Green products that sell

Climatechangecorp_jpegPowerhouse Procter & Gamble has had some green marketing successes.  The following article takes a close look at what aspects of the company’s branding have been effective and how they dealt with the greenwashing problem.

Posted March 26, 2008, ClimateChangeCorp.com
By Zara Maung

Pg_jpegPeter White, Procter & Gamble’s head of sustainability, gives us a reality check on green products
Consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble has claimed success in
tackling climate change with its Ariel washing powder’s “Turn to 30”
campaign. For Peter White, the company’s head of sustainability,
Ariel’s experience holds lessons about how to make green marketing
campaigns work.

In
2006, Ariel started its Turn to 30 campaign to persuade UK consumers to
wash clothes in cooler water to save energy. The planning for the
campaign started at the design stage, White says. “You’ve got to have a
product that actually works at 30 degrees … If it doesn’t work, they
won’t buy it again,” he says.

P&G’s Tide Cold Water
washing detergent in the US is also designed to work at low
temperatures. Both campaigns have a simple proposition, says White:
“Wash at 30 degrees as you normally would and expect the same results.”

White’s advice on green marketing is: “It’s not what you say,
it’s what you deliver.” He says: “The worst thing you can do for a bad
product is advertise it well. If you have lots of advertising for a
lousy product, people will buy it, have high expectations, be
disappointed and never go back to that product again”.

As well
as receiving praise, Ariel’s claims to wash clothes clean at 30 degrees
had to be defended in the press. In May 2007, P&G disputed the
medical charity Allergy UK’s claims that washing at low temperatures
was insufficient to get rid of allergens in clothes and bed linen.

Small is big

P&G
is embracing the new marketing trend for selling more concentrated
products in smaller bottles. The products require “less transport, less
packaging, less water in the production, and it’s easier for the
consumer – it’s a win win”, says White.

The company’s answer to
rival brand Persil’s concentrated washing detergent, “Small and
Mighty”, is its fabric softener, Lenor Concentrate. White says P&G
communicates the green idea behind the product to consumers by quoting
the number of trucks saved from reducing the volume of packaging.

“Over
the next five years we are going to develop a market, $20 billion
worth, of what we call sustainable innovation products,” White says.
Sustainable innovation, according to P&G, means a 10 per cent
improvement over the whole life cycle of a product in one of six
environmental categories, compared with alternative or previous
products. The categories are energy consumption, water consumption,
packaging use, total materials used, waste generation and transport.

P&G’s
approach mirrors that of electronics firm Philips, which selects one
out of many sustainability concerns to address in new products. But why
not address all the environmental criteria in the same product, instead
of just one at a time?

“It depends on where the main impacts
are,” says White. “If you look at a detergent … the big impact in terms
of energy use or CO2 emissions comes from the use phase. The biggest thing you can do in that product category is low temperature washing.”

White
adds: “The biggest issue with Pampers is the amount of material that’s
used. If you look over the last 20 years … the weight of one nappy has
gone down 40 per cent and packaging has decreased by 80 per cent.”

While
improving performance in one of the categories, no decrease in
standards is allowed in any of the other five, White maintains.

Washing greenwash

Minimised
packaging is not new territory for P&G. But the company learned the
hard way that consumers put convenience first, White says, when they
decided to strip down bottles to plastic refills.

“We pioneered
the use of refills back in the nineties. We put liquid detergents in
pouches so [consumers] could fill their bottles at home … Consumers at
the time didn’t want that. It was less convenient. The stores didn’t
like it because the pouches didn’t sit right on the shelf”.

So
what do consumers want from a green product? “They want products that
are packaged efficiently, they don’t want excess packaging. They want
packaging that can be recycled. They like the idea that it’s made of
recycled material. But they also want convenience.”

As for
zero-packaging ideas, such as consumers refilling their bottles in
store, White says: “It makes a lot of mess and it takes much longer to
do your shopping … it doesn’t work.”

Recycling trade off

According
to White, P&G has developed the technology to incorporate up to 50
per cent recycled plastic in its bottles by sandwiching recycled
plastic between two sheets of white virgin plastic.

He says
there is necessary trade-off between what’s green and what’s acceptable
to consumers. “Recycled plastic is dirty grey, and consumers expect
products to look pristine and clean. If you put a product in a 100 per
cent recycled plastic bottle, the consumer wouldn’t buy it”.

In
some brands, P&G uses the full 50 per cent recycled plastic and in
other brands it uses less. White says: “One of the problems is actually
getting hold of enough recycled plastic.”

Greener plastic is
simply more expensive, he adds. “Plastic is high volume, and relatively
low value,” he says. “In many cases recycled costs more than virgin,
and so all the recycled goes to where they’re going to pay for it,
which is China. Recycled at reasonable cost is not often available.”

When asked why suppliers are not willing to pay a premium for recycled plastic, White replies: “That’s their economic decision.”

Wholly
“green” products are still a niche market, seen as undesirable or
overly expensive to most people, according to White. Companies have to
couple green claims with practical benefits in order to win over the
average consumer. For example, P&G’s greener, more concentrated
products are designed to be lighter and easier to carry, while the
energy-saving washing campaign saves customers money.

White
says: “There are some people who will buy green because that’s one of
their core consumer needs. Then there’s a mainstream that will behave
in a sustainable way if you make it easy for them and don’t ask them to
make compromises.”

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