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.

Highlights from Environmental Defense Green Business Unconference

338777292By Lenora Deslandes (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

Sustainability and the environment have been my main areas of study for the past three years at Boston University. After speaking with professors about issues and serving as an active member of a wide array of sustainability initiatives on the BU campus, I decided it was important for my development to receive some real-world experience in the sustainability space. After researching businesses that valued and were leaders in sustainability, I was excited to find a home for the summer as an intern for Grossman Marketing Group. One of the many opportunities I have had so far was to attend the Green Business for Innovation Unconference, organized by Environmental Defense, on Monday, June 22.

This conference, or rather, unconference, was different than any other I’ve ever attended. There was no agenda upon arrival. No keynote speaker, no panel of experts. Instead, the topics of each of the 45-minute discussion sessions were decided upon at the beginning by everyone collectively and then led by a volunteer attendee. This may sound like a recipe for chaos, but in fact, it was quite the opposite. In all the sessions I attended (Practical Tools for Sustainability, Greening Small Businesses, and Big Business/Small Business Collaboration) the discussions were freeflowing yet managed to be relevant and interesting. And when the moderator, Odin Zackmin of DIG IN, popped in to give the five-minute warning, the conversation was neatly wrapped up and attendees exchanged contact information.

The tone during the conference was one of shared experiences, advice lending, and support – very different from the cut-throat world of business I had expected to encounter. As so eloquently put by Holly Fowler, senior director of corporate citizenship for Sodexo, “the new competitive advantage is the ability to share what you have done with others. It is no longer exclusivity.”

If there is any embodiment of this new path business is on, it is the unconference. There were about 85 participants representing all areas of business from large corporations like Citizens Bank and Stop & Shop to local activists and small business employees and even interns. Although all participants were different, it was clear from the start that everyone had the same goal: to engage in a meaningful conversation about sustainability issues and how they can be best addressed by businesses combining everyone’s experience and expertise.

Some of my key takeaways were:

  • There needs to be a collaborative effort between big and small businesses to share best practices on how to become green
  • The need for a central database of information and resources where businesses can connect with each other was repeatedly raised
  • It’s important for businesses to motivate people to make green choices to ensure a long-term, sustainable future

The unconference brought to light many obstacles businesses face in addressing sustainability but also made it clear that a future of sustainable business practices being the norm is not only possible but well on its way.

Notes from most of the discussion sessions can be found here.

An inside look at the greening of Harvard Business School

HBS Green TeamI’m pleased to include a guest post from Katharine Randel, who is a staff member of the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School, as well as a member of the school’s Green Team.  I met Kathy earlier this year when I gave a presentation on green marketing and green business issues to the HBS Green Team (HBS is a client of our firm), and I was struck by her passion for and knowledge about sustainability issues.

I invited her to write an article on the work that the HBS Green Team is doing to help reduce the carbon footprint of the school, and I’m excited to feature her report below.

****

By Katharine Randel

When I began working at Harvard Business School several years ago, there was no paper recycling program.  Dismayed at how much paper I was putting in the trash every day, I enthusiastically joined a group of MBA students spearheading an effort to bring paper recycling to campus as soon as I learned of their work.  A few months later, recycling bins began appearing around campus, and today all offices have them.  In the years following, several sustainability practices were added to the HBS campus (for example, solar panels were added to the roof of the gym); but as an administrative employee supporting faculty, I was not involved…until recently.

A few years ago, Meghan Duggan was hired as assistant director of mechanical, electrical, plumbing and sustainability projects.  One of Meghan’s initiatives was to start an HBS Green Team of employees across all departments whose mission it is to establish a sense of environmental awareness throughout the HBS community.  The goal of the Green Team is to effect a change in behavior among faculty and staff that leads to a reduction in water and energy consumption and waste generation.  In January, I became the Green Team representative for a building of 250 faculty and staff.

