Green market

Why companies hide their eco-friendly bona fides

February 9, 2012: 11:13 AM ET

Environmentalism may be in vogue, but many successful businesses are thinking twice before screaming green.

By Ethan Rouen, contributor

The Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky

The Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky

FORTUNE -- At the Kentucky home of Rob Samuels, the chief operating officer of Maker's Mark bourbon and grandson of founder Bill Samuels Sr., not far from the nature preserve on which the distillery sits, the 54-year-old first bottle the company ever made sits behind the bar.

"If we were to open that bottle tonight, it would taste exactly like what we produce today," he says.

Maker's is possibly the most environmentally friendly and socially responsible alcohol company in the world, but Samuels believes that the many initiatives the company has taken are just part of doing business. What most customers need to know is only that every time they peel off that red wax seal, they'll get what they are paying for.

"It's part of the DNA of Maker's Mark," Samuels says of the company's devotion to the environment. "The way we connect with consumers is in part about who my grandfather was. He was very modest. It's not about standing on top of a mountain and screaming the loudest that this is happening."

The "green" label has wormed its way into the marketing campaigns of countless products as businesses try to capitalize on the growing environmental consciousness of consumers. Even environmentally damaging products with notorious reputations like bottled water and vinyl siding now boast their green credentials.

But many of the most genuine corporate innovators in the environmental space prefer not to throw it in their customers' faces. Whether it's coming from a fear of sounding disingenuous, a perceived lack of customer interest in corporate social responsibility, or a slew of competitors claiming the same mission without the same results, many successful businesses are thinking twice before screaming green. More

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