Managing Environmental Risk by Looking through the Rear-view Mirror

June 1, 2008

A recent survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit identified both the top influencers of – and benefits derived from – corporate environmental risk management (CERM) programs.  Two things are curious about these survey results.  First, customers and investors rank relatively low in influence (fourth and seventh, respectively) despite the fact that “better corporate reputation” among these groups ranks as the primary benefit for launching CERM in the first place. 

 

Second, “regulators” and “government” exert significant influence – second only to “executive management” – on companies to initiate CERM programs; in terms of benefits, however, “improved relations with regulators” ranks only eighth.

 

Risk Manager Responses from Recent Survey by                    The Economist Intelligence Unit

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The high level influence of regulators and government suggests that corporations consider regulatory compliance as the primary measure of CERM success.  This focus is understandable given the stiff fines imposed for non-compliance.

 

Moreover, it also suggests that corporations believe that regulatory compliance is the way to improve its reputation with customers and investors.  Yet, while compliance is arguably important with customers and investors, it is simply the place to start.

 

When it comes to customer and investor groups, focusing solely on regulatory compliance is like driving a car by looking through the rear-view mirror.  Quite simply, regulations do not necessarily reflect current consumer and investor expectations regarding corporate actions toward the environment; instead, they reflect those held in the past when the regulations were passed.

 

This is an important distinction because consumer and investor expectations regarding corporate environmental responsibility continuously evolve.  As such, it is likely that current expectations have far surpassed current regulations in place today.  Take climate change, for example.  There is a growing consensus that carbon must be regulated, yet no binding limits yet exist in the US.  

 

There are other cases where customers or investors actively challenge management’s environmental policies.  For example, led by members of the Rockefeller family, ExxonMobil shareholders have made it clear that they believe that when it comes to climate change, compliance with existing regulations is not enough for this oil giant.

 

As such, corporations that primarily focus on regulatory compliance are likely falling short when it comes to improving their reputation with consumers and investors.  Instead, management should try to better understand current customer and investor expectations toward the environment, and how these sentiments evolve with time.  This will require corporations to take action that go beyond current regulatory mandates.  It will also require recognition that customers and investors hold greater “influence” on CERM decisions than what is commonly realized today.


Eco-labels Impact Consumer Behavior

May 24, 2008

Eco-labels influence consumer behavior in two ways.  First, they introduce green as a considered attribute at the point of sale.  Second, they enable consumers to comparison shop based on green.  Over the past few years, there have been many new eco-labels launched by governments, manufacturers and retailers.  Many of these labels are listed on Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices site.

Interestingly, the Natural Marketing Institute’s 2007 LOHAS Consumer Trends Database report determined that not all eco-labels have the same impact.  In fact, consumers indicate that they are more likely to make eco-friendly purchase decisions if the eco-labels are also widely recognized and trusted brands in of themselves.  Familiar labels for programs like the EPA’s Energy Star have a more significant influence on consumer behavior than others. 

While such a finding reinforces the value of eco-labels, it does challenge the notion that CPG companies and retailers should necessarily launch proprietary labels to differentiate themselves on green.

Like all brands, eco-labels take significant time and resources to build.  Moreover, given the sensitivities regarding greenwashing, for-profit entities may have to overcome a higher hurdle than government or a non-profit organization given the appearance of conflict if proprietary labels adorn their own products.

 

As such, Marketing Green recommends that product companies and retailers focus on disclosing product information about environmental impact to differentiate themselves in the market rather than trying to define new green labels.  Disclosures provide consumers with information that can inform purchase decisions rather than certify a product’s greenness.  This is what HP has done with its launch of Eco Highlights labels on its products.   

Marketing Green also recommends that retailers simultaneously push for industry-wide labels.  While some retailers may consider proprietary labels as a competitive differentiator, it is likely that broadly recognized labels will accelerate consumer adoption while reduce the cost to support them. 

 

Moreover, retailers should differentiate themselves by sourcing more green products.  Arguably, this is one of Wal-Mart’s strategic priorities today.  Greater variety combined with recognized eco-labels will likely drive more sales as well as consumer loyalty.  In the end, this approach is likely to have more impact for both business and the environment.


