A Look Back at Green Marketing in 2007

December 29, 2007

In retrospect, 2007 may be viewed as the year of the great awakening in the US regarding climate change.  The mass media gets much credit for helping to foster awareness for the issue through film (eg, The Inconvenient Truth), broadcast (eg, Planet Earth), online content (eg, Live Earth) and star power (eg, Leonardo DiCaprio).  State and local initiatives confirmed grassroots support for action on climate change.  And the year will end with a modest energy bill passed by Congress.   

While it is unlikely that the Bush administration will sponsor comprehensive action on climate change during 2008, court decisions made in 2007 lay the groundwork for doing so in the future.   

Importantly, leading brands awoke in 2007 to the realization that inaction on climate change was no longer an option; by contrast, action could open up myriad new opportunities.   

Consumers today are much more concerned about climate change than they were even one year ago.  Moreover, they are expecting their favorite brands not only to share their concern but to take action (or enable their consumers) to mitigate it.

Throughout all of this, the interest in green marketing continued to trend upward in 2007.  In fact, according to Technorati Charts, the average number of daily references to “green marketing” in the blogosphere doubled from about 150 per day in 2006 to more than 300 per day during the second half of 2007.

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Source: Technoratic Charts; Data for the first half of 2007 was not available

Notably, interest in green marketing spiked considerably in late summer just as reports of persistent drought in the Southeast (and Southwest) appeared in the national media, and again during the fall when brushfires scorched much of California. Additionally, late fall brought news from the UN’s conference at Bali and legislative action on an energy bill in Washington. 

Moreover, according to Google Trends, search volume for “green marketing” also continued to trend upward during 2007.  Not surprisingly, many marketing professionals spent 2007 trying to grapple with whether the time was right to green their brand and marketing communications, and if so, how to do it credibly.

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Interestingly, green marketing continues to be an issue of global interest.  In fact, Google Trends reports that, on a relative basis, more searches for “green marketing” originated from India than from any other country.      

Rank

Country

1

India

2

UK

3

US

4

Thailand

5

Australia

6

Canada

7

China

Traffic to the Marketing Green blog confirms the fact that green marketing is a global issue.  A recent Site Meter snapshot of site visitors based on referring location indicates that a significant percentage of traffic originates outside of Western Europe and North America.

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Source: Site Meter, mid-December snapshot, last 100 visitors to site 

Yet, when all is said and done, we end the year with much accomplished but even more work to be done.  Today, businesses are holding back on green product development because demand for eco-friendly goods is still uncertain; companies are also putting off  more efficient capital investments while the regulatory environment is in flux.  Moreover, many companies find themselves afraid to even dip their toe in the green marketing waters for fear that, despite good intentions, their initiative will be perceived as greenwashing.   

Consumer attitudes on green continue to evolve.  Green today is still largely viewed as a personal virtue, rather than a societal norm.  As such, consumers have yet to translate their concern into sustained changes in purchase behavior.   Moreover, standards for green products (not to mention marketing communications) have yet to be adopted in most categories, leaving consumers to their own devices to comparison shop.  

Green marketers will play a crucial role in 2008 in multiple ways.  Not only will they influence the pace at which their companies adopt more sustainable business approaches, but also the rate at which consumers translate awareness into purchases.  The stakes are high, as the potential impact of climate change becomes all the more real.  Along the way, Marketing Green will continue to provide insights into the changing face of green marketing.  See you in 2008.


Green May Be Ho-Hum for the Holidays, But It’s Here to Stay

December 12, 2007

So far, this holiday season has seen a rather muted push on green by retailers, both in terms of the products they sell and the messages they communicate to consumers.  Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst at NPD Group, recently suggested that such lack of enthusiasm by retailers reflects waning interest in green.  Cohen stated: “It’s basically a card that a lot of people played while it was hot and trendy…and it got overplayed.”  

