Interview with Jamie Wimberly, CEO EcoAlign, publisher of “Green Gap Redux: Green Words Gone Wrong”

Ecopreneurist logo newJamie Wimberly talks to Ecopreneurist about the gap between what people say they'll do when it comes to green products, and what their actual behavior.  Wimberly cites many reasons for gap, but says that the biggest is that green messaging is not personally relevant to people, that their values are not being addressed.  This is consistent with what we have found in our own research at ecoAmerica and our program approach.

Posted Oct. 16, 2009
By Jennifer Kaplan,  Ecopreneurist

All this talk about going green, do we really know what exactly it
means?  Companies invest millions in trying to segment the green
market. There’s the BBMG Conscious Consumer Report.  The Roper Green Gauge. The Landor ImagePower Green Brands Survey
And on and on..(..so many segments, so little time!) Maybe more
importantly: When we talk about green are we talking about the same
thing?  Apparently not.

This week I spoke with Jamie Wimberly whose firm, EcoAlign, just came out with a report called “Green Gap Redux: Green Words Gone Wrong”. Wimberly is CEO of Distributed Energy Financial Group
(DEFG), a company in the clean tech space that includes EcoAlign. Jamie
has nearly 20 years of experience in the energy and environment space,
previously having served as the Vice President of the Consumer Energy
Council of America (CECA), the President of the Center for the
Advancement of Energy Markets (CAEM) and a Director on Boards of
technology companies. He is a published author, frequent speaker and
the Executive Producer of the award-winning Day In The Life Of (DILO)
video.

Q: Hi Jamie.  Before we talk about the “Green Gap Redux”
report, can you talk about how your focus on energy makes EcoAlign
different from other green marketing agencies?

A. I was attracted to the energy sector because it
impacts so many of the big issues of our day, including the
environment, and is integral to modern society in all aspects.  The
relationship between energy and environment is a symbiotic one, meaning
that we won’t be able to clean up our environment and manage climate
change without a transformation on how we produce, deliver and consume
energy.  Our deep expertise in energy (the partners alone have over 50
years of collective experience in the sector) means that we can go
beyond your usual agency engagement and truly discuss all aspects of
strategy – operational, financial, marketing, etc.  As such, we are
able to elevate the discussion of such things as messaging/
communications, product development, customer engagement, campaign
design, channels and metrics, and other marketing-related activities to
the C-level suite of our clients.  Finally, I would note that
“sustainability” is evolving into a complete management model.  For
that transition to be effective, you need to have a lot of skill sets
and a strategic perspective that only comes from a deep understanding
of all the moving pieces of a company. The end goal is for
sustainability to become a business and economic driver to enhance
profitably.

Q: So tell me, what is the “Green Gap” you talk about in your new report?
A: The green gap is the gap between stated intentions
(what people say is important) and their actual purchasing decisions
and behavior impacting energy consumption and the environment.  What we
have found is that consumers are intellectually aware of the importance
of conservation, energy efficiency and clean energy, but there is a big
– and perhaps, growing – gap between how many Americans believe that
something should be done and what they themselves are actually doing
about it.  This gap is derived from many causes:  lack of
understanding, few choices, a commodity focus on price, a judgmental
and negative using shame around consumption, etc.  But probably the
biggest driver is that people’s values are not aligned with the
messaging and offering, meaning that the current approach to policy and
the market (“one size fits all”) is not emotionally connecting with
people as individuals or communities of people that share common
values.   In short, consumers do not see a lot of personal value in
taking action yet.

Q: You talk about consumer confusion around green terminology.  Why are consumers so confused?
A:
People
are confused because oftentimes the terms and concepts used by the
media and industry are engineering-driven or political in nature.  Due
to a dearth of market research, education and outreach, there has been
little attempt to involve consumers in the discussion from the
beginning.  It is almost like the stakeholders are having an entirely
separate discussion than people around their dinner tables.

Q. Was there anything totally surprising that you uncovered?
A:
An
interesting finding is that the intensity of green communications (all
of the media reports, commercials and communications over the past two
years) has not increased consumer understanding – and even may have
created more confusion.  Sometimes, like with climate change, this has
been done on purpose.  But mostly, there has been a very top-down type
of conservation going on that is more abstract than personally relevant
to most folks. Also, the findings on smart grid were interesting.  The
industry and consumers have very different conceptions of the value
proposition.  There is a lot of work to be done there.

Q: What general lessons can be drawn from the report? Any lessons for eco-entrepreneurs?
A: There are a lot of recommendations in the report.
 But let me summarize by stating that eco-entrepreneurs need to really
think about who there customers are, how their offering creates value
for those customers, and even, basic questions around what they are
selling and the currency used to do so.  For example, energy efficiency
could be viewed as a home improvement or comfort enhancement and that
the currency is one of status or community recognition.

Q: Any words of wisdom for eco-entrepreneurs?
A:
Let
me offer some basics:  1) words matter, 2) customer research matters,
and 3) marketing/ communicating to people as individuals matters. 
Emotional connections (developing and nurturing brands) are how
premiums, customer engagement and loyalty are derived.  Lastly, I
understand that eco-entrepreneurs are strapped for capital, but don’t
get cheap on how you present yourself to the market.  From an investor
perspective, higher valuations come to those companies that have
something which is a demonstrable competitive differentiator, including
a brand connected to market share and recurring revenue.  From a
customer perspective, they expect nothing less since their expectations
are based on all
service providers, and increasingly they expect personalized, easy
service and products that work as advertised.  Something I learned from
going to door-to-door when I was young, it is not a matter of selling
product or services – your job is to provide a reason and/ or context
for people to buy, and buy from you.

Thank you, Jamie!

Jennifer Kaplan is founder of Greenhance LLC and EcoAlign is one of her clients.

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