Green Brand Leadership: a Fish Story

The customer is always right – so goes the mantra of every sales rep from time immemorial. But, as we know, what customers want may not be best for the planet. For some brands, this presents a dilemma: how do you satisfy consumer needs while remaining eco-responsible?

The dilemma can be quite daunting for a brand, especially if the eco-impact is caused by lifestyle choices consumers are long accustomed to. This challenge is only compounded when consumers are not yet aware that their very actions are having a detrimental effect – as no brand wants to be the bearer of bad news. Or, perhaps more challenging still, brands may find that the very behaviors and rituals that help define a brand itself turn out to perpetuate the very actions that are having a negative impact.

Whose responsibility is it to promote more sustainable consumer behaviors?

Many brands would say, it is the role of governments to regulate – and if they don’t, a corporate entity is not accountable for their failure to act. Others would say that it should be left to the discerning buyer. Should a brand itself take the lead? Some may argue yes. It is a demonstration of brand leadership, they say.

But, being out ahead of one’s customers may serve brands well only when their customers expect them to do so. Staking out a leadership position appeals to customers that want to know that they are doing good through the choices that they make.

Others may argue no. Brands sell products, not morality they might say. Worse, eco-responsible messaging may be antithetical to the experience a brand is trying to create. It is hard to enjoy pleasures guilt-free if one is constantly reminded of the impact that one is having on the planet.

But, regardless of where one nets out on this issue, one thing is clear: today, brands are increasingly left with little choice but to act – or react – whether or not their actions directly influence customer purchase decisions. Advocacy groups as well as individuals are leveraging the power of the media (and social media) to broadcast and amplify their voices to sway popular opinion.

Whether viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership or take a defensive stance, it is likely that more and more brands will have to make such choices.

One example of such tension between brands and eco-decisions recently appeared in the New York Times Magazine article by Paul Greenberg, “Tuna’s End: The Fate of the Bluefin, the Oceans and Us.” (June 27, 2010), As Greenberg writes, Nobu, the internationally acclaimed sushi restaurant chain, faces a decision today over the selection of seafood that it serves.

The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna – a prized fish for sushi and sashimi – is now endangered. Continued commercial fishing may push it to extinction. Further, the timing of the BP oil spill in the Gulf likely exacerbated the situation by polluting one of two known breeding grounds in the Atlantic for these fish right as mating season was to begin.

Today, Greenpeace is pressuring Nobu – in large measure because it is a category leader – to no longer serve Bluefin to its patrons. Nobu has resisted. Nobu co-owner Richie Notar noted, “The Japanese have relied on tuna and other bounties of the sea as part of their culture and history for centuries. We are absolutely appreciative of your goals and efforts within your cause, but it goes far beyond just saying that we can just taken what all of a sudden has been declared an “endangered” species off the menu. It has to do with custom, heritage and behavior.”

Arguably, Nobu’s brand identity emanates from a careful balance of adherence to the tradition and ritual of sushi – its creation, its presentation, its consumption – and hip appeal: swanky ambiance, innovative food creations and celebrity ownership. Out of balance, the brand does not deliver on the experience consumers have come to expect.

With this balance in mind, Nobu has tried to stake out a middle ground by updating its menu with the following message: “Bluefin tuna is an environmentally threatened species. Please ask your server for an alternative”

Such a simple message informs patrons of the issue and then let’s each consumer make their own choice. Additionally, such phrasing invites a dialogue between the patron and server regarding food substitutes, though it is unclear as to how many patrons would be inclined to do so.

What Nobu has missed, however, is an opportunity to leverage this situation to evolve its brand appeal – keeping the balance between tradition and hip appeal while elevating each to the next level.

Nobu could find an alternative to Bluefin tuna and not jeopardize the brand, but arguably reinforce consumer perception of Nobu as hip and trendy. Greenberg asserts that what Nobu needs is a new substitute for tuna. As part of his research, he went searching for a Bluefin substitute and may have found one in a fish known as kahala. Arguably, Nobu is missing an opportunity to be one of the first to introduce kahala across its menus, reinforcing its trendy image.

Ironically, by introducing such a substitute, Nobu would not be breaking with tradition, but rather, returning to it, as Bluefin was not widely popular in sushi until just 30 years ago. It was nowhere to be found in sushi before 170 years ago.

Thus, shifting away from Bluefin and offering consumers a tasty substitute could actually enhance Nobu’s reputation for seeding new trends while maintaining close adherence to the tradition of sushi.

