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A New Model of a Sustainable Business

UPSThe International Business Series is brought to you by UPS. Discover the new logistics. It levels playing fields and lets you act locally or globally. It’s for the individual entrepreneur, the small business, or the large company. Put the new logistics to work for you.

When it comes to green business practices there’s a long held notion that in order to adopt sustainable business practices you needed to make sacrifices, pay higher prices or receive lower profits.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of TerraCycle, a company now considered by many to be one of the leaders in the production of recycled, sustainable, and green products. TerraCycle builds all of its products using a practice they call “upcycling” and has a lot of people rethinking this idea compromise.

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Greening Is a Cultural Thing

UPSThe International Business Series is brought to you by UPS. Discover the new logistics. It levels playing fields and lets you act locally or globally. It’s for the individual entrepreneur, the small business, or the large company. Put the new logistics to work for you.

Going green or adopting a proactive stance on sustainable practices has risen to the level of mainstream conversation in the same way that other business practices such as safety and training have.

But, truly creating a green culture goes much deeper than buying energy efficient light bulbs, monitoring computer energy, recycling waste and committing to earth friendly marketing, manufacturing and shipping processes.

In fact, it goes deeper than creating green events, employee rideshares, community gardens, sustainable design, coworking and collaborative offices.

While these are important elements in the cycle, a true green business comes from embracing the idea at level of a higher purpose or what some might call mission.

Being green isn’t just about recycling, it’s about nurturing, growing things, instead of just using them. In fact, being green has as much to do with purpose and people as it does plastic and paper.

Green business practices can be inconvenient and in some cases more expensive to implement so often, like safety and training initiatives they are given lots of ink in the annual report, but exist at only the most basic level.

Policy can only take an organization so far. The deepest green is about growth and nurturing at the cultural level of a business.

If a company’s primary purpose is to grow and nurture its people, community, industry and planet, then even the smallest business can call itself green in a way that makes a meaningful difference.

The outcome of this kind of thinking is a green business that happens to make or sell something rather than a business the adopts green principles.

The simplest way to move your organization to this way of thinking is to tackle it from both ends. In other words, hire at the most basic level, people that embrace green thinking and embrace, at the highest level, audacious green goals, such as building a company that produces zero net waste.

The combination of this top down and bottom up thinking at the tactical level can help an organization start living nurturing at its roots.

Some of my favorite green business resources include – Coworking.org, Greenbiz and The Aspen Institute.

For a great list of state and local energy efficiency resources, check out Business.gov.

For some inspiration check out TerraCycle, a company with a business model that creates products from other people’s waste streams and has a net negative manufacturing cost – other people pay them to acquire their raw material.

5 Ways to Make Culture a Marketing Strategy

jones soda design strategyAn effective marketing strategy is the most important marketing consideration your small business can employ. Bar none it’s the difference between companies that get by and those that get buy.

Silly pun aside, there are many ways of landing on a marketing strategy, but sometimes the difference maker lies outside of your products and services. While it’s all very logical to try to find your point of differentiation from a product, package, or price feature, some of the greatest marketing strategies reside in tapping the underlying culture of the organization itself.

Culture’s a funny thing in the world of small business. It’s often a representation of the personality, beliefs and values held by the owner of the business. It’s hard to fake and it’s hard to change. But, if you can define it, mold it, and communicate it in ways that support a positive brand experience, you might just be on to a very powerful source of business.

Below are five ways that organizational culture can become a powerful marketing strategy.

1) Green

The green movement is alive and well in the mind of a growing segment of the market. This isn’t just a culture of environmentally sound business practices as much as it is a commitment to something of a higher purpose that represents the beliefs of an organization.

It’s also a good place to look for authenticity. This is not just about setting up a recycling program and promoting it on the web site.

Green business is about nurturing and growing. It involves customer service and employee practices that focus on that. Check out SweetRiot or TerraCycle

2) Yes

Some companies find a way to over deliver and delight their customers at every turn. They define customer service and the “yes we can do that” attitude in every process and business decision.

Their customers voluntarily relate stories of over the top feats of service. Few companies do this better than Zappos

A commitment to a level of service that makes people talk about you is a great marketing strategy.

3) People

There’s a coffee shop in my neighbor that makes pretty average coffee, but I’m drawn to visit them time and time again because the owner of the business and every single person he finds to employ are so darn nice and genuinely friendly that I want to do business with them.

Every time I fly Southwest Airlines, and it’s often, I’m amazed at happy their employees seem to be while they go about their work. Baggage handlers, ticket agents, pilots and flight attendants alike all seem to share the same passion.

4) Design

Great design powers many organizations to marketing greatness. Apple certainly benefits from a long history of simple, but very powerful, design.

Great design is probably the one area a firm can acquire the greatest amount of outside help. A talented branding or design agency can go a long way towards creating design assets that connect with design conscious customers, but in the end, the culture of great design has to live in the walls. A company that benefits from a focus on style pays as much consideration to the pens and trash cans in the office as a logo and web page.

One of my design first favorites is JonesSoda

5) Freaks

As Tom Peters famously said in Liberation Management, “Fire the planners and hire the freaks. In an age of deviation, the only viable response to weirdness is to get weird.”

Whether you call it cultural diversity, tolerance or color, standing out by letting your hair down and being who you really are is a great way to attract others who share your passion for weirdness.

Actively seeking colorful individuals to bring much higher level of out of the box thinking may be just the ticket for a company looking to establish a point of differentiation.

So, could the underlying culture of your place of business become your core marketing strategy? Then let it free!

Image credit: anokarina