Buzz Words. They are great for generating interest, piquing curiosity, driving SEO and SMO (search engine optimization and social media optimization, respectively), and showing that you know how to follow trends. Sometimes they can even help you close the deal and sign new clients! Great things buzz words are—ooh wait there is another side to this, accountability.

Just using and promoting buzz words does not mean that you are honoring or able to produce the value that they represent, it simply means you know how to read and communicate keywords your audience wants to hear whether they truly know what they mean or not. That is not a bad thing at first, as it shows you are able to listen to your customers wants and needs. The potential for problems comes later. Are these buzz words going to remain simply words or are there going to be changes made to reflect their meaning?

Between social media and green initiatives, I don’t think it is possible to go through an entire day and not hear something about one or both of these topics. A recent article in Fast Company (Nov. 2010) Suppliers Set Out to Grade Products with Sustainability Scorecards talks about Procter & Gamble and Kaiser Permanente’s attempts to follow Wal-Mart’s lead with requiring their venders to become more sustainable. “Both Kaiser and P&G say that over the next few years, suppliers’ rating on energy and water use, recyclables, waste, and greenhouse gases will be factors in procurement decisions.”

While it is great that large companies with strong influence over smaller companies are taking the initiative to change actions and expectations, their efforts seem to be falling short of accountability. There is more to being green than just monitoring a few actions in production. Green practices need to be able to be carried out throughout the lifecycle of the product not pawned off on someone else to deal with.

Yes P&G, Kaiser, Wal-Mart, and most other companies who are striving to go green are targeting key areas, but there is no clear definition as to what it truly means to ‘be green’ or for a practice to truly be a green practice. As of now, being green simply means using different systems/processes/ingredients to achieve the same goal, allowing a company to record lower already tracked numbers.

“What neither P&G nor Kaiser will do is attempt to verify these reports. . . . And suppliers could face conflicting standards from different clients. . . . The vendor with the best score gets the nod.”

If these companies are making it known that the numbers don’t mean anything and that the better number will always win, what incentive does any business or consumer have to learn, to make decisions, or implement changes that would truly be better for the environment and help them be more green? Especially since green initiatives tend to cost more upfront.

There is no easy solution to this problem, but glossing over the faults and glamorizing the perceived benefits doesn’t work either.

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