Waning Opportunity to be Early Mover on Green

November 18, 2007

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 

states-with-ghg-targets_pdf.gif

based on Pew Center research and announcement of MRGGRA accord

 

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. 

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Drought Can Spark a National Dialogue on Climate Change – Part II

October 20, 2007

“You can’t call it a drought anymore, because [the US Southwest is] going over to a drier climate.  No one says the Sahara is in a drought.”   — Richard Seager, Scientist, Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory as quoted in “The Future is Drying Up”, New York Times Magazine, October 21, 2007 

As first published in its July 14, 2007 posting, Marketing Green believes that persistent drought in the US can be an effective catalyst that sparks a broader, national dialogue on climate change.  With drought conditions worsening in areas of the US, the time is now for such a conversation. 

Drought can be a catalyst for a broader dialogue for many reasons. First, drought will directly impact the human condition, causing inconvenience and suffering.  Second, drought will likely cause economic hardship by limiting growth, reducing output, and significantly increasing costs (eg, building infrastructure to move water long distances or desalinate water).  Finally, droughts force political leaders to make unpopular trade-offs that require voter sacrifice. 

Indeed, as tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine reports, drought conditions are worsening in the historically dry Southwest while expected population growth will put more demands on limited resources in the years to come.  Shortages are on the horizon across the region, but are especially apparent in cities like Las Vegas which is dependent on water from Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the US, that is currently at less than half of its capacity.   Moreover, continued shortages will likely pit one entity against another in price wars and legal battles as individuals, businesses and governments compete for scarcer resources. 

Drought conditions in the typically temperate US Southeast may demonstrate a more alarming trend because they are so unexpected.  With scorching heat this past summer and a hurricane season that failed to materialize, the city of Atlanta confronts the drier winter season with record low water levels in its reservoirs.   Most experts agree, it is the driest period every recorded in the Southeast; few signs are on the horizon that suggest the situation is likely to improve any time soon. 

Interestingly, extreme drought in the Southeast is fueling water disputes between regional states over scheduled water releases from Lake Lanier, the primary water source for three million Georgian residents, that are mandated by the Endangered Species Act and enforced by the US Army Corps of Engineers. 

Currently, as Georgia enters what is typically its driest month, Lake Lanier holds a mere 81 days of stored water left.  Georgians have responded by imposing severe restrictions on water use, but unbridled growth over the past decade and limited water use planning up until now have put a strain on existing resources.   

But, it is the actions by the Georgia legislature that, perhaps, are generating the most controversy.  Pending legislation would temporarily wave compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act and allow Georgia (via the Corps) to suspend water releases from the Lanier that currently protect endangered mussels and sturgeon downstream.  So far, the Corps refuses to budge which means that a legal showdown is likely ahead. 

The state of Florida has leveled a complaint already, asking Georgia to release more, not less, water to protect Floridian biodiversity.  Moreover, Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama has asked the Corps to release additional water from other Georgian water sources in order to alleviate shortages in that state.    

It is likely that cross-border disputes will only intensify if sufficient rains do not come soon.  In fact, facing severe water shortages, Atlanta may soon become the first metropolitan region to reduce water available for commercial and industrial activities, a threat to the local economy.   These threats will only be compounded if reservoirs do not refill before next summer when water use is traditionally the highest.  

As water become more scarce and entities compete for dwindling resources, marketers have an opening to leverage drought a conversation starter for a national dialogue on climate change.  In many ways, expanding drought conditions will force the conversation as we will have to deal with consequences of a drier climate whether we are prepared to do so or not.  

Because the populous in the US is geographically dispersed, however, marketers risk that such discussions will be isolated to those regions most affected.  As such, it is an imperative for marketers to broaden the discussion regarding worsening drought conditions and their causes to create a truly national debate.


Aggregating Green Audiences

August 31, 2007

Online advertisers are increasingly interested in targeting audiences with green affinities and publishers are aggregating traffic in order to provide compelling ways to do so. 

