Green Goals: Thinking Green

The Public Relations Society of America’s Minnesota Chapter invited me to lead the “Thinking Green” discussion at the Friday Roundtable in May. I was happy to share trends, statistics and examples of green marketing (and greenwashing) and to learn from the Roundtable participants’ experiences, too.

I want to extend special thanks to Dave Folkens, director of communications with Minnesota AIDS Project, and Bridget Jewell, public relations coordinator with Mall of America, for their recommendation and coordination of the Roundtable.

For those who were unable to attend, I hope you’ll enjoy the following highlights and statistics:

Thinking Green
Enough with the green already!
We get it. Well, kind of….

We know the mantra: Reduce, reuse, recycle.
We recognize the symbols.

But do we understand it? Do we act upon it?
Do we carry our practices at home to the office, and to our clients’ offices?
How do we talk with our employers, colleagues and clients about their choices?
When should we call attention to these choices?

Are we on the verge of a green backlash?
“You’re going to have to be responsible with the environment you live in until the day you die, or else the planet will implode into itself and that’ll just be that.
…It’s really time we move beyond the pimpification of green.
It’s not a marketing tool. It’s not a platform.
It’s simply what we should all being doing.”
(source: freen – The Post-Green Revolution, May 8, 2009)

What Do We Mean by Green?

Environmentally responsible decisions – ingredients and components, processing  and manufacturing, delivery, application and use, disposal and renewal

Socially responsible decisions – harvesters and miners, fabricators and laborers, transporters, consumers and end-users, waste handlers and the communities in which they live and work

Temporally responsible decisions – here and now, as well as the there and then

53% define sustainability as the need to balance financial, human and natural resources for the long-term benefit of business and communities.
(source: American Marketing Association and Fleishman and Hillard, April 8, 2009)

Why Bother?
Green = green

Consumers who believe a company, retailer, product or brand is “green” are likely to:
•    Buy more (volume)
•    Pay more (margin)
•    Trust and respect more (loyalty, referral)

•    89% of people are likely to buy more green goods in the next 12 months
•    79% of consumers said they would rather buy from companies doing their best to reduce their impact on the environment.
(source: “Climate Change,” Havas Media, April 2009)

•    48% of consumers are willing to pay up to 10% more for sustainable goods
•    80% have more respect for companies that they perceive as being responsible
in this area
•    80% are willing to “reward” companies that they perceive as being responsible
•    72% are willing to “punish” companies that they perceive as being irresponsible
(source: Sustainable Futures 09, Havas Media, April 30, 2009)

Who’s Green? Who’s Greenwashing?
It seems like everybody claims they’re a shade of green.

Greenwashing – “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”
•    The number of products marketed as green rose an average of 79% in both 2007 and 2008.
•    The rate of green advertising has more than tripled since 2006.
(source: “The Seven Sins of Greenwashing™,” TerraChoice Group Inc., April 2009, North American Report)

43% of companies plan to increase spending on green marketing in 2009.
(source: 2008 BDO Seidman survey, as published in The Green Outlook, April 2009)

300,000+ applications for green brand names, logos, and tag lines in 2007, the largest number of green trademark applications since 2000, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
(source: “State of Green Business 2009,” Greener World Media, Inc.)

People are getting smarter and asking tougher questions.

Color-Coded Marketing
If you were born in the U.S. in the late ’70s or after, green has never been just a color.

Pink = Breast cancer research
Red = HIV awareness; heart disease prevention
Orange = Multiple sclerosis awareness
Yellow = “Live Strong” with Lance Armstrong, testicular cancer survivor
Blue = Cystic fibrosis research; Barak Obama for President
Purple = Epilepsy awareness; domestic violence/child abuse prevention
White = Global AIDS and poverty relief
Brown = Tobacco and anti-smoking awareness
Black = Gun control advocacy; global terrorism prevention

Symbols are Reassuring
•    Nearly 300 different environmental certifications for consumer brands
(source: Curtis Munk, vice president of insights for shopper marketing at Saatchi X, May 2009)

•    About 50% adults believe companies are accurately presenting information about their impact on the earth.
•    Almost 60% would like to see more government regulation of green claims
to ensure they are accurate.
(source: “Americans Trust Green Claims, But Support Government Oversight: Survey,”, April 16, 2008, as released by 2008 Green Gap Survey by Cone LLC and the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship)

•    23.4% of the 2,219 products surveyed in 2009 featured a legitimate eco-label.
•    In the 2008 survey, only 13.7% of the products included this.
(source: “The Seven Sins of Greenwashing™,” TerraChoice Group Inc., April 2009, North American Report)

Third-party standards and certifications build trust, support claims:
•    Design for the Environment (DfE) and Water Sense = U.S. EPA
•    EcoLogo = Global Ecolabelling Network, an international association of eco-labeling programs, as meeting the ISO 14024 standard
•    FSC = Forest Stewardship Council
•    LEED = U.S. Green Building Council
•    SFI = Sustainable Forestry Initiative
•    USDA Organic

Vague language and unsubstantiated claims lead to confusion, suspicion:
•    Biodegradable
•    Non-toxic
•    Natural
•    Organic
•    Sustainable
•    and self-created “certifications” and imagery that mimic legitimate labels

As communicators, we must ask:
•    Are they used accurately?
•    Are they interpreted properly?
•    Are they supported by independent analysis and useful data?
•    Are there consequences for misrepresentation?

“Greenwashing will lead to cynicism and doubt about all environmental claims. Consumers will give up on marketers and manufacturers, and give up on the hope that their spending might be put to good use.”
(source: “The Seven Sins of Greenwashing™,” TerraChoice Group Inc., April 2009)

Triple Bottom Line (3BL)

People = human / social capital
•    Labor practices – health and safety
•    Employee satisfaction and morale
•    Community engagement

Planet = natural / environmental capital
•    Systemic, life cycle assessment – C2C, durability, re-usability
•    Ecological (carbon) footprint – energy and water used, waste generated, CO2 released (suppliers, facilities, travel, transportation)

Profit = financial capital
•    Internal “first cost” savings and long-term payback including increased efficiencies and productivity
•    External economic benefit to local and global society and commerce
•    Ratified by the UN and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability as the standard for urban and community full-cost accounting.
•    Reported on and monitored by the Global Reporting Initiative. As of January 2009, more than 1,500 organizations from 60 countries use GRI Guidelines to produce their sustainability reports.
•    In 16 out of 18 industries, companies that are recognized as having focused on sustainability, financially outperformed their peers during three- and six-month periods.
(source: “Green Winners: The Performance of Sustainability-Focused Companies in the Financial Crisis,” A.T. Kearney, Inc., 2008)

Start the Conversation
It’s our job as communicators.
•    Small steps are fine.
•    Be honest about the benchmark and the goal.
•    Share what you learn. Report on progress and on challenges.
•    Celebrate success.
•    Know that it won’t be easy, but believe it will make a difference, and it may even be a necessity.


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