My frequent travel between the United States and Europe has helped tune my radar to trends, movements and common responses to global movements. I always have my antennae up because most companies can't help themselves: They tend to see any issue people are really concerned about as an opportunity to market.
I've previously written about this phenomenon in a blog post entitled "'Green' Is the New 'Fat Free.'"
During the height of the fat-free food craze, marketers were putting fat-free on food products that had no fat naturally in order to sell more products. The rush to the aisles to indulge in seemingly guiltless pleasures drowned out the voices of physicians' trying to explain to consumers that fat-free does not mean calorie-free and, in many instances, high-calorie sugar is used as a substitute for the fat extracted.
Marketers are always ready to leverage the behavioral changes consumers are willing to make in pursuit of strongly held beliefs.
The new catchword is sustainability. It is a great movement rooted in social responsibility and environmental protection.
Walmart is one of the leaders in this movement among U.S. companies. Included in the tenets of its sustainability strategy are fair-trade practices, global climate responsibility, recycling and monitoring the manufacturing processes of the vendors from whom it buys its products.
Coca-Cola, one of the more recent entries into sustainability, took a big step forward in presenting its case to the public when the company recently ran a full-page ad in the New York Times on a Sunday headlined: More options. Refreshing choices.
The ad describes Coke's ostensibly better-for-you (read that artificial sweeteners) products, such as Diet Coke and Coke Zero, as well as portion-control sizes and water, as ways consumers can make "the right choices for themselves and their families."
Readers are directed to a Web site, www.livepositively.com, where they are introduced to the tenets of Coca-Cola's sustainability program that include: healthy living through maintaining a healthy body weight; community activities; product innovation; clean water worldwide; climate protection and a few other things.
Skeptics will rightly point out that companies that say they are so heavily involved in sustainability also often seem to be in the best position to do great damage to us and the planet, given the vast amounts of resources that they may use.
Optimists will point out that by taking the steps to try to do better, those kinds of companies should be applauded. An experienced adman like yours truly would suggest that the truth lies somewhere in between.
Companies that really build our communities, make great products and protect our environment should derive a consumer benefit. Companies that don't, shouldn't, and companies that say they do and don't, should be relegated to Dante's eighth circle of hell, the circle designated for those who defraud.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.