‘Come as You Are’ to Help Environment

Advertising_age_jpegAdvertising Age discusses some of the take aways from their recent event: The Green Conference.  The point speakers made was that perfection in green brands is impossible and unnecessary.  What is necessary? – the aspiration of "green."

Posted June 10, 2008
By Natalie Zmuda
and
Rupal Parekh, Advertising Age

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Perfection is not attainable, let alone necessary, when it comes to being green.

The_green_conference_jpeg
That was the message delivered by a collection of green experts and
marketers at Advertising Age’s Green Conference today. In the current
environment, accusations of "greenwashing" have become the norm, but
that’s no excuse to sit on the sidelines, said Peter Seligmann,
CEO-chairman of Conservation International, during his keynote address.

"None of us are pure. None of your brands are pure," he said.
"We need an aspiration to be pure. We’re not going to achieve that if
we wait until we’re pure to say something. We’re going to be silent.
And we can’t afford to be silent."

McDonald’s admits it cares
Mr. Seligmann pointed to
McDonald’s, one of the group’s first major corporate partners some 18
years ago, as a prime example, noting that the fast-food chain didn’t
talk about its environmental efforts out of fear that it would be
attacked, instead of celebrated, for what it was doing.

Today, the company is becoming more vocal about its green efforts, said
Mary Dillon, exec VP-global chief marketing officer at McDonald’s, even
if it’s not necessarily a brand consumers associate with sustainability
initiatives. "I know that the environment might not be the thing that
springs to mind when you think of our brand," she said. "[But] part of
our overall DNA has been to be socially responsible. Before, we were
more behind the scenes, and now its more direct-to-consumer. We feel
it’s time to be a little more public about it."

The company’s latest efforts are exceedingly public, as it
leverages its iconic Happy Meals by integrating environmental and
sustainable messages alongside popular properties such as "Bee Movie"
and "Kung Fu Panda." The company is even introducing an
endangered-animal-themed Happy Meal in some of its international
locations.

Wal-Mart on board, too
Wal-Mart, another company that might
not be immediately thought of as green, is also taking a more vocal
stand on the environment, with the help of the Martin Agency, which
also works with Al Gore. "Lee Scott is very open about the fact that
they got into this as a PR effort, and it’s a religion now," said Mike
Hughes, president and creative director of the Martin Agency.

He noted that the key to Wal-Mart’s campaign is that it is
built on one of the chain’s core equities: saving consumers money. "We
don’t tout sustainability for Wal-Mart," he pointed out. "We
communicate what would happen if [Wal-Mart customers] all bought
organic milk or [energy-efficient] light bulbs."

Similar to that approach, which focuses on the little things
that consumers can do, Ideal Bite, a website and daily newsletter
co-founded by Jennifer Boulden, senior VP, embraces and celebrates what
it calls "green light." "They’re driving SUVs to Whole Foods. That’s
the best way to sum up our audience," Ms. Boulden said.

But, she cautioned that despite many consumers’ willingness to
embrace an imperfect green life, they are becoming increasingly savvy
when it comes to navigating brand claims. She cited a study that found
68% of consumers believe companies are greenwashing or overstating
their green claims. "More and more, consumers are getting wise and
reading labels, looking for certification seals and researching," she
said, advising brands to "speak proudly about your accomplishments
while acknowledging that there is still work to be done."

Harm reduction
A panel titled "What can agencies and media
companies contribute to the green movement?" also touched on the idea
of embracing imperfection. Don Carli, senior research fellow at the
Institute for Sustainable Communication, encouraged brands to take into
consideration the carbon footprint of their ad campaigns.

The theme of transparency carried on into the afternoon, with one
panelist being perhaps a tad too transparent: Patrick Farrell,
VP-corporate responsibility and communications at Enterprise
Rent-A-Car, told the audience that while backing out of his driveway in
his hybrid car this morning, he ran over a rabbit.

Mr. Farrell participated in a session called "Marketers who
are walking the walk," which heard from Enterprise — a relative
newcomer to the green scene — as well as representatives from Fairmont
Hotels & Resorts and Green Mountain Coffee, both considered early
movers in the sustainability space.

While you don’t have to be perfect, being innovative doesn’t
hurt; take for instance a program that Fairmont recently launched
wherein guests are not only offered organic and locally sourced
cuisine, but can actually go out into area markets to shop for food
with hotel chefs. Eco-friendly initiatives like these are spurring a
great deal of consumer response for the brand, said Lori Holland,
executive director-public relations for the hospitality chain.

Outdoor clothing and gear retailer Patagonia made a tough —
and at the time unheard-of — decision years ago to embrace
transparency. It ceased manufacturing the metal spikes that once
provided the bulk of the company’s income upon learning they were
actually damaging rock surfaces, said Patagonia,com Creative Director
Bill Boland.

Steps to redemption
The company’s philosophy of putting all
the cards out on the table in the face of green scrutiny continues
today. Among other things, Patagonia has developed the "Footprint
Chronicles," an interactive mini-site that allows consumers to track
the impact — from waste generated to energy consumption — of specific
Patagonia products from design through delivery. Buyers are able to
weigh both the good and bad aspects of the product’s environmental
footprint prior to making a purchase, and can also post feedback
online.

And the bottom line, speakers throughout the day pointed out,
is that going green is good for business. A number of big marketers
like JetBlue, Volkswagen, PepsiCo and Fiji Water are helping offset
their negative impact on the environment by purchasing environmental
credits (renewable energy and carbon credits), a presentation by Neil
Braun, chairman-CEO of green solutions firm GreenLife, showed.
GreenLife helped AdAge offset the conference.

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