This winter the Green Team held an energy competition in which ten office buildings on campus competed to reduce their energy consumption from the same time period the year prior.  This year the overall campus reduction was 24,880 kWh for one month.  The estimated monthly campus savings was $3,732 with an approximate reduction of 10.45 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.   Ten-and-a-half metric tons is the equivalent of CO2 emissions from 1,186 gallons of gasoline consumed.   If HBS faculty and staff maintained their energy-saving behavior for the rest of the year, we could save $44,784 and reduce CO2 emissions by 125.40 metric tons.

But the numerical results are only part of the story.  Another goal of the competition was to raise awareness and educate faculty and staff about sustainable behaviors.  In my building the competition has been surprisingly successful.  Since the competition, more than 20 faculty and staff have offered suggestions for ways HBS could reduce its energy consumption.  I circulate suggested behavioral changes back to the building inhabitants and contact various departments to follow up on suggestions.  When people see me in the hall they now tell me the latest steps they’ve taken, confess their inaction, or tease me (one of my coworkers turned out the lights in the copy room — knowing I was in the room — to “conserve energy”).  I am thrilled; every conversation and email tells me faculty and staff are more aware and the efforts of the Green Team are making a difference.

To learn more about Harvard Business School and Harvard University’s efforts towards environmental sustainability please see the following websites:  HBS Business & Environment and Harvard Operations Services Sustainability.

—-
Katharine Randel is the Unit Coordinator for the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School. In that role she collaborates with faculty to create strategies and programs that foster the unit’s cohesion and purpose.  She has been passionate about improving the health of our natural environment since reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in seventh grade. In addition to her HBS Green Team activities she has studied environmental management at Harvard Extension School and has been composting and growing organic fruit and vegetables for 19 years.

The critical importance of transparency as part of sustainable communications – Ad Age

Transparency-720358As most of those who read Sustainable Ink regularly know, I’ve been an advocate for transparency in everything individuals and companies do.  I’m pleased to share an article that Diana Verde Nieto (CEO of Clownfish, a sustainability and communications consultancy based in the U.K.) wrote for Advertising Age, titled: The Four C’s of Survival: How Sustainable Communications Can Help You Get Through the Recession.

I’m glad to see that Diana shares and is promoting some of the values and principles that I have always believed are essential ingredients of a credible, robust sustainability program, and I hope you enjoy the article.

Here’s a downloadable version of the article.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy Memorial Day Holiday.

Ad Age: Green-Marketing Revolution Defies Economic Downturn

Source: Datamonitor's Product Launch Analytics

Source: Datamonitor's Product Launch Analytics

This week’s Advertising Age features a very interesting and timely (Earth Day is this week) article, titled “Green-Marketing Revolution Defies Economic Downturn.” The writer, Jack Neff, starts off the article with the following statement: “Green marketing is turning out to be surprisingly recession-proof.”

Neff points to product launch and sales data that indicate that even during the recession, consumer-packaged goods manufacturers are seeing significant revenue growth for their green offerings.  In fact, according to Seventh Generation CEO Jeffrey Hollender, his company’s sales were up 50% last year and 20% in March 2009 versus March 2008.

The article continues that as opposed to previous recessions, during which sales of green products “had the air taken out of them,” sales of green products have remained stable (and are still growing) in the current downturn.

Neff includes some interesting tips for green marketers at the end of the article, and I would certainly recommend giving it a quick read.

Here’s a link to the full article.

Green Hotels: The Business Case for Sustainability

green-coverA chat with the authors of High Performance Hospitality: Sustainable Hotel Case Studies

I had the chance to catch up last month with Amisha Parekh and Michele Diener, two of the three authors of High Performance Hospitality: Sustainable Hotel Case Studies, a lodging industry textbook.  At a time when the Westin is launching its Element line and other hotel chains are playing up their “green” credentials, this book is the first in-depth analysis of the business case for sustainability within hotels.

