Make it green and keep them keen

Guardian_unlimited_jpegOriginally posted Jan. 21, 2008
Caitlin Fitzsimmons, GuardianUnlimited

When the term "carbon footprint" is used on Coronation Street, you know
environmental issues have hit the mainstream. Roy Cropper spent most of
this summer trying to lower his footprint in his café, Roy’s Rolls –
looking at everything from sourcing food locally to the fact that his
plates had been shipped from Taiwan.

Green concerns raced up the consumer agenda in 2007, forcing a
fundamental change in the way companies communicate with their
customers. The result is that so-called "green marketing" is now one of
the fastest growing areas of the sector and is creating both new jobs
and rewriting the ground rules for current ones.

The discipline
offers brands the opportunity to show customers their green credentials
but also carries the potential to influence consumers’ behaviour for
the better, and to feed back to management and boards on issues that
are important to consumers.

Everyone seems to be embracing the
trend – from fast-moving consumer goods giants such as Procter &
Gamble, with a campaign for Ariel detergent encouraging consumers to
wash their clothes at 30C instead of 40C, to boutique brands such as
smoothie maker Innocent Drinks, which will start a campaign this month
emphasising the good provenance of its ingredients and the fact that
its bottles are now made from 100% recycled plastic.

Greg Nugent,
head of brand, product and UK marketing for Eurostar, says green
marketing is now an imperative rather than a choice. "In the last 18
months the whole climate change debate has gone from being a science
community issue to the front page of the tabloids. It was clear from
market research we commissioned that consumers expected companies to
take action on environmental issues. We simply believe that those who
don’t will be left behind."

Eurostar found the return rail trip
to Paris or Brussels from London generated 10 times fewer carbon
emissions than the equivalent flight. Despite this relatively good
result, the company went further with its "tread lightly" initiative,
committing to a 25% CO2 reduction per journey by 2012 and a
comprehensive 10-point environmental plan.

But there are also
pitfalls – many marketers are wary, and for good reason, of going out
on a limb and risking accusations of hypocrisy or exploiting public
fears. If the reality does not match up to the claim, a company risks
being accused of "greenwash" and damaging its brand.

Most
recently, in November, the Advertising Standards Authority rapped Shell
for an ad that claimed the oil company used its waste carbon dioxide to
grow flowers, when less than 0.5% of Shell’s waste CO2 is used for this
purpose.

Gail Parker Renwick, senior marketing manager at British
Gas, says the key way to avoid accusations of greenwash is to back
words with action. "It is very easy to put out green adverts,
literature or web pages, but we actually follow up on our claims."

Parker
Renwick cites as an example British Gas’s long-term commitment to an
energy-saving social experiment it has run for the past 18 months with
64 volunteer households across the UK.

David Thorp, director of
research and information at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, says
marketing’s role is changing and the value of social marketing is set
to become increasingly important over the next decade.

"The need
to inform consumers about their choices and the impact of their
consumption behaviour will become increasingly important," he says.
"It’s not far-fetched to envisage a time when each marketing team has a
social marketing specialist embedded to ensure that awareness of
sustainable consumption is communicated as part of the overall
marketing message, and to encourage the adoption of socially desirable
behaviours."

Charlotte Mullen, HR and marketing director at
recruitment agency Phee Farrer Jones, says companies are interested in
green marketing not only as a consumer-facing communication, but also
as a way of presenting themselves to potential candidates as a
desirable place to work. "These things are important if you want to
make the Sunday Times list of 100 best places to work.

"If you
want to get into corporate social responsibility, you wouldn’t need to
come from a marketing background. In fact, you would be more likely to
come with marcomms experience from PR or a charity."

Most
marketers agree that green awareness among consumers will grow and it
seems clear that such a profound shift in public perception and
attitudes must ultimately affect every aspect of a company. Since
marketers sit at the nexus between a brand and consumers, they have a
special role to play in the green revolution.

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