Reframing Global Warming Across the Political Spectrum

May 5, 2008

These days, green marketers are challenged to efficiently reach consumers and effectively impact their attitudes and behaviors.  There are many reasons for this of course: consumer attitudes are still evolving, familiarity with green products is just emerging and purchase behavior is inconsistent within and across categories.  As such, marketers tend to look for targetable demographic groups or behaviors that have a higher propensity for green. 

 

In this political year, it is interesting to examine whether political ideology, and more specifically, party identification as a Democrat or Republican is an indicator of interest in green. 

 

Today, there is a common perception that Democrats are more pro-environment than Republicans.  Indeed, on issues like global warming, it is not hard to see why.  According to a recent Porter Novelli/George Mason University consumer survey, Democrats consider global warming a “serious problem” nearly 2:1 over Republicans.  Additionally, only half as many Republicans as Democrats feel that by taking action they can impact global warming.

 

           Beliefs Regarding Global Warming by Political Affiliation

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Yet, this perception may not necessarily reflect behavior.  In fact, when it comes to taking action, Republicans act more similar to Democrats than their views on the environment may suggest.  In fact, Democrats perform, on average, only one more green action  (from a list of 14 that includes using less energy, recycling, buying energy-efficient appliances, and buying organic food) than Republicans. 

 

For marketers, this observation may provide an opportunity.  Republicans may be as receptive to green as Democrats if marketers can reframe the underlying environmental issue and the messaging that is communicated to them.  Attitudinal research based on political party affiliation may provide clues to how this may be done.  Here are a few examples that marketers may want to consider:

 

Reinforce local benefits:  At the recent conference, Professors David Konisky, Jeff Milyo and Lilliard Richardson at the University of Missouri presented research that examines how attitudes toward government involvement change based on the type (ie, pollution, resource preservation, global warming) and geographic scale (ie, local, national, global) of the environmental issue.

Based on their research, Konisky et. al., determined that “party identification and political ideology are the strongest predictors of environmental attitudes”.  More specifically, “Republicans are much less likely to support further government efforts to address environmental issues.” 

Interestingly, Republicans were much more apt to favor governmental intervention if the issue affected people locally, or even nationally, rather than globally.  In speaking with Professor Konisky last week, he expressed his belief that “people tend to want the government to address proximate problems.”  One way to increase interest is by “reframing the climate change issue as one of local impacts [to] generate more concern for this issue relative to other issues.” 

While Konisky et. al., focused on attitudes toward governmental action, marketers should test the hypothesis that sentiment will carry over to campaigns that build awareness regarding climate change as well as influence purchase behavior.

 

Position as a leader:  A recent national survey conducted on behalf of the Civil Society Institute and its Results for America project (CSI/RFA) indicates that Republicans are more apt to favor action on global warming if the US is positioned “to lead – not follow – other nations” on both climate policy and clean tech.  In fact, while only 45% of Republicans (vs. 86% of Democrats) agree that we need “national leadership on global warming,” two-thirds of Republicans want American to take the lead on policy and technology development.

 

As such, marketers have an opportunity to test a leadership message when communicating with consumers regarding green.  Such a message may resonate well with consumers, and especially in categories in which a company is in a leadership position today (eg, General Electric, Toyota) or in which no clear established leader exists globally (eg, renewable energy, electric cars).  One recent example is Tesla, the California-based automotive up-start that established itself arguably as the leading electric car company with its weekend launch of a car that can go 225 miles without recharging and 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.

 

Focus on measurable impact:  Across the political spectrum, the “number of ‘green’ actions” is not strongly correlated with political party affiliation, but rather level of concern about climate change.  According to the CRI/RIA survey, those that believe that both global warming is dangerous and that action to mitigate it is efficacious perform more than 40% more green actions than those who do not – regardless of political persuasion. 

 

Marketers should consider a duel message to clarify not only the impact of global warming as well as the effectiveness of measures to mitigate it.

