Crowdsourced Clean up: A Conversation with Litterati Founder, Jeff Kirschner

ImageBy Heidi Quigley, Special Projects Associate, Grossman Marketing Group

According to the “Keep America Beautiful” organization, over 51 billion pieces of trash are littered on U.S. roadways each year.  In a recent post, we discussed the growth of social media tools that help create awareness of the environment and how to improve it.  One tool we mentioned was Litterati, a global photo gallery of litter that allows users to share their findings and engage with brands. We recently had the chance to interview Litterati’s founder, Jeff Kirschner, to learn more about the project and the impact it has had thus far, as well as their future plans for growth.

Kirschner explained that he founded Litterati in an effort to reduce litter rates.  Litterati is an online resource that allows users to photograph litter with Instagram and share their findings with friends using the hash tag “#Litterati.” They are then encouraged to discard the litter properly.

In our interview, Kirschner shed some light on the world of litter. He told us that the majority of Litterati contributors range from 18 to 34 years old and are primarily a tech-savvy audience. As Litterati has grown, he has noticed a significant change in his purchase choices, his family’s behaviors, and also in his local environment’s level of awareness. The enjoyment and creativity of this “digital landfill” allows for users to create their own caption for their photos.  “People are literally titling their captions as if they are titling a piece of artwork, while others are more black and white. Notably, other than the photographs, everything on the website is black and white in-order to mimic the black and white origin of this issue—there is something that clearly does not belong there, so we must put it where it belongs,” Kirschner explained.

Litterati is about bringing people together that may not know each other, but are contributing to the same objective. For example, Kirschner mentioned two people who picked up cigarette butts within miles of one another.  These people did not know each other, but they picked up litter and tagged “#Litterati” within minutes of each other.

One of Litterati’s long-term goals is connecting large quantities of people who have the same universal goal of a cleaner environment. Kirschner said, “When dealing with a global issue such as litter, it can be overwhelming to people who are looking to find a solution.  However, if one person knows that there is another person close by doing the same thing, fifty other people in the same city, hundreds in the same state, and thousands in the same country, then suddenly people realize that they are not alone.  Although this problem is huge and daunting, it actually can be fixed if we all play a part.”

Kirschner also discussed the response he has seen from big brands.  He told us that companies such as Whole Foods and Starbucks are looking to integrate corporate sustainability into their many promotions. He reported that Whole Foods recently teamed up with Litterati users. During this promotion, each person who picked up and discarded an item of trash properly was rewarded with a free coffee.  In the future, there will be more potential opportunities for Litterati to collaborate on another promotion with Whole Foods.

Kirschner said, “Can you imagine if Marlboro or Newport recognized that their cigarette butts are everywhere and said that they were going to build a team to start block-by-block to pick them up?  Just the P.R. alone would be good for a company like that.”

According to the statistics that can be found on the Litterati website, cigarette butts are the most littered item. Kirschner stated, “Smokers have a natural tendency to throw them out on the ground and, in some ways, this has become an accepted behavior.  After recognizing the fact that this has been happening for many years and that there are many cigarettes in each pack, it comes as no surprise that this is the most highly littered item.”

The main idea of Litterati according to Kirschner is, “Individually we can make a difference. Together we can create an impact.”

Interview with GreenMarketingTV on Sustainability

Hi all – I was pleased to be featured on GreenMarketingTV in late May, and wanted to share the article with you.  Here’s a link.  I have also included the text of the interview below:

Green Entrepreneur Interview: Ben Grossman, Sustainable Direct Mail | Green Marketing TV

http://www.greenmarketing.tv/2011/05/24/green-entrepreneur-interview-ben-grossman-sustainable-direct-mail/

Award-winning green entrepreneur, Ben Grossman of Grossman Marketing, talks about how to develop a sustainable direct marketing campaign and what it takes to transform a fourth-generation business into one with a strong environmental focus.

What was your inspiration for starting Sustainable Ink? When and how did you get started?

I started my blog, Sustainable Ink, in 2007.  I had joined my fourth-generation family business, Grossman Marketing Group, the previous year and was often thinking about sustainability and green business issues.  Our business was founded in 1910 as Massachusetts Envelope Company, and it’s evolved into an integrated marketing services firm.

Today, our main service lines are a design studio, envelopes and direct mail services, printing of all kinds, and promotional products.  In addition, we have a fast-growing e-commerce and rewards and incentives business.  As oil prices were rising, and global warming had gone from a fad to stated fact, I saw the writing on the wall – that we live in a world with finite resources, and consumers are increasingly interested in companies’ environmental footprint, commitment to environmental causes, and the sustainability of their products.