Amisha and Michele, who also wrote the book with their friend and classmate Jaclyn Pitera, met while they were dual-degree students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the University’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.  This book was the outgrowth of a joint master’s project.  Michele currently serves as the Director of Sustainability Strategies at MGM Mirage, Amisha is a strategy consultant for Deloitte, where she is part of the firm’s sustainability team, and Jaclyn is in her third year of the joint program.

The book focuses on eight hotel properties and features detailed analyses of their respective sustainability efforts.  What differentiates this text from other coverage of “green” business is its focus on the details.  As Michele said, “There was no comprehensive book taking a property from design, to construction to operation…from soup to nuts, how a hotel can be more sustainable.  Our intent was to get this information out there to the industry in a very simple way, with a lot of checklists, lessons learned, etc.”

She continued, “There is a matrix at the front of the book summarizing all of the green initiatives [the featured hotels] are doing.  We also categorized the programs based on complexity (how difficult to implement), guest transparency (would it make a positive or negative impact on guests), etc.”

Of course, the economy is top-of-mind for everyone these days, and during our conversation this was a main piece of the discussion.  Amisha and Michele explained that the book is “the business case for sustainability” in the lodging industry, with a focus on the financial benefits to the company to implementing certain steps.  As Michele explained, “At a time when [hotels are making cuts], management sees sustainability as a benefit, helping the organization to consume less water, less energy, and therefore, save money.”

Key takeaways
According to the authors, below are some of the key takeaways from the study.  Although they were derived from their hotel analysis, they are very relevant to all organizations interested in driving change around sustainability:

  • Employee education is key – Green is not something for just the green team to implement, but rather must be part of the company culture.  If it’s part of the culture, it is much easier to implement (and less likely to be cut)
  • Experimentation is important – Some of the products and programs and technologies that the authors studied are new to the industry.  What they found, Michele said, is that “if it’s new to your property, you need to experiment with it, in a few rooms, a floor, at your home –for example a manager installed a low-flow shower head at his home to see how it worked.  Through experimentation, an organization can identify the projects that work, and then execute them more effectively.”
  • One size does not fit all – Amisha said, “We looked at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco and the Comfort Inn and Suites in Revere, MA.  They both were very strong in educating people about sustainability.  However, the Ritz was behind the scenes, whereas the Comfort Inn was more ‘in your face about it’ to guests.”
  • Financial drivers to going green are there – either from less start-up costs or lower ongoing costs

The authors studied very different hotels, balancing their selection across a number of variables, including size (90-900 rooms), price (mid-rate, convention, luxury), location (urban/rural), diamond rating, guest type (transient, government, business, conventioneer).  In addition, they also considered whether the hotels, all of which are in North America, were existing vs. new buildings, as well as branded versus independent.  However, all were considered green in some respect.

The book did not address the consumer.  However, when asked how customers have responded to hotel sustainability, Michele said, “Anecdotally, the consumer is not willing to pay more for [the green] rooms.  But it has become more of the expectation.  When companies are contracting with hotels for meeting and conventions, those questionnaires now include questions on lighting, recycling, green attributes.  If you want that business, you need to make those efforts.  Corporate clients are increasingly green options.”

The authors also were very grateful for the support they received from the following organizations:

If you’re interested in reading a portion of the book, here’s a link to downloadable chapter, which includes the book’s foreword, executive summary, as well as a case study on the Comfort Inn & Suites in Boston, MA.

Cone/Duke University: Cause Marketing Can Result In Sales Lift

Image courtesy of Cone

Cone, a leading marketing firm headquartered in Boston, recently published a report on cause marketing in conjunction with the firm’s 25th anniversary.  Cone turned to my firm, Grossman Marketing Group, to print it in the most environmentally-friendly way possible (100% certified wind power, 100% post-consumer recycled paper, and soy inks were all used).

As part of the publication, Cone featured a study it conducted along with Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, on consumers’ feelings toward cause marketing.  According to the report, “aligning with a cause can positively impact actual consumer choice and exponentially drive sales.”

