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.

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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!

EPA Revises Green Power Partnership Program Requirement

gpp_logo180I was glad to see that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised its Green Power Partnership program requirements last weekThe Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that encourages the use of renewable energy in the United States.

My firm was chosen to be a Green Power Partner in 2008 because we offset 100% of our energy with Green-e certified wind power – we have continued the initiative and have gotten a number of our suppliers to join our consortium (we work with Renewable Choice Energy).
Below are the notable changes:

  1. Minimum purchase percentages have risen for an organization to be able to be included in the program
  2. Program requires purchase of new renewable energy, rather than from existing sources.  As the announcement stated, “The Partnership’s primary objective is to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the U.S. power sector by increasing renewable energy supply.”
  3. Window for making an initial green power purchase has tightened – new partners will only have 6 months (rather than the previously-allowed 12) to make an initial purchase.  I like this change because companies won’t be able to market their involvement in the program without making the necessary investment in renewable energy…if it were up to me, I would shorten the window even further.

These are encouraging changes, as participating companies will now have to make more substantial investments in new energy sources in a shorter timeframe, helping to weed out the types of companies that join to make the minimum investment possible for the purposes of greenwashing.

News roundup – it’s about the wind

As I have written in the past, renewable energy is critical to our nation’s future – not only from a carbon emissions perspective but also for national security reasons.

My firm’s adoption of and support for renewable energy (we offset 100% of our energy with Green-e certified wind power through Renewable Choice, the firm that both Whole Foods and Burt’s Bees work with to offset their energy usage) has enabled us to offer products and services to our clients that have helped them support the environment, without adding any extra cost to their respective bottom lines.  Because my firm made the commitment more than two years ago to absorb the additional cost of these wind power credits, we have been able to grow our business in turbulent times and attract new and progressive clients.

I am pleased to share two exciting news pieces:

  1. A PDF of an article published last month by the American Marketing Association’s Marketing News magazine (a live link is not yet available).  The staff collected a range of good and bad marketing campaigns from 2008 and asked various marketing professionals to chime in.  They asked me to comment on the marketing of T. Boone Pickens’ wind power initiative (which is now on hold due to economic concerns) – the news brief is on page 1 of the attachment.
  2. An article in The Somerville News (a newspaper in my company’s home market) about recent successes my family firm has had as a result of our green initiatives (one correction I need to make is that the reporter spoke with my brother, David, but refers to him as Steve, who is my father and president of the company).

In this increasingly difficult business climate, I can certainly attest to the importance of corporate sustainability and social responsibility programs as a means of differentiation from one’s competition (not to mention the right thing to do!).  Although organizations are looking harder for lower prices than they have ever done before, they are also very much interested in working with a partner who they respect and can learn from.  If your company does not have sustainability initiatives in place now, I implore you to start thinking about them.  Not only can they help you generate interest from prospective clients, but they can also help you save money (on energy, water, etc) – which is now more important than ever.

Upcoming Event: DM Going Green – Separating Fact and Fiction (1/13/09)

Hey all – A quick pre-holiday message of thanks for reading my blog.  Thanks for all of your comments and suggestions.  They mean a lot!

I wanted to pass along some information on an event in Massachusetts that I will be speaking at next month that is open to the public.  I hope you can make it!

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DM Going Green – Separating Fact and Fiction
Kermit the Frog used to lament, “It’s not that easy being green.” This is especially true for direct marketers. Our industry has been under pressure from the media and the court of public opinion – even as it develops and drives new sustainable practices. And, going green will continue to be a critical issue for vendors, clients and regulators in the coming year. At NEDMA, we’ve put together a panel of experts from a variety of direct marketing disciplines to talk about how direct is going green, what are the facts (and what is fiction) about the green movement, and exactly what it means to you and your business. These experts will talk about how they and their clients went green – and guide you through the pitfalls and business opportunities they encountered along the way.

When: 1/13/2009, 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM
Where: Microsoft Seminar Facility

Panelists:

Moderator:

  • Mariah Hunt, Senior Production Manager, Digitas

Please click here to read more about the event and to register.

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Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and peaceful holiday season and New Year!  More insights, observations and news to come in 2009!

Best practices in green printing: using printed collateral to support your organizational mission

My firm does a fair amount of work for SkyFuel, a solar energy company headquartered in New Mexico.  SkyFuel is a cutting-edge clean technology provider that has been recognized for their pioneering work in the renewable energy space.

SkyFuel needs to disseminate their ideas in printed form at trade shows, investor presentations and other industry events.  When they publish such literature, we have partnered with them to help make these pieces as green as possible, while always watching the bottom line.  For their uncoated items (business cards, letterhead, etc), we use a specific paper from the Mohawk Options line that is 100% post-consumer recycled.