 

One example, laundry detergent, was mentioned by Joel Makower in his presentation at the Green and Good conference late last year.  Many brands focus on the environmental impact of the formula itself, advertising that a consumer can reduce his/her footprint by using a formula with a less burdensome manufacturing process and chemical makeup. 

 

Yet, as Makower pointed out, most of the impact from washing clothing is not from the manufacturing or distribution of the detergent but the heating of the water (according to GreenYour, this ranges from 85-90% of the total energy required for the washing).  As such, Tide and other brands that offer a cold water formula have an opportunity to message not only how well their products clean clothes but that they greatly reduce the carbon footprint from washing simply by not heating the water.


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Konisky, David, Jeff Milyo, and Lilliard Richardson, “Environmental Policy Attitudes, Political Trust, and Geographic Scale,” abstract presented at the Western Political Science Association annual meeting, March 20-22, 2008.


Making What’s Inconvenient Matter

May 1, 2008

An Interview with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency and Planning Director for the “We Can Solve It” Campaign


While many consider the release of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to be a turning point regarding consumer awareness about climate change, consumer surveys indicate that much work is still left to be done.


In fact, six months after the movie’s release, an
ACNielsen online consumer survey found that North Americans were the least aware of and concerned about global warming of all respondents from the 46 markets surveyed.

Moreover, North Americans were only half as likely as South Americans (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) – those surveyed that were most aware and concerned – to believe that climate change was “a direct result of human actions”.

This month, however, there is reason to hope. Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection is back with an ambitious 3-year, $300MM campaign to raise awareness of – and to influence behavior regarding – global warming.


Recently, Marketing Green spent some time with Matt Williams, EVP/Partner at The Martin Agency. Today, The Martin Agency serves as the lead agency for the Alliance and is in charge of the campaign’s brand strategy, among other roles.


Willams serves as the Planning Director on this campaign. As such, his role is to uncover insights that will motivate consumer changes in attitudes and behaviors. In many ways this is a daunting challenge for a marketer, given the enormity of the task at hand as well as its importance to the overall effort to solve global warming. Here are his words:


MG: In launching this campaign, what was the Alliance’s primary objective.


MW: The Alliance’s WE campaign is designed to bring public opinion past the tipping point, and compel our elected leaders to take action on climate change. We only have a short window to act, and what we need is a massive, sustained effort to mobilize millions of people – that’s what this effort is all about.


MG: Describe some of challenges that you faced in tackling an issue as daunting as climate change.


MW: Climate change is a huge challenge, and the vast majority of people realize the urgency and enormity of the threat. But, human nature being what it is, a challenge this large can be almost paralyzing.

We had to break through the assumption that the climate crisis is too big for a regular person to tackle. We had to tell people that, yes, this is an urgent challenge, but like other massive challenges, if we put our differences aside and band together to solve it, we can do it. Adding elements of optimism and solvability to the urgency of solving the climate crisis was the key challenge of the campaign.

MG: Is it realistic to expect a marketing campaign to have a significant impact on attitudes and behaviors regarding climate change?

 

MW: The advertising is just one piece of the Alliance’s 3-year effort – and it’s a multimillion dollar, national ad campaign, stretching from coast to coast in every type of media.

 


The Alliance has also launched a program of online engagement and activation, providing opportunities for citizens get and stay involved; and is partnering with organizations that will work across the political spectrum to reach people in their day-to-day lives.


As these efforts work together and build momentum over the life of the campaign, we expect to mobilize millions of people for solutions to climate change.

MG: What is your campaign idea? What were some of the consumer insights from which it was derived?

 

MW: We know consumers are frustrated with partisan bickering. We know the vast majority of Americans accept the reality of the climate crisis and want to engage in solving it, but they don’t know how to get involved.

And we know that consumers view the climate crisis as too large and urgent a challenge to be held hostage by political gridlock. The campaign idea is that we have to set aside our differences and come together to solve the climate crisis. If we don’t come together, the problem won’t be solved—it’s too big.


But if we come together, we can speak with a unified voice to demand solutions. The campaign and the WE idea are designed to create a motivating sense of energy and optimism and to invite everyone to participate in solving climate change.