For a more in-depth article on the report, please see the write-up from our friends at Environmental Leader.

Please click here to download a full copy of the report.

Sustainability becomes differentiator for colleges

I read a very interesting article in the Boston Globe last week, which discussed the rising tide of “green” initiatives at colleges and universities across the country.

The article, titled “Not to be out-greened: Colleges grow more Earth-conscious to lure students,” focused on the increasing importance of universities’ environmental stewardship programs to college students, and how they can have an impact on their application decisions.  According to the article, Julian Dautremont-Smith, the associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, said, “The current generation of students wants to go to schools that take their environmental responsibility seriously.”

Campus green initiatives have become so mainstream that even The Princeton Review has started rating schools on their respective commitments to the environment.  For more coverage on the Princeton Review survey and commentary on the explosion of green campus initiatives at colleges, please see an article from the most recent Education Life section in the New York Times.

The Education Life section (published Sunday, July 27) had several other articles on green topics that may be of interest to you.  Here’s a link to the section itself.

A key takeaway I had when reading these articles was that even if a school has a sterling commitment to the environment, if it does not clearly communicate its good work to the community it large, the impact on its applications, donations and goodwill generated will be muted.  Therefore, it is critical that schools get the message out to their constituents (through their websites, social networks, and printed marketing materials, among other channels) that they are firmly committed to sustainability.  Whether the printed versions of these materials are made with wind power or printed on post-consumer recycled paper, it is important that these green initiatives are translated onto the printed page.

For more on green printing recommendations, please see a post I wrote earlier this year.

“Texas to Tel Aviv”: Excellent op-ed piece by Tom Friedman in the NYTimes

I had the chance to read Tom Friedman’s most recent op-ed piece, “Texas To Tel Aviv” in the New York Times today, and felt compelled to share it with the folks who read Sustainable Ink.

The article focuses on two people: T. Boone Pickens and Shai Agassi.  Pickens, who made his fortune in the oil business, is leading a charge to get the United States to devote a significant amount of resources to the development of wind energy.  In fact, he has spent $2 billion of his own money buying land in the Texas Panhandle as well as 700 wind turbines from GE (their largest turbine order ever), in order to create the largest wind farm in the world.  To read more about his efforts, please visit the Pickens Plan website.

Agassi, an Israeli technology guru, launched Project Better Place last year, with the goal of creating a nationwide grid of electric cars in Israel.  The project has a very ambitious mission, but has been gaining traction with car makers and governments.

The reason I wanted to call your attention to the column, and more importantly to these two entrepreneurs with bold visions, is because electric cars and renewable energy are game-changing initiatives that have the potential to have a dramatic impact on the fight against global warming as well as our nation’s addiction to oil, most of which comes from foreign sources.  Pickens and Agassi are showing that doing well while doing good are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Over the last 16 months, my firm has been at the forefront of bringing renewable energy to the marketing industry.  We not only have powered our own plants with wind energy, but created a cooperative group that comprised a half-dozen other firms in our space to do the same.  As a result, we have saved tens of thousands of gallons of oil as well as eliminated more than 1 million pounds of carbon emissions from the atmosphere.  For these efforts, we have been recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Pickens and Agassi are impressive because they are not waiting for the US Congress to act to make renewable energy initiatives easier.  Neither should we.  Each of us in our own way, either personally or organizationally, can do our share to reduce our dependence on oil by moving to renewable energy.  My firm, Grossman Marketing Group, decided that the best way to do this is to use wind power to produce all of our marketing materials.  Our efforts have been endorsed by some of our country’s most reputable environmental organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters and the National Park Foundation.  In addition, many of the nearly 100 clients that have produced their materials with us bearing our proprietary wind power logo have received positive feedback in the marketplace for doing so.

It is incumbent upon us in the marketing industry to do our part to fight global warming and the country’s addiction to oil, and we believe wind power is the best way to make that a reality.

For a link to the full Friedman column, please click here.