In this case, what is good for the brand may actually be good for the planet.

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15 Responses to Green Brand Leadership: a Fish Story

  1. Jacquie Ottman says:

    Dave, Welcome back! Missed these posts. I look forward to reading this one, as always, Best, Jacquie Ottman

  2. Seba says:

    Thanks for the info and keep up the good work…

  3. Steve Dave says:

    Green is Now. Sustainability is the Future.

    I love your posts at Marketing Green. It fits nicely with SET, Sustainable Environment Technology.

    We’d like to have to support http://www.set2011.com and create a better tomorrow for our children.

    Thanks so much! (@set2011la)

  4. NJBond says:

    This is one move clear for consumers as well sellers.

  5. Green Hope says:

    Your blog is great… I love it!
    Check out my green blog when you have time

    http://greennewssandiego.blogspot.com/

    Best,
    Clotilde

  6. NJBond says:

    The gap between evolved and not evolved is great .
    Since last 2000 years this gap is widening and now it is layers of customers and layers of suppliers and layers of product values to society and layers of benefits to individuals.Product need to sort customers on line and tutor them the value and benefits. One to one order and produce and sell system may enter in soon as net and cell is already given to man . Credible and trust has to be adhoc created for each product and every time by engaging online discussion.

    Though this is complex solution ,it has to be only this way . Simplified solution is not easy here.When problem is fresh solution need be creative only. Humanity , science, art and faith needed in marketing green fabrics in both buyer and sellers knowledge.Life has become complex in modern times
    thus the need of knowledge and in cases wisdom is needed.

    Since long we are accustomed only to simplified solutions for all sorts of problems complex or simple this approach is old now.

    We can see clearly here the issue is complex one and the solution is to be creative . For creative products academic view is not fit.In the last 2000 years we have learned to accumulate wealth not wisdom ,more and more knowledge not wisdom was learned in universities. Now it is time to get real and themes and truth afresh learned by unlearning what we learned, hence this gap and this is the matter to be re considered. Our needs and wants enormously increased but need for wisdom was not proportionately increased ,now it is challenging us.

    Games are given to us, let us change the rules if it does not fit time and space we are to live in. Space has structurally changed to suit our time. And the solutions lies only there.

  7. Great post. It is always a struggle for companies to find that happy balance. But I think more and more customers are looking for greener companies to buy from.

  8. NJBond says:

    As much as creative energistic conciouse souls are born and are evolving and opening their inner powers to themselves there will be companies around the globe to produce.They are to awake for natural and organic product on virtue ways.In the old milanium it was evil time, now it is 3 rd one good time is around the corner many conciouse ones will enter in trade and production.

    The tools nature given us is cell,internet need be used right.Cells eradicated many white lies recently n societies in the world. Internet is trapping many frauds corrupts in public life in the datas and cash transactions in the world. Organic era , frugal living ,asture medicine is arriving.

    We have to invite many conciouse souls to take birth in this world . It is said,in spiritual world , that many souls, ready but they are afraid of Anesthesia once ; and now, Super-bugs bactrias like NMD-1 in hospital beds.

    Anesthesia babies born in 60’s made such noise , it ended only with Michel Jackson life and death , shops and shopping till hurt and happy death in malls ended and now only people are aware that artificial light in the malls show a product more real than real, and all our needs and many wants are created in malls. Intution do not dictate mind and bewildering is consumption cause and un-briddeled is population is growth .

    Now super bugs are going to create biological disorders in body , hence souls are afraid to take birth , what is advantage is also problem with conciouse souls when it is the matter on this planet.

    Customers must not only be shifting values to organic they need to change the attitude to life-style.

    Valuing with out attitude change is no use for organic a decade passed no big corporates entered in it, for they were not made for organic and naturals.

    Small ones will enter in , the job quality of third world poor will improve economy to real economy.

  9. Hamsassa says:

    great post thxx for this services

  10. Longcat says:

    Zomg does it work?

  11. Tracy says:

    Great post. Very informative. It’s important to be able to track back

  12. I think it is very hard to convince consumers who are already accustomed to using a particular product but is not eco-friendly to shift to a new product. I think the company should think of a campaign that would show to them the effect of a product if they will continue using it.
    Sherman Unkefer

  13. You really make it appear so easy along with your presentation however I find this matter to be actually something which I believe I’d never understand. It kind of feels too complex and extremely huge for me. I am taking a look ahead in your next post, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

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