A while ago at a friends birthday party, a marketing guy came up to us and we started chatting. We discussed ‘Designed by Good People’ and what we were trying to do and why we were doing it. He was interested, but then said ‘that’s great because you can charge more for being green and ethical’.

We totally disagree.

We think being green and ethical should be normal. We don’t think being green and ethical is a way of extracting larger profit margins.

There, we said it.

Ok, many green and ethical goods are more expensive (not all, but some). But while some are because of ‘added value’, many are because they currently cost more to produce due, in part, to the fact that they are smaller scale.

Big brands are starting to think this way too. Fairtrade is starting to become mainstream with the likes of Sainsbury’s (who are now the worlds largest retailer of Fairtrade goods) and Cadbury’s (now owned by Kraft who shipped their headquarters to Switzerland so they didn’t have to pay UK tax). There are lots of small businesses who give a percentage of profits to charity or set up charitable foundations (Pret A Manger being a prime example). Corporate Social Responsibility is being put at the heart of many companies brands. Ben & Jerry’s is another example. When they sold to Unilever, the culture of ‘doing good’ spread through to the larger corporation (Ben & Jerry’s continuing as a socially responsable brand was written indelibly into the sale).

“Business has a responsibility to the community and the environment” they say. And you know what? I believe they mean it.

Now there are brand which exist only because of their CSR such as One water, those wonderful people at Liberation (The world’s only farmer-owned Fairtrade nut company) and all the other Fairtrade brands.

There has been a lot of bandwagon jumping recently though by big brands that seem to use CSR as a marketing exercise. While we believe that it’s good for anyone to do good, you have to believe it is being done for the right reasons. Because the people behind it really believe in it. I believe Sainsbury’s because they have made all their bananas Fairtrade, even the basics ones. Same with their sugar. I believe Innocent and Pret because they give a percentage of profits from each sale directly to good causes and I know they passionately believe in what they are doing. I believe small brands like Ilze Chocolates (who sells the best chocolates we have ever tasted) because ‘doing good and bringing joy’ are her motivator for her business and it comes through in her products (try them, honestly, you wont be disappointed). But Amex who started RED have spent far more on marketing the scheme than has been raised for African Aids Charities ($100 million spent, $18 million raised). Ok, better than nothing, but not exactly a great ROI and it smacks of greenwash.

Hopefully, one day, goods, fairly traded, will be normal. Packages will be greener. People will shop locally and at large retail outlets supporting both global, national and local economies (which is one reason why we place a great deal of emphasis on supporting local businesses through our What If campaign). We are a long way off that still, but we believe we are slowly getting there.

To read more it’s worth checking out the Green Marketing Manesfesto by John Grant (available here).