MG: What are the key elements of the campaign? Overall, how are inpidual tactics integrated across channels? Conversely, inpidually, how were each tactic tailored for each channel?


MW: In terms of the ads themselves, we’re combining television – because of its reach to the broad audience we’re trying to speak to – with print, in issue-specific publications aimed at key groups, and online ads that can be carefully targeted as well.


Every ad, in mass media or online, drives traffic to http://www.wecansolveit.org, the Alliance website. At the site, consumers can find a wide variety of information about the climate crisis and ways to get involved—from petitions to government leaders to local events. They’ll also have the chance to join the Alliance by giving us their e-mail address. So this is more than ad campaign—it’s an integrated effort to engage consumers, and turn that engagement into real action.

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MG: How will you drive viral marketing? What is the role for social media? How do you build grassroots support for action?

MW: The online and grassroots components of the campaign will provide opportunities for inpiduals to get and stay involved in ways that make sense for them. Our cutting-edge online organizing and activation, built around the website, will give people a spectrum of activities to keep them engaged on the issue, from taking action in their personal lives to working in their schools and communities to joining calls for government action on all levels.

 


We’re also using the “network effect” – getting the word out through ready-to-use content (like embeddable videos) and social media that enable communities and inpiduals to engage on the issue, spread the word and become local champions.

 


The Alliance has created partnerships with local and national groups to get the word out on the grassroots level, so consumers not only see the WE brand in media outlets and online, they feel it through other groups and activities that are important in their lives.

 


We’re also looking at ways for consumers to use elements of our campaign to create their own WE content, to help build viral momentum and actively involve consumers in creating the WE brand with us.

MG: How involved has Al Gore been in the planning of this campaign?

 

MW: Vice President Gore has been an integral part of the WE Campaign’s development from start to finish. The Alliance and the We campaign are built on the idea that the climate crisis is urgent and solvable, and VP Gore’s goal is to ensure that we get the word out as effectively as possible.

MG: How did you incorporate innovative approaches in this campaign? What are they and how did they impact the consumer experience in a novel way?

 

MW: The entire campaign is rooted in a brand idea that will unify every effort, in mass media, online and grassroots. The idea of bringing Unlikely Alliances like Newt Gingrich/Nancy Pelosi and Pat Robertson/Al Sharpton together is an attention-getting way to make our point about coming together to solve the crisis.
That theme will continue in the future and in other parts of the campaign, and has great potential for interesting and involving messages in every medium.

We’ll also use the couch from the TV, print and online ads as an icon for coming together.


The creation of the WE mark gives us a symbol that people everywhere can use to display their commitment to solutions. WE can become part of people’s lives beyond the campaign.


Also, our focus on Influencers as a media target is designed to communicate our message to people who start conversations. When millions of Influencers engage their network members and policymakers in a discussion about solutions to the climate crisis, the conversation will take on even greater momentum.


It’s an amazing privilege for us to be involved with the Alliance in helping address this incredibly important challenge.


Action by Governors Highlights Shifting Sentiment on Green

April 24, 2008

Last week, I had the opportunity to witness a milestone being reached in the effort to fight global warming:  officials from 18 states – representing a majority of the US population – signed an agreement at Yale University that committed their states to action on global warming. 

While some states like California and New Jersey have already put formal carbon reduction targets into place, this agreement clearly reflects growing national support for action.

 

Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey Signing the Governor’s Declaration

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Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas Addressing the Conference

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Marketers should take careful note.  Shifting political winds are more than a sign that legislation is on the horizon; they also may reflect a change in consumer sentiment that is fueling them. 

 

For marketers, three themes emerged that they should consider:

 

The time is running short for companies to be first movers on green.  Conference participants expressed their belief that action on global warming was all but inevitable with a new administration – regardless of party affiliation.   As such, the window of opportunity is closing for brands to be an early mover on green.  Once Congress mandates change, it will take more effort for a company to convince consumers of their green authenticity than if they did so now on their own volition.  (See also Marketing Green’s “Waning Opportunity to be Early Mover on Green”).