I wanted to start a blog through which I could discuss these issues, with an emphasis on marketing services and my industry.  I have been very proud to see the site’s readership grow over time, and have some of my posts picked up by national green news sources, most recently Environmental Leader and Ecopreneurist.

I launched our firm’s green marketing and sustainability practice the previous year with the goal of working with my team to help clients identify environmentally-conscious business practices as a way to differentiate them from their competition and establish a competitive advantage in their respective fields.  For this work I was the 2009 recipient of the New England Direct Marketing Association Prodigy Award.  The Prodigy Award is given to one marketing professional each year in New England under the age of 30 who has added the most to the art and science of direct marketing in the prior year.

Is interest in sustainable marketing growing or declining?

Green marketing is definitely not out, but consumers have been inundated with an array of green logos, claims and messages, and they are becoming increasingly skeptical of the green claims they read and hear.  Much of the research I have seen, as well as my own experience, point to the need for transparency in green marketing claims.  People want to know not only how a product is green, but according to whom.  The third-party reference needs to be a legitimate one – not an unknown group with a confusing website.

In the print world, the best example of a strong and respected third-party authority is the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator.  On this site, people can calculate the savings derived from using papers with post-consumer recycled content.  These savings include energy, wastewater, trees, etc.  I like this because it’s a resource that is industry independent.  Although I respect the savings calculators put together by paper companies, using a third-party resource rings truer to consumers.

How do you help your clients target and reach green consumers?

There is a wide range of ways to target and reach green consumers.  They include buying ads on websites that cater to these consumers, as well as on-the-ground outreach at community events.  In addition, using sophisticated direct mail techniques, the right brand can reach the right people with useful, actionable direct mail.

How do you help businesses communicate their green-ness to their customers?

The most important advice I can give to companies is to tell the truth and be transparent in their claims.  Companies get in trouble by greenwashing – when they mislead consumers about their environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product, and consumers are getting fed up.  As I mentioned earlier, when making a claim, try to use a respected third-party resource to verify it.

How do you find your customers?

The best customers come by referral, but we also find them through speaking engagements, direct mail, networking, social media and online ads.  We believe the best campaigns are integrated ones, and we try to practice what we preach!

What are consumers looking for in a green company? What messages do they want to hear?

Consumers are looking for green products to be made from renewable resources, use recycled content, or with less materials than in the past.  For service providers, consumers are looking for consistency.  For example, if a hotel claims to be green because of an array of practices, it is somewhat of a contradiction when there are no easy ways to recycle plastic bottles, cans, paper, etc.  I have seen this too often when traveling on business, and I wish some hotels would give greater consideration to waste management practices.

Does sustainable marketing typically cost more money?

Sustainable marketing shouldn’t necessarily cost more money.  In the print business, people can generally use recycled papers, vegetable-based inks and renewable energy in the production process for no extra cost.  There are of course premium eco-friendly papers that add cost (New Leaf, Mohawk Options, Neenah Environment, to name a few), but if a marketing professional is working with the right vendor partners, they should be able to reduce their footprint without adding much cost.

What recommendations do you have for businesses to green their marketing without breaking the bank?

As I mentioned earlier, people can use vegetable-based inks, renewable energy and recycled materials for little or no extra cost.  Some practices can cut costs – like considering the production of an item during the design stage, so it gets optimized for printing to use the least amount of paper.  In addition, when people manage their mailing lists well, they mail fewer pieces to a better audience, thus cutting postage and printing costs.

Are all your marketing services eco-friendly? How is your business greener than your competitors?

Our services are fairly resource intensive, so we try to be conscious of our footprint at all steps in the process.  For example:

1)      All metal printing plates are collected after use and given to a recycling company.

2)      All press solvents and washes are low VOC (volatile organic compound) formulas that minimize impact on the environment as they contain no acetones.

3)      All non-metallic inks are vegetable-based (i.e. non-petroleum based).  The ink contains approximately 35% oil, all of which is vegetable-based (soy and linseed).

4)      Our inks are made from a “stay open” formula – meaning that the top layer does not skim over and form an unusable layer – this reduces ink use by about 10% annually.

5)      All waste ink is sent to a recycler where it is mixed with other waste to form a low-grade heating oil.

6)      All paper waste and cardboard packaging are sent to a paper recycling company.

7)      Our prepress system is entirely chemical free – only water is used to rinse the plate after imaging.

8)      All waste oil is recycled with an oil recovery service.

9)      All wood pallets are returned to our paper merchants for re-use.

10)   In addition, here’s a blog post I wrote about recycling, in which I explain that we allow our employees to bring in batteries, CFLs, fluorescent tube bulbs and paint from home to be recycled by a partner of ours. We recently added a Big Green Box to our office so our colleagues can bring in electrical waste from home as well.

