“Being green” may not be easy for Kermit the Frog, but it’s easy for any company or organization to claim they are environmentally conscious.
In February, a new domain — .green — went live so a website’s name could serve as a shorthand marketing hook for its environmental aspirations. Behind that domain sit a pair of related organizations that are still working out how — or if — they will enforce its implied brand.
Annalisa Roger came up with the .green idea in 2007, and she shepherded it through the arcane process of Internet governing agency ICANN. It joins others, like .lawyer, .porn, and .luxury, in expanding the number of domains beyond .com, .org, and .net while giving some quick indication of the website’s business type.
Roger leads two related organizations. The for-profit DotGreen Community manages and markets the domain in partnership with technical registry services provider Afilias. The DotGreen Foundation is a nonprofit organization that backs environmental projects.
If you sign up to register the web address of company.green at, say, a registrar like GoDaddy, Afilias handles the technical administration on behalf of DotGreen. The DotGreen Community, which is backed by private investors, gets a piece of the fee. Roger says some of their income goes through the Foundation to Earthshare, a federation of environmental organizations, and the rest covers marketing and promotion for the DotGreen organization and community.
Since the domain went live a few months ago, she noted, about 1,500 .green websites have been sold. To date, only a few have gone live.
There’s also GeneralMotors.green, which Roger said is the only Fortune 100 company so far to mount a .green site.
Which raises the obvious question: Can any car company use the .green marketing shorthand to assert its environmental bona fides?
“GM makes cars,” Roger told me, “and I know cars burn gasoline.” Its website and other unspecified steps, she added, show that “this car maker is making impressive efforts” toward being environmentally responsible.
“It’s about going green, not being green,” she said, adding that “it will take more than a website.”
But if GM shows it is not seriously attempting to move toward being a green company, what then? And how is that evaluated?
Or if Monsanto launches a website called Roundup.green to promote the environmental features of its widespread herbicide — whose main ingredient has been tagged as a likely carcinogen — can they get away with it?
Roger and board member David Maddocks contend that the online community of green-conscious users would counter any efforts by bad actors to co-opt the domain.
“Our rule is to promote the Green movement online,” Roger told me, “but not stifle the movement.” She added that the few websites using the domain so far are not misusing it.
The wrath of the green community
“The community will get to you, manifested through social media,” Maddocks told me.
“If certain actors want to define themselves with a green name, they will be confronting a community defined by the Net.”
This social-regulation-through-social-media concept is akin to that of ad man David Jones, whose recently launched mega-agency, You and Mr. Jones, is designed around the idea that brands have to be authentic or else social media users will wreck their brand reputation and perhaps even their stock prices.
It’s a charming, marketplace-of-ideas concept that, unfortunately, resides in a world where marketplaces are dominated every day by the biggest and smartest players for which social media objections are usually just background noise.
There are, of course, instances when this kind of community oversight has some effect. In his book Who Cares Wins, Jones points to oil company Chevron’s ad campaign in 2010 to position itself as behind the community and the environment.
“We agree,” its ads said to such statements as “It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy.” Social media efforts, led by activists Yes Men, satirized and countered the campaign. Eventually, Jones said, Chevron’s “nicewashing” effort backfired.
Assorted tweets and posts, however numerous, have to build to a crescendo that breaks free of the surrounding media noise — often led by activists like Yes Men — in order to get those companies to budge.
At this point, DotGreen doesn’t appear to want to be in the business of building crescendo, even if Monsanto were to show the Roundup.green website address on its TV commercials for the herbicide.
“We’re providing the superhighway” for the DotGreen community, Roger told me, through such means as a Twitter account, the promotion of green blogs, and a listing of green-related events. But, she said, “it’s not our community” to direct.
So, if KochIndustries.green launched tomorrow, would the DotGreen organization promote it?
No, she said, indicating that would somehow be a bridge too far.
There is also an Acceptable Use and Anti-Abuse Policy that accompanies the domain. In part, it says:
The .green top-level domain is intended to support the mission of the global green environmental movement. Registrants are prohibited from using the .green top-level domain to promote or endorse activities or information that are demonstrably false, deceptive, or harmful to the environment.
The policy also says that “DotGreen Registry Limited reserves the right to deny, cancel or transfer any registration or transaction, or place any domain name(s) on registry lock, hold or similar status, as it deems necessary, in its unlimited and sole discretion.”
But this policy was not mentioned to me by either Roger or Maddocks when I questioned how they could make sure the branded domain stands for what it says it does. It was brought up later by DotGreen’s PR agency, which suggests its enforcement is not a big part of the organization’s plans.
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