 

Consumer perceptions of green are evolving.  The image of environmentalists as tree huggers is fading.  In fact, Governor Schwarzenegger claimed that being an environmentalist today is “hip, cutting edge, self-confident, sexy”.  What more could companies want when it comes marketing green?

 

Governor Schwarzenegger at the Conference

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Brands must adapt to changing consumer sentiment on green.  As consumer attitudes on green evolve, companies must also reposition their brands to maintain relevance with consumers.  Marketers should note that at least two factors will help accelerate this shift in consumer sentiment.

First, Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection is launching a 3-year, $300MM campaign to propel consumers to take action on climate change. 

Second, consumers may use their purchasing power to influence corporate behavior on green.  While Americans are voracious consumers, they do not like to do so at the expense of others.   For example, the vast majority of Americans are firm believers in child labor and worker safety laws.  

Today, headlines focus on food shortages and the civil unrest that it has caused in many poor nations.  Corporations that are perceived to be perpetuating food shortages through their activities (eg, competing with local farmers for water rights, promoting the use of biofuels that divert cropland away from food production) may feel the wrath of consumers that use their purchases to express their opinions. (See also Marketing Green’s “Green May Be Ho Hum for the Holidays But It’s Here to Stay”).

 

For marketers, such undercurrents are important to monitor closely.  Consumer sentiment is shifting and will inevitably reach a tipping point.  Smart companies will take action ahead of time to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the line.

 


Shifting from Product Placement to Engagement in Green

April 13, 2008

For decades, marketers have leveraged product placement to influence consumers.  The idea is quite simple: leverage media to showcase a product or service being used as part of everyday life in order to shape consumer brand perception and impact purchase behavior.  Put a product in the hands of a celebrity and consumers will interpret this as a de facto endorsement.  Such placements have been embedded across all types of media including television, film, video games, books and music videos.

 

The digital channel has upended this traditional approach by enabling marketers to go well beyond simple product placements to create meaningful experiences for engagement.  Not only does such an approach promise to yield greater brand impact, but it may also drive significant sales as well.  Here are a few examples:

 

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs): Early last year, GE launched its latest ecomagination campaign.  To counter growing consumer use of DVRs to bypass commercials, GE provided an added incentive for consumers to watch: embedded content in the commercial itself that required a DVR to access it. 

 

Called One Second Theater, this “commercial within a commercial” provided a duel advantage for an advertiser: not only did consumers view commercials that they would have otherwise skipped, but they also engaged with added brand content as well.  Moreover, as one of the first to use this tactic, GE benefited from the novelty factor as for many consumers this was likely their first experience with embedded content in a TV commercial.

 

Screenshot from GE’s One Second Theater

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Mobile Phones:  Mobile applications are emerging to enable consumers to access web content via their phones through scannable bar codes associated with hyperlinks to the web.

 

Scannable 2D Bar Code with Hyperlink to Website

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Source: thinkmobi

Semapedia 2D Bar Code Hyperlink to Green Maps, an Open Source Location-based Search Engine
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Such applications enable consumers to use their mobile phones to access content on-demand from anywhere a bar code is posted.  This capability is just emerging in the US; it is likely to take another year or so until all mobile phones are enabled to scan and interpret these bar codes.  Nonetheless, there are many applications emerging for green marketers using 2D bar code technology:

 

For example, tags can be embedded at the point of sale to provide links to additional product information including its environmental footprint.  Moreover, they could also be embedded directly on products.  With such bar codes, friends that ask “where did you get that?” can easily link to a site to make a purchase or locate the nearest retailer to do so.  Alternatively, such tags can provide additional information specific to a location. 

 

Video: Video applications are emerging that enable embedded objects clickable and associated with added content or a call to action. 

 

Screenshots from Videos Posted on VideoClix

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Such product-linking, or plinking, provide significant opportunities for both advertisers and consumers:  not only does it provide a more compelling content experience, but it also provides a more relevant experience as the embedded advertisements directly relate to the video content itself.  Moreover, it eliminates the need for consumers to view pre-roll commercials, a barrier for many users to watch the video in the first place. 

