Ad and marketing creatives

The Greening of Business Names

Green, as they say in the fashion world, is the new black. It's the color that conveys a spectrum of happy ideas: environmental health, recycling, alternative energy, and generally doing the right thing. And green business and product names are flourishing.

According to research done by Catchword, a naming and branding agency in Oakland, California, the number of U.S. trademark filings with the word "green" jumped 143 percent between 2006 and 2007. (The increase was smaller in 2008, mostly because of the overall decline in new trademark filings.) Names using "eco-" and "enviro-" are popular, too, but "green" flourishes because it's more visual, visceral, and metaphorical.

Green branding started back in 1972 with Greenpeace, which was the first major organization to use "green" in its name. (Paradoxically, Greenpeace became famous — or notorious — for its anti-whaling campaigns, which took place on the blue ocean, not the green earth.) Green political parties began springing up not long afterward, especially in Europe. Soon our vocabularies expanded to include greenbelt (parks or rural land surrounding a city), greenwashing (a misleading picture of environmental friendliness), and green tech (technology in the service of sustainability, energy efficiency, and so on).

When a global consumer-products giant like Clorox names a line of cleansers Green Works — which generated more than $40 million in sales in Year One — you wonder whether "green" has reached a tipping point. Maybe "green" in a name is no longer a way to stand out in the marketplace.

Are there other options? Absolutely. Here's a roundup of some alternative ways to convey greenness — the positive kind, not the raw, immature kind — in a business name.

Suggest the problem: Warm Planet Bikes, in San Francisco, sells and repairs bicycles and provides safe bike parking at the commuter train station. The name evokes both the problem — global warming — and a solution, pedal power.

Suggest an ideal outcome: Cooler, also in the Bay Area, is a for-profit social venture that aims to connect every purchase to a solution for global warming.

Convey an emotion: Treehugger, "the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability upstream," puts the human-earth connection right in its name. (Its blog reinforces the message: it's called Hugg.) The term "treehugger" (sometimes used disparagingly) goes back to the 1970s, when groups of peasant women in India surrounded trees to keep them from being felled. Their protest grew into a movement called Chipko, a Hindi word meaning "to stick."

Go global: Importing a word from a non-English language suggests global consciousness and a bit of romance. Renewable-energy company Makani Power takes its name from the Hawaiian word meaning "wind." Nau, a performance-clothing company in Portland, Oregon, that uses recycled and sustainable materials, sounds like "now" and means "welcome" in Maori. VivaTerra"long live the Earth" or "living Earth" — sells organic, recycled, and sustainable home products.

Talk about the source of all that green: Without the sun, there would be no green plants. Some green brands, especially those involved in solar power, make that connection literal: Sungevity, SolarCity. Others are more suggestive, such as BrightSource Energy, which builds large solar-power projects. And some "sun" names are almost abstract: Konarka, which makes plastics using "third-generation solar technology," is named after a 13th-century Indian temple dedicated to the Hindu sun god Surya.

Look at the big picture: Seventh Generation, a Vermont company that sells environmentally responsible products, derives its name from the Great Law of the Iroquois, "In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." Another consumer-products company, Gaiam, created its name by blending Gaia — the Greek goddess of the Earth — with "I am."

Choose a synonym: The thesaurus (or a paint-chip fan) can be your friend. An adjectival form of "green" became ("ideas and shared solutions for sustainable and low-cost green living"). Pale-green Celadon lent its name to a group of "modern minimalist eco-friendly townhomes" in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Find another color: During her presentation at the American Name Society's annual meeting in January, Catchword principal Laurel Sutton predicted a rise in "blue" in names for environmentally conscious brands. (After all, healthy oceans, lakes, rivers, and skies are pretty important for a sustainable future.) Her examples included the Blue Frontier Campaign, an ocean-protection organization that uses "seaweed" instead of "grassroots"); Project Blue, the surf industry's ocean-protection campaign; and the Blue Flag Programme, a voluntary eco-label awarded to beaches and marinas in 37 countries.

Have you spotted any good non-green "green" names lately? Leave a comment and share your finds!

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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday March 11th 2009, 9:47 AM
Comment by: Libelleblue (Munich Germany)
Blue was always my favorite color, because we, as all living creatures on our planet, came from the ocean, and life on earth can't survive without deep blue water. I'm very happy that finally the mankind becomes aware of that simple wisdom. I apologize for my poor English.
Wednesday March 11th 2009, 10:00 AM
Comment by: Elisa B. (Addison, TX)
This explains why stars at the Oscars were all wearing green jewelry instead of loaner Harry Winston diamonds...
Wednesday March 11th 2009, 11:42 AM
Comment by: Elissa S. (New York, NY)
How about BP Global, the energy/oil company? They're re-branding themselves as a green energy company by calling themselves BP - Beyond Petroleum. They've also changed their logo from a shield to a flower.
Thursday March 12th 2009, 1:49 AM
Comment by: Donita N. (West Kingston, RI)
Chartreuse is the name of a shop in Westerly, R.I., that sells fashions made from recycled materials. The owner wanted to name it after her favorite shade of green and only later realized that it also contains the words Art and Re-use. The store carries handbags made from aluminum can pull tabs, or from crocheted plastic bags or from strips of vinyl billboard material. She has placemats woven from magazine pages the way American children used to make paper chains from chewing gum wrappers. She hersself makes hats and gloves by sewing together sections of old knitted wool sweaters.
Thursday March 12th 2009, 3:13 PM
Comment by: Nancy FriedmanVisual Thesaurus Contributor
Donita: Chartreuse is a brilliant choice for that business. Hats off!
Saturday March 14th 2009, 8:57 AM
Comment by: Mark P. (Pittsburgh, PA)
Thank you Nancy for providing a very diverse perspective of this trend and a number of alternative ways to participate in it. Many marketers (lazy marketers) try to participate in this trend by putting "eco-" in front of a name, but your insights give us many different ways to go!
Sunday April 5th 2009, 10:34 AM
Comment by: A. Z.
Thank you for providing such an interesting article. (VT should publish more articles like yours!)
Friday April 22nd 2011, 7:31 AM
Comment by: Erin B. (Haverhill, MA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
A little late to the party, but the New England Aquarium uses "blue" instead of "green" to talk about environmentalism:

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Choosing a name for a company or product is like choosing a title for a story, Nancy says.
In name development, quantity often begets quality.
An eco-conscious word was New Oxford American Dictionary's 2008 Word of the Year.