What kinds of mistakes do green businesses generally make that you would advise against?

The worst mistake is to not tell the truth or to make misleading statements and we strongly advise against them.  In addition, we make sure that green marketing underpins an organization’s overall commitment to sustainable practices.  If they are just surface changes, consumers will see through them.  In addition, employees want to work for socially responsible organizations.

What mistakes have you made as a green entrepreneur and what advice would you give others looking to start a green business?

Sometimes I have had the tendency to try to make a product or offering perfect before rolling it out.  One piece of advice I would have is to “beta” test everything, as early customer feedback will always help you improve.

You can get in touch with Ben through Twitter.

Green Tips for Marketing Success: Part 2 of 4 (Green Promotional Products)

As I wrote in June, my firm, Grossman Marketing Group, published our 100 Tips for Marketing Success earlier this year to mark our 100th anniversary.  Many of these tips involve sustainability.  I’m proud to share the second installment of the “green” tips below.  These focus on promotional products.  A special thanks to my colleague, Kerry O’Neil, for her help putting these together.

When using promotional products, please consider the use of environmentally-friendly materials, as they can help your organization make a strong impression on your constituents.

  1. Corn plastic is practically indestructible. Choosing promotional corn plastic coffee mugs is a wise decision for the office since you can be sure that if they are dropped they will not break. They are also practical, attractive and economical as well as biodegradable.
  2. Recycled grocery bags can carry twice as many items as plastic shopping bags and are easier and more comfortable to carry. In addition, they are made from strong fabric that will last for many years, keeping your brand top-of-mind.
  3. Not only is organic cotton chemical and pesticide-free, but it is also softer and more comfortable to the touch than blended cotton.
  4. Reusable mugs and bottles that are BPA-free are very popular and can help you send a responsible message. We have found that recipients of reusable water bottles significantly cut down on their bottled water consumption, thus helping the planet as well as their wallets.
  5. Consider alternative materials as a way to send a sustainable message. These include recycled fabrics, bamboo, biodegradable substrates, and solar-powered items.

To download the complete set of 100 tips, please click here.

Deloitte Report – Sustainability in Business Today: A Cross-Industry View

By Marisa Greenwald (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

Despite widespread support for sustainability reforms, lofty rhetoric from CEOs and government incentivizes for businesses to “go green,” corporate sustainability improvements have been limited.  To further probe why companies are not moving more aggressively on this front, Deloitte recently published a study that delineates corporate perspectives on sustainability based on responses from 48 companies across different industries.  The report studies these perspectives in five contexts: general sustainable practices, sustainability related to innovation, corporate responses to sustainability incentives in the stimulus package, the relevance of new skills in pursuing sustainability efforts, and future sustainability trends.  Several compelling trends emerged from this study which I thought would be worth sharing with the Sustainable Ink community.

First, it is interesting to note the challenge companies face trying to innovate through sustainability.  The study found that in the area of product innovation, 23% of companies surveyed were developing entire sustainable product lines while only 25% of all companies surveyed indicated they were pursuing efforts to make their products more sustainable.  So while a considerable portion of companies are devoting entire lines to greening efforts, only a fourth of all surveyed incorporate the sustainability factor into innovation.  A major problem companies identify when trying to create sustainable products is the tension between willingness to pay and cost.  Even though customers may want sustainable products, they are not necessarily willing to pay more for them, so companies must find ways of keeping the sustainable measures cost-neutral.

Another interesting finding from this report is the corporate reaction to sustainability incentives in the stimulus package enacted last year.  While there was an overall mild recognition of energy efficiency incentives in the legislation (5.29 on 10-point scale, with 1 being not at all familiar and 10 being very familiar), there was the largest gap in understanding between the automotive industry, 6.38, and the technology industry, 3.91.  The gap in policy awareness between the industries supports the broader idea that there is a heightened emphasis on greening in the automotive industry, where carmakers have been under considerable scrutiny and consumers have a relatively high willingness to pay for a hybrid vehicle, compared to a willingness to buy energy efficient technology products.

Overall, this report offers strong insights into corporate perspectives and decision making criteria in the context of proposed sustainability reforms.  Sustainability advocates and policymakers must continue to consider the needs of corporations who are open to pursuing stronger sustainability standards but whose aims continue to be maximizing shareholder value and maintaining profitability.

Click here to download the full report from Deloitte.

Making Apparel Transparent: Companies Team Up to Measure Sustainability of Shoes, Clothes

Source: Levi's

By Marisa Greenwald (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

We have written often at Sustainable Ink about the importance of transparency, as well as the need to account for the environmental impact throughout a product’s lifecycle.  With that in mind, we are pleased to see a positive step taken by some well-known corporations.