Image courtesy of SkyFuel

Lately, when printing brochures for their various products as well as posters for a recent launch event, the client wanted to use coated paper, especially since the pieces contained images of the sun, so having the paper shine in the light was important.  We worked with the SkyFuel team to choose a stock made by New Leaf Paper that has the highest degree of post-consumer content of any paper on the market.  On all of their coated pieces, the following copy is included in a prominent position: “Printed on New Leaf paper that is FSC-certified and made with 60% post-consumer recycled fiber and processed chlorine free.  Energy used is 100% certified renewable or offset with “green tags.”

SkyFuel is an example of a best-practice leader in their field that leverages printed collateral to support their organizational mission to be good stewards of the environment.  Experience has shown that when a company couples a deep commitment to the environment with marketing pieces that underscore this mission, their message resonates most effectively with key constituents.  SkyFuel also is very transparent about the environmental benefits of their various printed pieces, which makes the green attributes even more tangible for the reader.

A spotlight on green design

A friend of mine, Scott Belsky, runs a great company called Behance, which designs products and services for the creative community.  One of their products is the Behance Network, which is a social network for creative professionals.  It’s a great place where people share their work, look for gigs, and search for talent.

Last week, they posted an article on green design and the members of the Network that are leading the charge in their various industries to make products that are more sustainable.  As the article states, “The goals of sustainable design are to avoid using non-renewable resources, lessen our environmental footprint, and bring people closer to the environment in which they live. Many designers are heading down the ‘greener path to design’ including architects and interior, industrial, graphic, fashion and urban designers.”

Some of the designers have made sustainable packaging for new CDs, and others have made solar-powered buckets that when left outside in the sun can become a source of light at night (see image above).

What’s important is that product designers are out there, looking to come up with interesting ideas for new items that can help us live more sustainable lives and leave less of a footprint on this planet, while still being aesthetically pleasing.  My research has shown that although people want to buy “green” products, they don’t want to have to sacrifice quality in order to do so.  They are willing to pay more for them as well.  Savvy green marketers will hire people like the ones featured on this network to help them come up with new products to help them send a values-laden message to their customers and generate higher profits at the same time.

Please click here to read the full article.

Newsweek: Green really means business

I had the chance to read an excellent essay in the 9/22/08 issue of Newsweek, by Zachary Karabell of RiverTwice Research, which I strongly recommend.  The main message of the article is that in an era of high energy costs, a company that has sustainable business practices will likely be able to save money and reap positive financial returns as a result.

Karabell writes that “sharply higher prices for oil and raw materials” have made “reductions in energy use economically viable and strategically important in a way that no amount of green activism ever could.”  He continues by discussing Wal-Mart’s efforts to “green” its supply chain: “To maintain its razor-thin margins at a time of record oil prices, which are raising the cost of importing goods from China, Wal-Mart has radically altered how its products are made and how they’re transported. One example: making detergent more concentrated, which leads Wal-Mart suppliers to use smaller plastic containers, which in turn use less petroleum to manufacture those containers, which can then be shipped with more containers in each carton, which leads to less cardboard, which makes it possible to transport more units on each ship or truck, which then reduces the amount of gas used to get those units from the factory to Wal-Mart outlets. The result: Wal-Mart maintains margins and reduces its resource consumption as well as that of its suppliers.”

Karabell also goes on to mention other profit-driven reasons for companies’ sustainability efforts: international regulatory rules as well as studies showing that companies that receive high environmental marks have shown above-average return on investment and stock price performance.

I have frequently written about the importance of green business practices, not only because they are the right thing to do but also because they help the bottom line.
Whatever the reason, the fact that companies like Wal-Mart, Du Pont and Google, to name a few, are all investing heavily in making their businesses less resource intensive, and therefore more profitable, is a great step.  Our national government has not done enough to create incentives for companies and individuals to invest now to save resources and money in the long run, so it is incumbent on the business community to take the initiative.

Relative to my business, Grossman Marketing Group, we strongly urge our clients to not only operate their core businesses responsibly, but also to make the effort to bring that message of sustainability to their constituents through their marketing and communications campaigns.  Whether it’s a piece of direct mail or a giveaway at a tradeshow, by leveraging environmentally-friendly materials, and clearly communicating what they have done to make their pieces less resource-intensive and the savings derived by doing so, they will send a values-laden message to their core customers and donors that will help reinforce their brand and build relationships for the long term.

Here’s a link to the full Newsweek article.

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.