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.

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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.

Doubleclick Performics (division of Google) report provides insights into green marketing online

According to DoubleClick Performics’ recent Green Marketing Study, 60% of respondents who make online purchases say it is important that a company is environmentally conscious (although this report was released in April, I thought it was still very relevant and interesting).

According to Doubleclick’s site, “In the survey of 1,087 adults, consumers indicated the most attractive type of environmentally-conscious marketing is that which focuses on such ‘specific user benefits’ as saving money on bills or longer product lifespan. Consumers, when choosing between two similar products, prefer environmentally friendly products; 83 percent indicated they are extremely or very likely to choose the environmentally friendly option. ”

Stuart Larkins, senior vice president of search at DoubleClick Performics, commented, “Not only are consumers interested in green products and companies, our survey shows that nearly half of them will pay at least five percent more for them.” He continued, “With so many consumers online researching and purchasing products, retailers should include relevant environmentally-conscious information throughout their paid and natural search campaigns, affiliate promotions, display ads, and e-mail.”

Here’s a link to the full report: Doubleclick Performics Green Marketing Survey

This report is relevant especially because it highlights the importance of articulating a value proposition to the customer of “green” products. Data already shows that people and companies want to go green, but by explaining why they can help them (save money, be more energy efficient, promote renewable energy, attract employees) and the environment, sales will rise.

In addition, it is also important to note that this report finds that consumers are willing to pay more for “green” products, so long as the price differential is reasonable.