Indeed, early signs suggest that retailers left their Birkenstocks home for the holidays.  While most retailers are taking steps to green their operations and supply chains, few have taken steps to green the shopping experience.  Reuters recently reported that retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney recognized green as a trend but does not have plans to promote green merchandise this holiday season  (Barneys is apparently a notable exception).  A spokesman for J.C Penney added: “It’s something that is growing in importance with the customer…[but it’s in] its early days.”  

But, could it be the case that after so much hype early in the year, the green trend has faded just as it was getting off the ground? 

Marketing Green believes just the opposite: as a trend, green is just getting started.  Quite simply, the apparent lack of enthusiasm shown by retailers this holiday season reflects the fact that we are still early on the adoption curve.  Here’s why: 

Green products popular today are not necessary gift ready.  Green products that have been adopted by the mass market – including compact florescent light bulbs and hybrid cars – may not make the best stocking stuffers.  Moreover, unlike organic foods, clothes made from organic cotton have not been adopted by the mass market yet.  As such, it is not surprising that we do not see a sudden surge in demand for these items this season. 

Consumers may not equate green with spreading holiday cheer.  When it comes to giving a gift that is overtly green, consumers may worry that they may be perceived by friends and family as the Grinch.   While social norms are changing, being green today is still in many regards a personal virtue rather than societal expectation.  As such, gift-givers may fear that giving a green gift may be perceived by recipients as politicizing the holidays.   

Retailers fear being accused of greenwashing.  Today, few standards are in place to determine how green is green.  Without them, retailers are left to their own devices to determine what is eco-friendly – and, as a result, are left exposed to criticism by outsiders who may think otherwise.  As such, many retailers today are focused more on greening their internal initiatives than greening specific products. 

While interest in green may wax and wane, marketers must remember that we are still in an early adoption cycle for green.  Regardless of how successful this season is for green, as a trend, green is here to stay.  In fact, there are five global influencers that will ensure that as a trend it grows, spreads and matures.  

Changing physical environment.  While the melting of the ice caps may still be an abstract concept for most, consumers are beginning to experience erratic weather patterns that are likely – though not certainly – being caused and/or exacerbated by global warming.   Indeed, Oxfam recently reported that weather-related natural disasters have increased four-fold over the past two decades while geologic-related ones (eg, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc) have remained steady.   Such visible signs will likely increase and intensify with time, providing a constant reminder that something in our world is not in balance.   

Increasingly concerned consumers:  In the US today, consumers have a high awareness of climate change as an environmental concern, but arguably relatively low awareness of the severity of its impact – especially on the poor who are least responsible for its cause but most vulnerable to its adverse affects.  As Hans Verolme, Director of Global Climate Change Programmes for World Wildlife Fund stated, “There’s no escaping the facts: global warming will bring hunger, floods and water shortages.”

Marketers should be prepared that such a realization may cause a sea change in how American consumers view the brands that they purchase.   Americans may be voracious consumers, but they do not like to do so at other people’s expense.  As a consumer issue, therefore, climate change mitigation may be similar to enforcing fair labor laws or worker safety practices  – it is just what you do or risk a backlash from consumers. 

Leadership by business: Some may find it surprising that many global corporations are strong proponents of action on climate change.  Indeed, 150 leading companies – including US multinationals Coca-Cola, GE, Nike, Johnson & Johnson and Sun Microsystems – have already signed a communique on climate change and presented at the UN conference this month in Bali that calls for legally binding targets for carbon emissions. 

So why would global companies lead the charge?  Corporations know that mandates on carbon emissions are inevitable.  The sooner government acts to set acceptable carbon emission levels, the faster business can respond and plan for the future – by modifying capital investment decisions or commercializing new products, for example.  

Moreover, once global emission caps are put into place, standards will be developed within each product category that determine how green is green.  Without standards today, companies decide for themselves to what level they should green their products.  In this situation, the burden is on the consumer to decide how competitive products stack up while leaving well-intentioned companies vulnerable to greenwashing accusations by critics that disagree with their claims. 

Where standards have emerged though, green products have taken off.  One great example is the creation of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification that set standards for green buildings.  The result: 20% growth in green buildings in 2005, followed by 30% growth in 2006.    