 

 


Green Religiosity

March 16, 2008

Last week, the green movement received endorsements from some very high places. Religious leaders that represent the two largest Christian denominations in the US – more than 66 million Catholics and 16 million Southern Baptists – declared that environmental protection has religious significance.   

For Southern Baptists, “any damage we do to this world is an offense against God Himself”; for Catholics, “environmental pollution” is considered a “sin”.  While not the first religious groups to endorse action to protect the environment, they were significant given their political, economic and social clout within the US and globally. 

Notably, the Southern Baptist Declaration calls for action on climate change despite an ongoing debate within the community as to its cause.  The Declaration states that “even in the absence of perfect knowledge or unanimity, we have to make informed decisions about the future…Humans must be proactive and take responsibility for our contributions to climate change—however great or small.”  

Green marketers should consider this turn of events.  To be clear, Marketing Green does not advocate exploitation of religious beliefs for commercial gain.  Nonetheless, marketers should recognize that such significant shifts in church doctrine will likely impact consumer attitudes towards the environment, and perhaps, consumer behavior longer-term.  As such, these are trends that green marketers need to understand.   

In fact, such a connection between religious attitude and behavior was explored in a seminal paper published by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen more than 30 years ago.  In this work, Fishbein and Ajzen established that while religious attitude could not be correlated with any single behavior, it was highly correlated with multiple behaviors over time.  (“Attitudes Towards Objects as Predictors of Single and Multiple Behavioral Criteria,” Psychological Review, Vol 81, No. 1 p. 59-74, 1974) 

Said another way: “general attitudes toward religion poorly predicted specific behaviors, but strongly predicted aggregated behaviors over time (e.g., church attendance over one year vs. on a particular Sunday).” (Professor Eric Weiser, Curry College, MA, 2007).   

This observation may have particular implications for the environment.  First, attitudes toward green will likely evolve as the faithful absorb amended church doctrine.  Second, behavior change is likely to follow over time as more people put their beliefs into practice.  

As such, marketers may find a growing audience that is more receptive to green messaging as well as one more willing to modify its behaviors to align with its underlying religious beliefs.  Green marketers should consider expanding their reach to include those that believe that environmental protection is a religious obligation, or even more broadly, to include those who at a minimum subscribe to a denomination that does.  

Moreover, as attitudes regarding religion and the environment evolve, green marketers have an opening to impact behavior by providing greener product alternatives to an increasingly receptive audience.


Shopping for Green Online

March 4, 2008

An Interview with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn

With the exception of a few select product categories, growing consumer interest in green has not yet translated into substantive changes in purchase behavior by mainstream consumers.  Like many nascent categories, green faces many barriers to widespread adoption. 

In many ways, product adoption in the green space is a classic chicken and an egg problem: uncertain demand leads manufactures to limit the number of products they launch.  Limited products and product choice, in turn, curtails demand.  However, this only tells half the story as there are many reasons why demand is limited. 

Even with those receptive to a green message, marketers are challenged by low familiarity with green products.  This, in turn, hampers consumers from effectively navigating the category as well as making informed purchase decisions.   

Where do consumers turn for credible information today?  Product companies?  Not necessarily, as consumers are increasingly skeptical about green marketing claims.  Fellow consumers?  Uncertain, as their peers are likely to have equally limited experience with green products.  

Can consumers rely on standards?   Perhaps.  Standards have been adopted in certain categories and many more are on the way.  Yet, rollout of new standards takes time; familiarity with what existing ones mean (i.e., how green is green?) is still limited.    

Instead, consumers today may turn to credible third party sources for guidance.  One such source is the recently launched thepurplebook green, a complete guide to green shopping online.  With an extended following already, thepurplebook series enters the green market with significant brand awareness…and credibility as a reliable source for online shopping information.  Indeed, just weeks after launch, thepurplebook green is planning a second printing.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn.  We discussed growing consumer interest in the environment, the role that purchases play for consumers to express their convictions on green and the role that thepurplebook green plays in facilitating green purchases.  Here is what she had to say: 

MG: Does consumer concern for the environment translate into increased purchase of green products? 

