Green-Coloured Glasses: Vol I

Today we live in a world of choice. We choose what brands we want to buy, what sites we wish to visit, and which causes to support. And as we enter into an age insistent on environmental responsibility, consumers are faced with choices that hold far more weight than which toothpaste gets your teeth whiter. More and more, people are feeling compelled to look twice at everything from household cleaners and cars to shampoos and packaging. With so many brands under scrutiny, brand trust is becoming the ever-elusive holy grail of marketing. Consumers are becoming more skeptical than ever and communicating a company’s good intentions can be a challenge, especially when surrounded by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

There is no shortage of companies trying to cast a positive light on their otherwise questionable operations, and with the looming future of our planet becoming an increasingly pressing matter, ‘greenwashing’ is now common practice for many brands.

Greenwashthe act of misleading purchasers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Greenwashing was first identified in the late 1980’s after members of the hotel industry placed cards in each room, encouraging guests to ‘save the environment’ and reuse their towels. It was later revealed that most of these hotels were putting little to no effort towards recycling, or any other environmental practices, and the suggestive cards were purely profit driven. Since this discovery, activists have established the Six Sins of Greenwashing to help illuminate the various ways companies deceive their consumers.

Sin of Fibbing – most despicably, some manufacturers claim to meet environmental standards when in fact they do not.

Sin of No Proof – any claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a third-party certification.

Sin of Irrelevance – some manufacturers make claims that may be truthful but are unimportant and unhelpful for consumers.

Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off – certain companies boldly focus on one single environmental attribute, sweeping other negative attributes under the rug.

Sin of Vagueness – many consumers are fooled by companies making broad, poorly defined claims like ‘100% natural’, when some natural substances are actually harmful for the environment.

Sin of Relativism – a product may be able to claim it’s environmentally preferable for its class, but shouldn’t necessarily be considered in the first place as an eco-friendly solution.

Check out our next installment when we look at some examples of greenwashing at its worst.


Web Design Best Practices (part 4): Web 2.0

In some quarters, there is a backlash against the incorporation of widgets, Web 2.0 elements, and related content (or cross-promotions) in websites. Some recent studies have shown that users are not all that interested in exploring related content. Users, it has been shown, get to the site, they find what they're looking for, and they leave. Additionally, they are frustrated by the load times that come with complex web pages.

"People want sites to get to the point, they have very little patience," stated Jakob Nielsen in a recent interview with the
BBC. He claims users are "hot potato" driven, and want to get specific tasks completed.

What does this mean for site design? Do we throw out everything we've been learning and preaching over the past couple of years? My sense is, no. There is a time and a place for widgets, but they must be incorporated intelligently. Web developers should be careful about how much cross promotion is placed on each page. As is the case with French cuisine, less is sometimes much more.

Sadly, this is not always the case.

I would place some of the blame for overburdened web pages on marketing studies that claim boosts to sales through "widgetry". I see a lot of "studies" like these: "Video in websites boosts online sales by 50%"; the next day another study claiming: "Bigger "buy now" buttons deliver better returns"; and the next day: "Flash movies of cute furry pets deliver a volume increase of 25%".

You can imagine a small business owner who has built their business around online sales trying all three tactics at once. Heck, you don't need to imagine it, sites like that are everywhere.

There are excellent implementations of Web 2.0 tools that add enormously to a user's experience on a website and ultimately deliver better returns, for sales, for the brand or the community. Implementations can be done that are also very respectful of the user's time and bandwidth issues.

I am thinking here of a site BSL is developing for an organization that supports health care and capacity building in a number of less-developed partner countries. The site includes videos that really help people here to see the challenges and successes in countries that are very far away and different. The videos are hosted in the site in such a way that low-bandwidth users can see a synopsis and video stills. The videos are only launched on demand. The site achieves what it set out to, through judicious and respectful use of Web 2.0 content.

I remind readers of intentions, which I talked about in my first post in this series. When designing sites, you need to think very carefully about what you really want users to achieve at your site, and to test what you put on the site against real-world experience (e.g. common sense). If, for example, you really believe users will click a link to buy a product after reading product information, do you need to put "buy now" on non-product pages? After reading the Neilsen interview, and after struggling through sites that promise everything everywhere, I would conclude: no.