Watchdog role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs):  In many ways, NGOs serve as watchdogs for industry on environmental issues.  Today, such organizations enjoy increasing clout, fueled by increased membership and financial backing over the past few years.  More than ever, NGOs are flexing their muscle by challenging corporate activities that they deem as destructive to the environment or deceptive to consumers.   

Interestingly, even companies that are viewed as leaders on green do not get a pass by NGOs when activities are deemed inconsistent with their competitive positioning on green.  For example, despite (or as a result of) earmarking a combined $70 billion toward green investments and loans, both Bank of America and Citigroup were recently the target of a grassroots campaign by Rainforest Action Network to the fact that these banks also fund coal-fired plants, a primary contributor to global warming.    

Today, consumers can also serve as watchdogs as well by rating corporate green activities through sites such as Greenwashing Index, Do the Right Thing and Climate Counts.    

Involvement by governments: Today, there is growing global support for action on global warming.  Signs of this momentum are perhaps nowhere more prevalent than in the US and Australia – two countries that have long been holdouts for global action.  Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a sea change in Australia, as Kevin Rudd, the newly-elected Prime Minister, signed the Kyoto accord as one of his first acts of government.  Moreover, the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works voted last week for an ambitious 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.   

So, marketers should take note.  Early signs are that green may not bring holiday cheer to retailers. Nonetheless, green marketers should remain steadfast.  Though consumer focus on green may fluctuate, green as a trend is here to stay.  Five key influencers will not only ensure that is the case but accelerate its growth over time.   


Green Marketing on Social Networks

December 1, 2007

Participation in social networks continues to grow seemingly without bounds as more people seek to connect, share and collaborate with likeminded individuals online.  Today, hundreds of millions of online users have already signed up, with an increasing number belonging to more than one network. 

For green marketers, social networks provide a compelling channel to communicate with consumers that have an affinity for green or are at least open-minded enough to listen.  Today, those users can be found across a wide variety of social networks, including both general interest and vertically focused networks that connect those interested in social responsibility or, more specifically, in the environment. 

Marketing Green has identified six different types of social networks that appeal to those with a green affinity.  Each network type provides the opportunity for users to connect, share and/or collaborate with others online.  And because many view green as a social cause, participation in such networks can generate both personal as well as societal benefits.   The six types of social networks include the following:   

Interaction sites connect online user to facilitate offline interactions.  For example, online users can connect with other likeminded individuals for dating or socializing on sites such as Care2, Earthwise Singles, dharmaMatch, Green Drinks, Green Passions, Green Party Passions, Planet Earth Singles and VeggieDate.  Alternatively, online users can find out about green events, political rallies or local meet ups on social action sites such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s 11th Hour Action, Care2, Do SomethingMeetup, Step It Up, TakingITGlobal, and WorldCoolers.  

Other sites allow members to arrange carpools on sites like GishiGo, GoLoco, pooln and WorldCarShare (Yahoo Groups), as well as rent, loan or reuse products (rather than purchase new or dispose of as waste) on sites like freecycle, gigoit, loanables and rentoid. 

                   Marketing Green’s Six Types of Green Social Networks

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Commitment sites enable users to share a personal pledge to make their lives more eco-friendly.  On certain Commitment sites, users can even collaborate with others to support their pledge or to encourage others to make similar pledges.  Examples include sites such as Actics, Low Fly Zone, Make Me Sustainable, PledgeBank, The Carbon Diet, Who On Earth Cares (Aus), Yahoo Green and the “I Am Green” page on Facebook.   

Utility sites enable consumers to connect and share online with others that have a green affinity and/or want to live a greener lifestyle.  Examples include general interest networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Tribe and Yahoo Groups (focused on green), as well as vertically focused networks such as beTurtle, Care2, Common Circle, Dianovo, ecoMetro, Eco-munnity, Good Tree, Green Bin, Holistic Local, Lime, Neutral Existence, rethos, TheNag (UK), Zaadz and Zelixy among others.   