HM: Purchasing power holds two powerful acts for the consumer.  First, purchasing green allows the consumer to feel better about his/her choices and particularly for personal care products, food and household items there are positive health-oriented reasons  to make such purchases.   

Second, other than voting, this is the consumer’s strongest voice to the corporations at large.  Purchasing green holds corporate America more accountable for creating green options, and ultimately having greener practices internally. 

For both of these reasons, the ‘voice’ that purchasing green gives the consumer has and will continue to increase the sales volume of green products. 

MG: What types of green products do consumers purchase?   

HM: Consumers are purchasing based on their lifestyles.  Young families are focused on greener/healthier cleaning, food and personal care items.  Older consumers are building or remodeling green.  The overall theme is that people are beginning to care about shopping more responsibly and are looking for ways to make better choices.   

It is the job of thepurplebook green and those of us that care about this concern to point them in the right direction. 

MG: Are consumers purchasing green products or brown products that are now greener? 

HM: The answer is both.  But the victory lies in the fact that they are making the effort to make better choices.  We must educate, create standards and make sure products do not lack in quality, style or cost too much.  If we can show consumers that they do not have to compromise on quality, taste or price, we can have everyone purchasing green. 

MG: What was the origin of the book?  Did it evolve out of a passion for green or a business opportunity similar to your other books or a little of both? 

HM: I knew very little about being green prior to starting this book.  I was happily writing online shopping guides when one evening, a friend invited me to see a screening of An Inconvenient Truth.  I sat in the darkened theater thinking about how I had contributed to this huge problem, and the legacy my children will inherit.   

Then I thought, if I were to become part of the solution instead, what would that look like?  Being an online shopping expert, I went to the web to see what I could find as far as earth-friendly fare was concerned.  It was slim pickings and hard to find anything at all. 

I thought, if I apply my skill set and focus exclusively on green product, I will educate myself, and create a book that might help make being green easier for others.  That said, I am a business professional, and what I have discovered, is that green makes sense and makes money – they are not mutually exclusive.   

I do hope this book is wildly successful, as that will mean people are adopting change and I have done my part. 

MG: Who is your target audience?  What beliefs do they hold about the environment?  What are their demographics?  Are they consistent with their behavior? 

HM: The beauty of this book is that it is meant for the eco-neophyte as well as the eco-savvy.  There is education and information for those who want to learn more and great resources for those who already know why they are making  better choices but can’t find the product.  There isn’t a demographic, but rather those wanting a greener lifestyle.   

The idea isn’t to exclude anyone, but to include everyone open to making greener choices whether it is their first or someone who lives dedicated to the greenest lifestyle possible.  This is doable for everyone.  The more we encourage choice and change, the more people will adopt greener lifestyle habits. 

Consistency lies within the consumer having good experiences with green products.  Once they have found good products, they do stick with them. 

MG: How should merchants approach you for inclusion in the book?  What is the criteria for inclusion? 

HM: Any merchants who wish to be considered for inclusion in thepurplebook Green, can log on to www.thepurplebook.com and submit their site for inclusion.   

Our criteria includes the following:  You must be able to complete the transaction online using a secure server, the site must be reasonable to navigate, customer service policies must be clearly stated and fair and a phone number is required for all sites. 

MG: How do you determine how green a company is?  Do you use a ratings system?  

HM: We have familiarized ourselves with all of the certifications currently used and have tried to glean a working knowledge of what is and isn’t green.   If we have questions, we contact the site and we do our very best to deliver consistent, quality information to our consumers. 

If we question it, or a site is not completely green but has a substantial green offering, we let the consumer know that too.  We are all trying to just to do better than we were yesterday, and need to keep that in mind and not judge too harshly. 

This is a relatively new area and we all have much to learn.  No one knows it all – yet.  All of the sites listed in the book are exceptional or they would not be there; however, we do make a special acknowledgement for those sites that also package and ship green.


