Turning Advertising Publishers Green

An Interview with Rachael Ostrom, Director, Consumer Marketing and Advertising, Aveda 

Since its founding in 1978, Aveda (an Estée Lauder Company) has been leading the personal care product industry toward a more sustainable future. Sustainable practices not only guide its business practices but serve as inspiration for a “corporate culture that breeds personal responsibility, value-based decision-making, rigour and frugality.”

It is not surprising, then, that a company with such a religious adherence to sustainable principles is also committed to ensuring that its suppliers and partners do the same.  In doing so, Aveda has become an activist in the publishing industry, requiring that its advertising publishers adopt sustainable practices as the price of doing business.  Aveda not only wants to change the percentage of post-consumer recycled paper in the magazines where its ads are placed, but also wants its publishers to rethink their internal practices in order to lower their overall carbon footprint from their day-to-day activities.  Such an activist approach has facilitated real change in the industry, and sets Aveda apart from even its most eco-friendly competitors.

This week I had the opportunity to speak with Aveda’s Rachael Ostrom about the company’s sustainability initiatives in the advertising industry.  Here is what she had to say:

MG: Aveda strives to demonstrate that profitability and environmental responsibility are synergistic goals.  It has done this by making sustainability one of its core operating principles as a manufacturer, distributor and retailer of natural beauty products.  While this is commendable in its own right, it is fascinating that the company is able to project these goals on to its suppliers and partners – for example, by requiring advertising publishers to adopt similar goals. Why this commitment?

RO: It is one of the big things that makes Aveda different.  Aveda is tasked with doing so from the President on down – not only to improve the way we do business, but to “green” our partners as well.  

In 2003, we wrote an environmental media strategy which outlined gradual steps to begin working with advertising partners.  We primarily spend media in national magazines so we have focused on identifying ways to change their [environmental] impact – like printing on recycled paper or using post-consumer recycled office paper.  We have communicated our goals with them, shared best practices and told them what we wanted them to do.

In 2004, we developed a survey to assess how environmentally-friendly their practices were and to give our partners things to think about such as recycled paper, chlorine free paper, soy-based inks. 

MG: Were publications receptive to your survey?

RO: Most of the magazines completed the survey. 

MG: How were survey results leveraged for change?

RO: We developed standards based on two consumer media plans:  One for fashion and beauty-driven publications and one for environmentally-driven magazines.  We have different standards for each: for environmental publications, we require a minimum of 10% post recycled consumer paper for environmental publications.  This aligns with our consumer messaging in these publications that focuses on our sourcing practices and sustainability.

For fashion and beauty publications, one of the questions that we ask in the RFP process is what the percentage of post-consumer recycled paper is used.  This is a strong factor in our decision making processes [on whether to advertise in the publication or not].

MG: Have you seen real results?

RO: Yes. For example, since we started working, Shape magazine – one of our fashion and beauty magazines – made the switch to 30% post consumer recycled paper.  Natural Health was already doing so and Shape is its sister magazine.

MG: How does this reflect the core beliefs of your company and brand? 

RO: From a brand perspective, our initiatives are aligned with what we do.  It is similar to how we create the product and package it. 

MG: What are the expectations by your customers? Are they a driving source?

RO: Our guests [customers] expect this from us.  They want to feel good about what they purchase from us.  They are interested in the environment and it is important to them. 

This is not explicitly coming from our guests though.  We have not publicized this to them.  But, we make sure that we are telling these stories. 

MG: How can you expand compliance with your sustainable principles?

RO: Ideally, we will come up with choices [for publisher compliance].  We would love to look at the bigger picture footprint of publisher.  If it’s not recycled paper for one company, then look at cutting back other things or changing processes.

We have also started working with other [environmentally conscious product] companies – Patagonia, Timberland, Stonyfield Farms, Seventh Generation.  We have shared our survey with them.  All have agreed that [sustainability] is a very important topic and plan to bring it up in conversations [with advertising publishers].  But standards are not in place yet.

We have worked with Co-op America [a non-profit that focuses on economic strategies to solve social and environmental problems] to help facilitate these dialogues.  We have also printed a tool kit with them to share with other companies.

MG: Tell me about the Aveda Environmental Awards

RO: Aveda sponsors two Environmental Awards at the Folio:Show – a magazine industry show.  Two environmental awards [given annually to magazines that demonstrate environmental leadership] in two categories: one for magazines with circulation 250k or more and one for magazines with circulation less than 250k.  Natural Health and explore magazines won at the second annual event.

MG: Were you surprised by recent News Corp announcements regarding its commitment to reduce its carbon footprint?

RO: We were surprised on a couple of levels.  We did not think that it would be easy to open a dialogue with some magazines.  Some people get it right away, while other people you have to repeat the message many times.  It depends on the publisher.  It is more difficult with larger publishers.

MG: Are attitudes changing in the publication industry? If so, what are the primary drivers motivating this change?

RO: Environmental issues are becoming more mainstream.  We do not have to fight people to believe that global warming is real.  Not as much education is needed for people to see that it is happening.  Instead, people are focusing on steps to help solve the problem.

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