Sites like Baagz are emerging that should, in theory, enable users to connect with a far greater number of online users across the Internet, rather than simply those within a particular social network.  Considered an early Web 3.0 application, Baagz leverages semantic web principles to allow software agents to connect people with common interests by reading embedded tags in web content (rather than natural language descriptions). 

Shopping sites allow consumers to connect and share green purchases and product reviews.  Examples include FiveLimes and Sustainlane.  Additionally, traditional social shopping sites such as Kaboodle, StyleHive, ThisNext and Wists include a wide range of eco-friendly (eg, organic) products.  

Today, online users have the opportunities to integrate their favorite purchases into their personal profile page on sites like Facebook using a Yahoo web application called “My favorite Things”.  This application enables users to share favorite products, create a wish list and send virtual gifts to friends online.  Importantly, integration of social shopping into Facebook enriches personal profiles and allows users to connect based on shopping preferences.  

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Alternatively, consumers have the option to connect with other likeminded consumers based on their brand and/or product affinity.  One example is Toyota’s community site for hybrid owners, Hybrid Synergy Drive.  Another example is Method’s community of advocates. 

Engagement sites enable users to share ideas and collaborate on new ones.  These social networks tend to attract members from specific vertical sectors.  Examples include local community sites such as ecoTreadsetters (Yokohama Tire), Gusse and Transition Towns (UK); innovation sites such as Green Building Forum (UK), Sustainability Forum and wattwatt; and business forums such as OpenEco (Sun) and OPEN Forum (American Express) among others.

Activism sites enable collaboration to promote change through social and political activism.  Example sites include: 2People, Care2, ChangeDo SomethingGreenVoice, idealist, just cause, Razoo, TakingITGlobal, tree-nation, Wiser Earth and Youth Noise among others.    

For marketers, such social networks provide a rich opportunity for messaging to consumers with a green affinity.  Today, there are three primary ways in which marketers can communicate with consumers through this channel: 

Search.  Marketers can bid on contextually relevant search keywords within social networks and provide relevant and engaging content on linked landing pages. 

Awareness and Engagement.  Marketers can actively engage consumers by placing corporate profiles within social networks, by facilitating the creation of user generated content and by encouraging viral marketing.     

The placement of profiles on social networks is a great way to build awareness within and across peer groups online.  Users connect to a brand or a cause as an expression of their online identities.  Those that do can be effective advocates for a brand (or cause) and brands should actively engage them as such.  Moreover, this simple link in a personal profile can provide a powerful way to build awareness within the user’s extended network as it provides a de facto endorsement of the brand or cause by a trusted source. 

Additionally, it is important to note that the creation of user-generated content itself can facilitate viral marketing efforts though sharing of content between consumers or via content sharing sites such emPivot, RiverWired and YouTube.  Moreover, users may bookmark favorite green content or websites on hunah, Hugg, del.icio.us, Digg and StumbleUpon, encouraging others to also view the content or visit the site as well.

Targeting.  Marketers can target consumers within a social network through direct ad placement where possible and appropriate.  

Importantly, Facebook has made an announcement that has major implications for how marketers can communicate to members going forward.  Essentially, Facebook said that it will allow marketers to target members with ads based on its user’s personal profiles, social connections and even the recent activities of each user’s extended network. 

This announcement marks a significant departure in the way social networks have been organized to date.  Until now, marketers have had limited opportunity to serve ads directly to users within the social network.  With this change, marketers will now have the opportunity to target consumers directly based on attitudinal, behavioral and demographic attributes included directly in or inferred from personal profiles and connections online.    

So, marketers should take note.   Social networks are proliferating and consumer participation seems to be growing without bounds.  For marketers, social networks provide an increasing number of opportunities to communicate with online users that either have a green affinity or perhaps are connected to someone that does.  To have the greatest impact, however, marketers should ensure that they align their messaging with the mission of each type of social network.  Done right, marketers can have a powerful impact on their brands and the bottom line.


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