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Green Is the New Primary Color
But the subject isn't so simple.
by Joel Goobich (August 17, 2009)
We all remember having it drummed into us at school that Red,
Yellow and Blue are the three primary colors from which all the
other colors in the world can be made. Well, the world of color has
changed. Green has joined this small private club of primary colors.
Everywhere we turn these days we are bombarded by Green. It seems
that every trade publication or news magazine is promoting some
"Green" product or writing about the importance of being
Yes, Green is now perceived as a primary color with perhaps more
importance than those boring primary colors of yore. But does it
have the same absolute characteristics of red, yellow, and blue?
More and more products are promoted for their greenness.
Government agencies, from local to federal, have more programs than
ever that place a premium on environmentally-friendly services. The
current administration is strongly advocating "greener"
cars with better gas mileage, less pollution, and smaller carbon
Environmental awareness is critically important and should not be
trivialized. But the current "Green" mania is on the cusp
of turning a positive into a negative through overexposure. Perhaps
we should step back and reflect on what the new Green really means
before it completely takes over the color consciousness of our
Green has different shades.
Just as there is no single shade of red, yellow or blue, there is
no single shade of green. And so there are many different shades of
environmental awareness. The green that one person sees is not
necessarily the same for everyone.
Alas, the overuse of the word and color Green is quickly making
the color and its vernacular meaning less compelling precisely
because there are so many different shades and meanings to Green.
This not only leads to cynicism regarding the claims of one
company's green programs or products versus another, but has and
will lead to downright fraudulent claims of "greenness."
Needless to say there are some markets where there are
well-defined definitions for "green," but without a
standard that everyone can understand, "Green" is becoming
the most murky of colors. A child's finger paint concoction looks
clearer in comparison.
The appeal of the three primary colors is in their absoluteness.
We are taught that we can build our own entire universe of colors
with them. Unfortunately the overuse or misuse of Green does not
lend itself to this same characteristic.
So how do we make Green a true primary color equal to the others?
We need to set well recognized and measurable means to determine the
different meanings of Green.
If leading Market associations work together, perhaps in
conjunction with the Department of Commerce, they could develop a
universal "green'' symbol which could be verified, objective
and lead to clarity and definition of the various shades of
"Green," then the public would have a better grasp of the
importance of this issue. This symbol could conceivably be graded
based on industry standards in the following areas: A) Recyclability
... B) Sustainability ... C) Carbon Footprint ... D) Safety
The symbol could be used for products, packaging and raw
materials similar to the "Good Housekeeping" seal of
approval. It would bring rationality, consistency and reliability to
what "green" means. In essence it would define the
different shades of Green for us.
In addition, our schools could provide a great place to educate
our children on why Green is a primary color of extreme importance.
For decades we have been teaching civics to our youngsters. What
could be more civic minded than teaching Green?
We have seen the power of education in changing social norms. For
example, teaching about the dangers of smoking at an early age has
dramatically changed social habits. We can do the same things
regarding Green initiatives. We can teach that being Green is not
just about putting the papers or bottles in the recycling bin every
week. We can teach how being Green is truly a primary part of
responsible social interaction. Being Green is a good example of
cause and effect – certainly an important lesson to impress upon
our younger generation.
Finally, Green is not a political color. It does not belong to
any political party or movement. We should not let it be hijacked by
politicians. Being Green is a social contract between society and
the natural world in which we live. There will always be compromises
and dynamic changes as social mores and environmental and ecological
information becomes forthcoming.
In conclusion, Green can indeed become a primary color in our
society, but at present has too many shades to be treated as such.
Wal-Mart announced it will be asking its vendors to start
supplying information similar to what Joel described, so that
eventually consumers can look at a product's package and see a
"green" chart, just as consumers today can look at food
and see a list of ingredients.
If you're not a Wal-Mart vendor, you may think this doesn't
affect you, but it probably will. Just as Wal-Mart insisted on UPC
codes, EDI, etc., other retailers quickly followed suit. – Mike
(Note: Joel Goobich is the President of i3 Marketing LLC,
a product development, marketing and consulting firm that
specializes in art materials.)