Predicting a Green Future

February 14, 2008

This past week, the Industry Standard (IS), an icon of the late nineties Internet boom, relaunched its online property.  It did so, however, not as a publisher of industry content but rather as a consumer-driven platform to predict the future.

How does a platform such as this enable seemingly ordinary consumers to predict the future?  Quite simply, IS taps the “wisdom of crowds” or consensus view to determine the probability that an event will happen in the future.  Such an approach assumes that that “aggregation of information in groups…result[s] in decisions that…are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.”  Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this approach has been demonstrated to be quite effective at making accurate predictions.

How does it work?  In the case of IS, a “market” is simulated whereby members place a bet on the probability that a future event will or will not occur.  They do so using “virtual currency” called “Standard Dollars”.  The probability of that event coming true is estimated based on “community consensus” calculated as the weighted average value of the bets placed for or against the prediction coming true.

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Interestingly, IS is only the latest online publisher to tap into this type of platform as a way to engage consumers.  Moreover, many of the existing platforms have a focus on predicting environmental trends including FT Predict, intrade, IdeaWorth, newsfutures, Popular Science Prediction Exchange, and ZiiTrend.   

                  Intrade’s Market Predicting EU Carbon Targets

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            Popular Science’s Market Predicting Green Events

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While many other sites exist to predict the future, it seems that only IS has tapped industry heavyweights as regular participants.  Their presence not only lends credibility to the site (and the predictions generated there), but arguably, also increases the accuracy of those predictions as well.  Quite simply, influentials possess domain knowledge that can shape the opinions of other site participants and the wagers that they make regarding the future.

As marketers experiment with new ways to attract and engage consumers, simulated markets should be in the mix.  Moreover, participation by domain experts may only enhance this consumer experience by providing credibility and enhancing the accuracy of the predictions.  But, you don’t have to take my word on this, however.  Just ask a crowd.


Tapping the Emerging Celebrity Power of Online Influentials

February 9, 2008

Today, online influentials are emerging as “celebrities” of sort, based not only on their domain knowledge but on their ability to attract and engage audiences online. 

Marketing Green contends that this celebrity status is likely to increase with time: as content continues to proliferate, consumers will look to those they know and trust to help them cut through the cutter.

Today, many online influentials are building a following of their own.  Some sites understand this and are now actively recruiting participation by influentials on their site, and promoting this association directly to consumers.

As such, Marketing Green believes that marketers should continue to seek new ways to leverage the celebrity status of online activists in support of or as an extension of their marketing efforts.  There are several ways that marketers can do so including:

Contribute content.  Marketers can ask influentials to help create or edit content for a site or even for syndication.  For example, The Element Agency frequently posts articles from guest writers in its blog, My Green Element.  Another smart site is the recently launched Inside Sustainability which features audio reports with green personalities*.

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Host chat sessions. Social news site Propeller (AOL) offers peer-to-peer chat functionality to facilitate discussions about its top ranked articles.  While interesting, marketers may want to take this one step further: extend site functionality to enable chat sessions with users that are hosted by online celebrities (or “Contributors”, “Scouts” or “Anchors” that submit content and/or moderate content on the Propeller site).  

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In many ways, hosted chat seems like a natural extension of Propeller’s current strategy to promote content purveyors as quasi-celebrities.  Today, this is done through the prominent placement of their photos or avatars online, as well as detailed profiles on the site.

           

                 Top Propeller Contributors on “Climate Change”

 

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Facilitate a dialogue.  Marketers can tap influentials to facilitate a dialogue with users.  For example, ooVoo, a leading multi-person online video chat provider, launched a pilot this week in which 20+ influentials – “bloggers, podcasters and community leaders” – will converse with online audiences using its technology.

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Today, marketers have the opportunity to leverage and cultivate the celebrity status of online influentials.  Emerging online platforms – audio, video and chat – are increasingly being used by marketers to harness this celebrity power in order to create more compelling and engaging experiences for their consumers.  Such opportunities have the potential to not only attract new audiences but deepen relationships with their existing consumers today.

* Disclosure: Marketing Green was recently interviewed for this site.


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