At next month’s Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, retailers will receive a new tool to help them pursue their sustainability goals.   A group of about 100 retailers and manufacturers, including Nike, Levi Strauss, and Target, have joined forces to develop software that makers of apparel and shoes can use to measure the environmental impact of their products and assign to each an “eco-value” similar to the Energy Star rating of appliances.

Known as the “Eco Index,” this software tool works by posing a series of questions to companies on their environmental and labor practices, including some questions directed towards the companies’ suppliers.  The software then assigns a score that represents a percentage of a perfect score.  The goal of the Eco Index is to showcase competing items in retail settings with various “eco-value” scores so consumers can easily factor sustainability considerations into their purchase decisions.  Firms like Timberland and Patagonia have publicly expressed their desire to move the conversation forward and gain consensus among similar companies so that an effective and meaningful eco index program can be implemented.

With the heavy use of chemicals and crude oil to produce and ship these items, apparel production takes a heavy environmental toll that warrants accountability.  While many consumers are increasingly motivated by sustainability concerns, it is often difficult for them to understand the environmental consequences involved in producing many of their favorite products.  If companies begin to report the environmental impact to create their products, and consumers react by choosing certain items over others on environmental grounds, companies may become even more motivated to improve their sustainability efforts.

For more information about the Eco Index, check out this article from The Wall Street Journal or this recently featured piece in Fast Company.

Whole Foods/Cork ReHarvest Partnership: A Best Practice in Product Lifecycle Management

Image courtesy of Whole Story - the official Whole Foods Market blog.

Earlier this spring, Whole Foods Market and Cork ReHarvest announced a partnership to allow Whole Foods customers to leave wine corks in drop boxes in all Whole Foods stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdomto be recycled.  This is an interesting program with a great focus on the lifecycle of products.

Although many people recycle cans, bottles and newspapers, too many other products slip through the cracks and end up in landfills.  I have written in the past that all products that cannot be recycled in towns and municipalities at curbside should come with instructions on how to responsibly be disposed of when finished.  Whether this includes empty toothpaste tubes or laptops, it is important for companies to not only focus on the green marketing message at time of sale, but also the environmental considerations at the end of the product’s lifecycle.

Whole Foods has been an industry pacesetter for some time, having announced a partnership with Preserve in early 2009 to allow customers to bring in hard-to-recycle #5 plastic to stores to be recycled.  This includes Brita filters, which too often find the trash after two months use.  Here is some additional coverage on the Whole Foods blog from April 2010.

My firm, Grossman Marketing Group, also tries to do its part by not only using environmentally-friendly products but also allowing our employees to bring in used lightbulbs (CFL), batteries and paint from home to be recycled.

Consumer goods and electronics companies have a long way to go to ensure that their customers know the facts about what to do with their products when they are finished using them.  However, these partnerships that companies like Whole Foods have created are an encouraging step – and probably a very good way to continue to build their brand and encourage store foot traffic at the same time!

Green mail in a down economy

Target Marketing recently published an article titled “The Return of the Green Mail Debate,” which I wanted to share.  The article’s premise is that during this economic downturn, sustainability is less important to marketers, and that once the economy rebounds there will be more interest from companies in being green in their marketing efforts.

I believe this message is a short-sighted one. As I have written over the past couple years since the economy started to dip, companies that slash their commitment to sustainability to cut costs will suffer long-term consequences with customers who are increasingly demanding that organizations they buy from do business in socially-responsible ways.

The writer, Ethan Boldt, does try to segment marketers into various buckets, based on their (or their customers’)  interest in sustainability and how this impacts their marketing decisions:

  1. Marketers and organizations that do not care about green, regardless of the economy
  2. Organizations that always care about green, regardless of the economy
  3. Marketers that care about green, depending on their target markets

I do agree that sustainability is more important to certain companies than to others, depending on the markets that they serve.  However, the writer and some of his subjects imply that a barrier to “green mail” usage is due to its higher cost structure and that only once economy rebounds will it make a comeback.  This article fails to mention that people can be greener about their mail without it costing their organizations any more money. The fact that people can use wind power, soy-based inks (if printed offset) and certain types of recycled paper without any additional cost, is crucial to understand, as there is a rampant misperception in the marketplace that going green costs more. If people work with the right production partner, they can go green in a way that does not have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Marketers need to be sensible about watching expenses, especially when the economy is still weak.  However, if there were better education in the marketplace (from the U.S. Postal Service, the Direct Marketing Association, etc.) about ways to go green at no extra cost, I am confident that not only would marketers make more sustainable choices, but customers would come to expect that mail be done in a green way.  These would be positive developments, and would help ensure that direct marketing leaves less of a footprint on our fragile planet moving forward.