August has seen a fury of acquisitions as publishers move to aggregate existing green traffic and extend their reach to other green sub-segments.  Earlier this month Gaiam  purchased both Lime, an eco site and green ad network, and Zaadz, a green social networking site.  And less than two weeks ago, Cleantech purchased InsideGreentech.com.  All of this consolidation activity follows Discovery’s acquisition of Treehugger, the leading green blogging site, at the beginning of the month.

Alternatively, online publishers are banding together to create green ad networks that provide media planners with significant reach by bundling ad sales across multiple sites and through a single point of contact.  As such, it came as little surprise this week when Adify announced the launch of its latest vertical platform supporting green ad networks.  Today, this platform supports four green ad networks including Green Ad Planet, Washington Post’s environmental blogroll, Matter Network and SustainLane Green Ad Network.   

While today no green ad network ranks among comScore’s Top 50, with 4MM unique monthly visitors, the combined traffic of the green networks supported by Adify’s platform makes it a formidable player in the space.   

Today, there are at least nine individual green ad networks available to advertisers.  Here is Marketing Green’s first Green Ad Network Ranking: 

Network

Target Audience Monthly Unique Visitors
1. Green Ad Planet LOHAS 3MM+2  
Sites: LiveScience (1.4MM), Daves Garden (1MM), Hybrid Cars (0.1MM), Blohas, Cathy’s Crawly Composters, Cleantech Blog, , Eco Sherpa, EcoStreet, Green Harmony Tours, Green Living Tips, Green Maven, GreenBin, Greenedia, Greenona, , Inveslogic, KindWeb, Naturalpath, One Shade Greener, Organic Day, Our Hudson Valley Network, RiverWired, Tea Body’s, TenBees, TerraPass, Throwplace, Zaadz
2. Lime1 Broad 2.3MM2 
Sites: Lime (1.8MM), Mongabay (0.3MM), EcoGeek, EcoSherpa, The Beauty Brains, Savvy Vegetarian, Eco-Chick
3. GreenAds Broad 2MM2
Sites: TreeHugger (1MM+), DrWeil (0.4MM), Grist Magazine (0.2MM), eMagazine (0.1MM), MetaEfficient
4. Blogads Broad <2MM2
Sites: Treehugger (1MM+), The Oil Drum (0.1MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), EcoGeek, Life After the Oil Crash, PlanetSave, MetaEfficient, Ecorazzi, Groovy Green Blog, You Grow Girl, Garden Stew, Lighter Footstep, GetOutdoors Outdoor Blog, Jetson Green, GardenRant, Great Green Goods, About My Planet, The Good Human, Mighty Foods, green LA girl, Really Natural, Triple Pundit, Groovy Green Magazine, The Evangelist Ecologist, Green Options
GreenAdWorks LOHAS 1MM+2
Sites: Mongabay (0.3MM), Inhabitat (0.1MM), Ecorazzi (0.1MM), Earth Easy (0.1MM), Savvy Vegetarian, The Good Human, Terrapass, Alternative Consumer, Organix Authority, Celsias, Natural Path, Groovy Green, Dr. Briffa, The Healing Mind, The Sunshine Chronicles, Econscious
Washington Post’s Environmental Blogroll Broad 3
Sites: Great Green Goods, Nature Geezer
Matter Network Investment professionals 3
Sites: Matter Network, TerraPass
SustainLane Green Ad Network LOHAS 3, 4
Sites: Sustainlane.com, Sustainlane.us, The Unsustainables
NooTouch (UK) N/A 3
Sites: Ecologist Online, Hippy Shopper, New Consumer

1 Does not include other Gaia community umbrella sites including Gaiam, Conscious Enlightenment and Zaadz

2 Rough estimates based on sum of unique site traffic (from Compete) for key sites in network, assuming no more that 10% overlap of unique visitors across each site

3 Limited traffic or limited visibility into network sites to estimate

4 Does not include 24 affiliate sites with a combined reach of 35MM monthly ad impressions based on Sustainlane data

NOTE: Marketing Green contacted each network as part of the research for this article.  Marketing Green plans to update this posting as more ad networks respond to the inquiries over time.


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