigger one have reached a critical point as well. IBM’s “Smarter Planet” started a trend of speaking about the world, possibly inspiring names like Starbucks’ “Shared Planet” and Nike’s “Better World.” They speak to engagement and participation, and they certainly capture a global consciousness around citizenship, but these names are starting to sound similar—and make it difficult to determine how they’ll talk about where their efforts will go next.

We suspect we might see brands headed in the other direction too, shifting from macro to micro responsibility. The shift from “everyone” to “just one” is profound, but brands are inviting their customers to give back more than they take, right alongside them.

TOMS Shoes established their business model on the buy-one-give one promise, with its “One for One” initiative, donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. That kind of intimate, personal responsibility has caught fire with startups (like eyewear company Warby Parker’s “Buy a pair, give a pair” program) and is finding its way into the lexicon of larger corporations (we see IBM narrowing its scope from Smarter Planet to Smarter Cities and Smarter Buildings) as they seek new ways to get credit for their efforts to make the whole-wide world even bluer.

This week's guest author, Jennifer Vasilache, is a Senior Verbal Identity Consultant for Interbrand New York.




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