Today, consumers increasingly associate themselves with social responsibility, particularly on the environment: BBMG recently reported that US consumers increasingly say that words like “socially responsible” (88% say these as words describe them “well”, 39% as “very well”) and “environmentally friendly” (86% well, 34% very well) describe them. Additionally, Edelman reported that consumers are not just talking, but taking action: 40% of US consumers are more involved in social causes than they were two years ago and expect their brands to do the same. The top issue that consumers care about globally? Protecting the environment (92% of those surveyed).
As such, it should not be surprising that many leading companies today are responding by aligning their brands with more socially reponsible and eco-friendly activites and attributes (See “Defining Green Brand Leadership”, Marketing Green, October 29, 2007). There are several reasons why these companies feel the urgency to act: First, they simply may be trying to stay relevant by aligning more closely with the evolving expectations that consumers have for the companies they purchase from and the brands they associate with.
Second, they may be trying to secure a competitive advantage in the market as an early mover on green. Pioneer status may bestow the companies credibly in the space, and perhaps enable them to reach new customer segments that have a strong affinity for the environment.
Finally, companies recognize that it may be easier and far less costly to reposition a traditional brand as green today than it will be after Congress passes regulation that mandates all companies to do so. Companies that wait for federal intervention will likely have to play catch-up when it does happen by complying with new mandates while convincing consumers of their green credentials. By then, however, companies may have to do so in a crowded media space (because every company playing catch up will have to do similar) and face skeptical consumers who may question whether corporate motivations are genuine or simply done to comply with federal mandates.
Marketers should recognize that the window of opportunity is closing for brands to establish themselves as an early mover in the green space. Today, not only is US consumer sentiment shifting, but the political winds are as well. Backed or perhaps empowered by recent court rulings, politicians in Washington are floating legislation on climate change that will move the US closer to a time when being green is less of a differentiator than simply a cost of doing business. Here is what has been happening:
States – led by both Democrats and Republicans – are pressing for change: With the announcement of the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (MRGGRA) last week, 24 states have now committed to greenhouse gas emission targets.
States with Green House Gas Emission Targets
Moreover, several state governors are actively campaigning for change. For example, a recently launched TV campaign by the Environmental Defense Action Fund featuring three western governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) and Jon Huntsman (R-UT) should help increase pressure on Congress to act. This commercial is significant not only because it features two Republicans but that the governors represent Western states that traditionally champion states’ rights and frown on federal intervention.
Finally, major federal court decisions – three in seven months – hold regulators responsible for considering climate change risk when setting pollution standards. The most recent ruling handed down last week by the federal Court of Appeals in San Fransciso overturned the Bush administration’s proposed fuel standards for light trucks and SUVs, stating regulators “failed to thoroughly assess the economic impact of tailpipe emissions that contribute to climate change”. In doing so, the court sided with the plaintive that included 13 states and cities.
Political sentiment is shifting in the US in favor of action on climate change. Marketers should consider taking action soon rather than later to green their brands in order to avoid playing catch-up afterwards. Once Congress takes action, companies will lose the opportunity to build green credentials and shape their brand ahead of the pack. Those that wait may struggle to catch up as consumers may question the integrity of their motivations.