Telling a Luxury Story RequiresTransparent Truth in Marketing

Posted: October 10, 2009 by
Wendy Jedlicka

As we've talked about many times in this column and in others in this magazine, it is not enough to simply say you are "green"—you need to actually do green. In 2007, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing issued the results of a study looking at products claiming eco attributes. Of the over 1,000 products they reviewed, only a tiny fraction actually did what they claimed they were doing. To help people identify eco-poseurs better, TerraChoice came out with their "Six Sins of Greenwashing."

This year, TerraChoice again reviewed products and expanded its study, both in product numbers and regions (U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia), yet they still found that 98% of the products reviewed committed at least one of their sins of greenwashing, with only 25 products found to be "sin-free."

This year, TerraChoice has added a seventh sin: "The Sin of Worshipping False Labels is committed by a product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement actually exists."

It should be noted there has been criticism of the original TerraChoice study from its data gathering techniques to final conclusions, but whether you agree with the studies or not, no product should find themselves in violation of guidelines outlined in the markets they are selling in. The guidelines we're talking about are from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the Competition Bureau of Canada, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. And, though not a requirement by law, the ISO 14021 standard for environmental labeling is a good universal guide for truth in marketing as well.

So, are all product makers lying? Or, are marketers so ingrained in "sell speak" that they've forgotten what it is to tell a truthful story and mean it? It could be too, that people simply have not taken the time to learn the things they need to know to do their job well. Of the approximately 2,000 attendees at conferences where I've spoken since the first TerraChoice study came out, in an informal show of hands at each talk indicates that maybe 5% acknowledge they've read the FTC Environmental Marketing Claims Guidelines. These attendees include marketers, designers, engineers, and brand managers. Given the importance of telling a truthful story and the impact that truth has on a brand, all hands should have been raised.

Keeping up appearances

For the luxury market, appearances, as well as realities, are everything. Any sort of tarnish (lack luster performance, untruths about ingredients)will make the customers simply move on to a product that will deliver the qualities they are looking for. People shopping for products in the sector have the money to buy what they want and will change brands and stores in an instant if they find they are not being served as they expected.

To help tell the story of their luxurious truffles and caramels from the purest ingredients and small handcrafted batches Chicago's Katherine Anne Confections chose Distant Village Packaging to become part of its story. A member of Green America, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), and the Fair Trade Federation, Distant Village Packaging uses renewable, recycled, and sustainably harvested materials to create upscale, handcrafted packaging for Katherine Anne Confections and a variety of clients.

Working with local artisans as a part of the community, Distant Village's mission values innovation, fair trade, and economic development. With industry firsts like tree-free labels (eco-preferable adhesive and recycled release paper found at, and agro-forest resources (made up of forest floor scraps), as well as innovative programs to benefit their artisans' families, Distant Village works to push the boundaries of traditional packaging as well as push for new opportunities for economic health in developing areas.

Both Katherine Anne Confections and Distant Village strive to tell their deeper story on their websites as well. Going further than what's possible to communicate on a package, they want to provide an opportunity for their customer to connect with the artisans creating the customers' product experience—one of the cornerstones of luxury and boutique product sales. Without making outrageous claims, they simply state their efforts, and let the products speak for themselves.

Simply stated, luxury and boutique product sales strategy states: "If you want to buy 'whatever' in a box, go to the Humongo-Mart; if you want handcrafted quality created with personal pride, then allow us share our story with you." Truth is not just a luxury of a few large eco-producers, but the cornerstone of many efforts and market sectors—from green to queen, and everything in between.

Katherine Anne Confections chose Distant Village Packaging to help tell its story.


Guide for Marketers
TerraChoice issued this guide to help companies avoid committing the Sins of Greenwashing and to help marketers and retailers win over consumers through genuine environmental marketing and communications.

2009 TerraChoice Report
Read TerraChoice's 2009 findings and decide for yourself

The Sustainability Update is coordinated by:
Wendy Jedlicka, CPP - Jedlicka Design Ltd. (, o2 International Network for Sustainable Design ( and, Minneapolis College of Art and Design's groundbreaking Sustainable Design Certificate Program (