The GSB Interview: Andrea Learned and the Intersection of Green + Sports + Women

DO WOMEN HAVE A UNIQUE VOICE AND POINT OF VIEW TO BRING TO THE GREEN-SPORTS MOVEMENT?  IN TODAY’S GSB INTERVIEW, ANDREA LEARNED WILL TRY TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION.  ANDREA IS A LEADING SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIST (SOCIALVOICEBRANDING.COM), SPECIALIZING ON MARKETING TO WOMEN AND BUILDING SUSTAINABLE BUSINESSES.  HER BOOK “DON’T THINK PINK” (2004) AND HER WORK ON SUSTAINABILITY AND CORPORATE CULTURE ARE EXAMPLES OF ANDREA’S UNIQUE STRENGTH IN UNDERSTANDING COMPLEX SOCIAL ISSUES AND THE DYNAMICS OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS. SHE IS A CONTRIBUTOR TO HUFFINGTONPOST, THE ATLANTIC, CSRWIRE AND GREENBIZ ANDREA IS PASSIONATE ABOUT BEING ACTIVE AND THE OUTDOORS.  ON SATURDAYS IN THE FALL ANDREA CAN BE FOUND CHEERING ON HER ALMA MATER, THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN.

Green Sports Blog:  Hello Andrea.  Tell us how you became an expert in understanding what motivates women and also you found your way to sustainability.

Andrea Learned:  Well, it all started with me working to market products targeted to women. The thing is, in my mind, women don’t need more “stuff”. But, I love understanding how women make decisions and using that knowledge to help companies and non-profits guide women towards making better, smarter choices in all areas of life. In terms of sustainability, it seems to come naturally (sorry for the pun!).  I’ve moved around a fair amount, from Portland, OR to Bellingham, WA to Burlington, VT and to Seattle, my current home.  Sustainability is central to each of these places’ DNA. While in Vermont, I noticed myself regularly giving career advice to friends – saying they should look at the cool renewable energy companies or socially responsible corporations based there. Then, I thought – wait, I should also be focusing my work on the sustainability-focused companies I am so passionate about!

GSB:  How did you act on that decision?

AL:  I got an MA in Sustainable Business & Communities, so that the term “sustainable” would be on my resume and in my LinkedIn profile.  It fell like a straight line from my women’s market focus, frankly. My thesis was “The Traits & Characteristics of Corporate Sustainability Leaders”.  In researching the thesis, I talked to a wide range of sustainability executives, all male as it turned out.  I found that the traits that lead to sustainable practices that helped make each of them so successful included empathy, communication skills and an emphasis on community… are all traits traditionally more associated with women.

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Andrea Learned, Social Strategist, Seattle

GSB: What does that mean for a more sustainable business climate in general and for sports in particular?

AL: More creative, systems-thinking and longer-term focused organizational leadership is the key.  Having more women in decision-making roles is important, for one. But, it is also important to encourage men in leadership positions to practice those qualities – like empathy in better understanding stakeholders and building community.  Scott Jenkins, Vice President of Ballpark Operations with the Seattle Mariners is a great example of this. From talking with him a few years back, it was clear that Scott engages his Ballpark Operations team from facilities to marketing as he develops a host of sustainable solutions.  Guided by his style of thinking, he has made Safeco Field a leader in the greening of sports facilities and fan-engagement.

GSB: Is it safe to say Scott has a strong feminine side?

AL: I wouldn’t put it that way, because that is not what any guy wants to be known for. It’s more that Scott has done a good job developing those traits that aren’t typically strengths for operations – and that’s extremely beneficial for his thinking about sustainability. Women might be more evolved, more practiced at expressing these traits, but we all have them. Men simply need to know that it’s more than OK to express them.  Similarly, there are traits associated with men–decisiveness, analytical thinking–that females in leadership roles need to be encouraged to practice and demonstrate – and we have seen that happen.

GSB: Are there similarities between marketing to women and marketing sustainability/green?

AL:  Definitely! When marketing to women, my motto goes along with the title of my book “Don’t Think Pink”,- meaning that a marketing approach to women should not simply be slapping on a flower or painting a site purple.  It’s much more nuanced and layered.  Culture, life stages, and daily realities influence a woman’s purchasing mind; the manner in which women buy – or “how” – is more critical than what’s being sold. The big box home stores are good examples of this – they don’t create pink aisles (even though there have been the occasional pink tools – don’t get me started on that), but they have better trained their staff and further developed their offerings to include more interior design related products and just became more relevant to how women think of DIY home projects.  

Similarly, sustainability-themed marketing efforts should not hit people over the head with green “shoulds”.  Rather, through “gamification”, and other tactics, both B2C and B2B companies are going forward with initiatives in which customers are encouraged to make green choices almost without even knowing it. They produce quality products and services that help customers become more sustainable in their practices – through things like helping further operational and energy efficiencies.  What they are doing is simply good business, but they know not to call it “green” or “sustainability” because there can be a resistance to that.  I call it “Sustainability, Hidden In Plain Sight”.  Using this approach helps sell these “greener” products or services, but their sustainability is not an obvious part of the “sell”.

GSB: How does sports fit in?

AL: Sports is actually a terrific arena (pun intended again, ARGH!) for “Sustainability, Hidden In Plain Sight” initiatives, based on its scale and it’s entertainment/fun factor (Ed. note:  ”Fun” does not apply to Cleveland sports fans).  Citizen/fan behavior can be changed in a positive way and it doesn’t matter if they see themselves as green or non-green.  If stadiums/arenas make it simple to separate food waste into recycling and composting bins, fans will do it.  If sponsors get behind a green initiative at the ballpark, fans will do it, especially if there’s an incentive involved.  After a while those changed behaviors just become the norm!  One place that is absolutely perfect for sponsored greening initiatives is college sports. Students “get” sustainability far more than their elders, and millennials will form habits in their years in college that they’ll take right on into their lives as homeowners and business professionals.

GSB: Well, now that you’ve brought up college sports, I have to ask you, what’s up with Michigan football?? I mean, they did win their last two games, but, squeaking by Akron at home and UConn on the road??

AL: Hey, in football as in sustainability, big wins are hard to come by. It’s the longer term forward momentum that we all love. Go Blue!

2 thoughts on “The GSB Interview: Andrea Learned and the Intersection of Green + Sports + Women”

  1. I love what she said about “sustainability hidden in plain sight.” It’s spot on. Things that might seem to be simply good business practices can actually be forward thinking GREEN strategies.

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