Green business: chief sustainability officers, product innovation and employee education

An interesting article was posted on CNBC.com last week by Aman Singh, who is an editor with Vault and works with Fortune 500 companies on reporting their diversity recruitment strategies and initiatives.  The piece started:

Let’s face it. Even though nothing came out of Copenhagen, awareness of easily avoidable phrases like “climate change,” “green careers,” even “green jobs” became hugely Googled, SEO-ed, categorized and tweeted. So, with this newfound green knowledge, how will we as employees, consumers and maybe more importantly, as decision-makers, inculcate sustainability in the workplace and bring it to the attention of the executive suite?

Singh proceeds to discuss how many large companies have added sustainability chiefs without “demanding that they embed sustainability in the company’s long term strategy and all operations. Until regulation and stakeholders support us, achieving corporate social responsibility remains an elusive goal, titles notwithstanding.”

Singh has a good point, but seems a bit shortsighted when he makes this blanket assertion.  More and more companies are coming to understand that sustainability is good for their reputation and employee morale, but also for their bottom line. Research has shown that people want to buy from companies that are seen as socially responsible.  I agree that regulation is important, but customers often drive innovation, and therefore new product development that considers the environment, like laundry detergent that uses 80% less water, will only continue to speed up.

In my experience working with clients to address sustainability in their business operations and sales and marketing efforts, I have seen companies discuss the environment without the ability and knowledge to execute – exactly the problem Singh highlights.  However, I have also seen companies who not only have sustainability offices discussing strategy but also working on the execution internally to make it a reality.  In these organizations, senior management includes their colleagues in the sustainability efforts and brainstorming, as they recognize that the best ideas often come from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.  In addition, employee education is key – sustainability must be part of the company culture.  If so, it is much easier to implement (and less likely to be cut).

Here’s a link to the full article on CNBC.

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Direct Mail Insight: Green Envelopes and the Big Picture

bigstockphoto_Mail_Box_With_Letters_2482928Last month, Target Marketing Magazine published an article on trends surrounding environmentally-friendly envelopes – I was on vacation at the time so I didn’t get a chance to pass it along then.  Here’s a link to the article.

As I’ve written on a number of occasions, “green” envelopes are an important part of an organization’s marketing and communications efforts (we have already sold more than a quarter billion envelopes made with 100% certified wind power over the past couple years).  In fact, they are often the first component of a direct mail piece that a recipient sees, and it is important to take that opportunity to send a values-laden message through the materials/inks/energy that are used to produce the piece.

Obviously, using green practices for direct mail should be just one of the many sustainable business practices that organizations employ – otherwise they could be accused of greenwashing.  However, given recent developments in technology, mailers can make their pieces more environmentally-friendly without adding much, if any, cost, which removes the most critical barrier to adoption.  Research has demonstrated that consumers want to buy products from companies that do business in an environmentally-responsible manner.  Marketing collateral is one way for organizations to demonstrate this commitment.

Here’s a link to the full article.

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.

WSJ: Interesting report on eco-logos and green marketing

Courtesy Wall Street Journal.  Illustration by Michael Witte.

Courtesy Wall Street Journal. Illustration by Michael Witte.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting report in Thursday’s issue titled: “As Eco-Seals Proliferate, So Do Doubts.” The article discusses how a number of unregulated organizations that purport to verify “green” product claims have sprouted up, which only makes buying these products even more confusing for businesses and consumers.

Here are the two main points that the writer makes:

1) The U.S. Government may need to oversee the creation of Federal green marketing standards, similar to what the U.S. Department of Agriculture has done with organic foods.

2) Eco-seals that are verified by reputable third-party organizations are more reliable.  One example the writer provides is a Canadian-based organization, Ecologo.

I couldn’t agree more.  I have been pushing my industry and my clients to be transparent about green marketing claims, especially because consumers are smart and see through “fuzzy” and unsubstantiated claims that organizations make.  This is why when a client uses eco-friendly papers in their marketing programs and wants to explain the environmental benefits derived from these choices, they should not use a paper company’s calculator to arrive at these statistics.  Rather, they should use the paper calculator created by Environmental Defense, a leading non-profit dedicated to the environment.  I have written about this resource a number of times over the past several years.

I also believe that the Federal government should step in and begin to regulate green product claims.  I know this will be a difficult process, as it would be impossible to apply the same standards across all industries.  Nevertheless, it is important to start now, as it will help companies and individual consumers to better navigate the increasingly-complicated product landscape.

Here’s a link to the full article.

Trendwatching.com’s 12 eco-trends to watch

Hey all – I wanted to share this interesting briefing on Trendwatching.com about eco trends that present exciting opportunities for marketers and entrepreneurs.

Trendwatching refers to these opportunities as an eco-bounty, and they provide the following definition: “ECO-BOUNTY refers to the numerous opportunities, both short and long term, for brands that participate in the epic quest for a sustainable society. Some of these opportunities exist despite the current recession, others are fueled by it, not in the least because of new rules and regulations. Downturn-obsessed brands who lose their eco-focus will find themselves left out in the cold when the global economy starts recovering.”

Have a great weekend!

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.