Driving Adoption of Renewable Energy: Part I – A Utility’s Perspective

Interview with Tom Auzenne, Assistant Director, City of Palo Alto Utilities

 

Electrical power generation accounts for 40% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the US.  Such a high concentration of GHGs is due to our reliance on highly polluting fossil fuels, especially domestic coal.  Yet, while the popular press focuses on the recent growth in renewable energy, it still provides only 2% of our total electrical needs today. 

 

Until recently, many arguments have been made for why adoption of clean energy remains slow.  Certainty, price ranks as the #1 barrier to broader adoption.  Other factors include reliability concerns and lack of education about the technologies.

 

Interestingly, Palo Alto, California has bucked this trend.  Over the course of several years, the municipal utility has partnered with 3Degrees, a utility marketing company, to encourage residents to sign up for its PaloAltoGreen program which provides 100% renewable energy from wind and solar power sources.  The results of this program have been astounding, with over 20% of all residents switching to clean energy.  Indeed, PaloAltoGreen is now ranked as the #1 green energy program nationwide based on participation.  

  

What does this mean for GHG reduction?  Well, it is quite simple: the purchase of 41.5M kWh of renewable energy translates into a reduction of 350,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak independently with both Tom Auzenne from the City of Palo Alto Utilities. We spoke about consumer interest in renewable energy, barriers for greater adoption by consumers and key reasons for this program’s success.  Here is what Tom Auzenne had to say:

MG: Who purchases renewable energy in Palo Alto?  What is the mix between residential, commercial and governmental entities?

 

TA: PaloAltoGreen (PAG) is the City of Palo Alto’s 100% renewable energy optional program open to all residential and commercial customers with an active electric service provide by the City of Palo Alto Utilities. The program has about 20% of the customers involved, with residential customers making up on average 95% of the mix and the commercial customers at 5%. Our residential sales account for roughly 60% of the program sales with commercial and governmental making up the rest. 

 

However, starting with July 2008, both the City of Palo Alto (CPA) and the Regional Water Quality Plant (RWQCP) are increasing their commitment to buy renewable energy equal to 30% of their total usage, a ten-fold leap from the previous 3% of total usage purchases.  This will increase the percentage of nonresidential customers in the program.

 

MG: Describe the demographics of your average residential customer that signs up for renewable energy?  How do they differ from the average utility customer in Palo Alto?  Across the US?

 

TA: As a general rule, the residential PAG customer is well educated, in a high income household and is environmentally progressive.  Most are thinking about their environmental impact and want to do something about it.

 

One of the primary differences from other green pricing program around the country is that PAG customers generally use less energy per month than our average customer.  PAG customers use 400-600 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month compared to the national average of about 888 kWh (according to the DOE).  This indicates that our customers may also be trying to reduce their electricity usage through energy efficiency or other measures.

 

MG: What motivates residents of Palo Alto to switch to renewable energy (e.g., attitude toward the environment, concern for their kids, financial incentives, community empowerment, etc.)?  Are their attitudes substantially different than the rest of Americas?  If so, in what ways?

 

TA: There are many motivations leading to program participation. These include being role models for the next generation, “doing the right thing” for the environment, and buying renewables as a logical next step after energy efficiency.

 

CPAU strives to communicate the environmental benefits of renewable energy to Palo Altans in as many ways as possible. Combine this near constant communication with high community awareness of the issues surrounding climate change, and you have the combination that brought PAG such success.
 
  
We also work closely with the Palo Alto Unified School District on energy and curriculum.  Many customers not participating in PAG have taken a more direct approach, and have installed their own photovoltaic (PV) systems rather than buy renewable energy from the market. Between January 2007 and March 2008, 92 PV systems were installed in Palo Alto, representing 250 kW of generation.

 

MG: What, if any, is the premium charged for purchasing renewable energy (vs. non-renewable) today?  What factors do you attribute to a customer’s willingness to pay such a premium (e.g., level of affluence, attitude regarding the environment, etc)?  Do you think renewable energy will be adopted by a majority of customers without eliminating the premium altogether?

 

TA: Residential and small commercial customers can enroll in PAG for 100% of their monthly electric usage at a premium of 1.5 cents/kWh. Large commercial and industrial customers can buy renewable energy in blocks of 1,000 kWh for $15 per block. This allows them to support renewable energy at a level that makes business sense.

 

One of the nice things about PAG is that the price doesn’t fluctuate. CPAU hasn’t changed the price for 100% renewable energy in five years and has no plans to do so. The demographics of Palo Alto are also great for marketing renewable energy, as our customers tend to be interested in the environment and can have a level of disposable income that allows a lower barrier to participation.  

 

MG: A 20% adoption rate for renewable energy is impressive.  Can this success be replicated across the country?  If so, what will it take to do so?  If not, what are the obstacles (e.g., low awareness, lack of urgency, difficult process to switch, price premium, etc.)?   

 

TA: With the continuous support of our local elected officials on the City Council, the staff of the City government, the employees of the Utilities Department, and, of course, our great customers, nearly everyone is behind this program. This type of support is vital to the success of a green pricing program in Palo Alto and elsewhere in the country.

 

Other factors that need to be in-place, or created, include customer awareness of the environment, a history of energy efficiency, an active partnership with the schools and students, and a willingness to lead.

 

It should be noted that not all the program participants have vast disposable incomes. Participants are both young and old, in the prime of their earning years or on fixed incomes, have children or are childless. All share, however, the same vision of, and desire for, a sustainable future.

 

MG: What are your primary marketing objectives in the residential and commercial markets?  Do you find the need to spend significant time building awareness of either the category or the technology?

 

TA: CPAU has found that targeted messaging, repetition, clear information about the product and a call to action (“closing the sale”) bring results. If the job is done correctly, then customers are aware.

 

For those customers that have more questions, we have many ways for them to find answers to any question that they might have.

 

MG: Is there any skepticism on the part of consumers regarding the (reduced) impact that renewable energy has on the environment? 

 

TA: There are always skeptics, but we focus on educating consumers on the positive aspects of the renewable energy we provide.  With the melting of the North Pole ice and the retreating of the Swiss glaciers, featured on the Evening News, skepticism has been reduced or eliminated.

 

MG: Please describe how you partner with 3Degrees in terms of your marketing efforts.  What are the core components of these marketing efforts?  What made them so successful?

 

TA: 3Degrees specializes in marketing renewable energy. They have partnerships with utilities in California and around the country. They are able draw on their experience and accumulated data to provide targeted marketing and program management support.

 

CPAU brings its knowledge, reputation and trust of the community to this partnership to help sharpen the marketing even more. With their experience and our community awareness, we have created one of the most effective, and successfully marketed, green power programs in the country.

Environmental Marketing Guideline Challenges

Recently, the Canadian Standards Association updated its guide for making environmental claims.  While not legally binding, such standards provide guidelines for industry and advertisers when it comes to making environmental claims.  The intent is to protect consumers from false advertising claims regarding the environment.

 

In many ways, this document foreshadows likely changes from a similar review of US guidelines underway by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Arguably, the current FTC guidelines are long overdue for a refresh given the dramatic evolution in the green space that has occurred since they were last reviewed a decade ago.  As such, it is widely expected that the FTC will expand its jurisdiction to include terms that have only recently been added to the vernacular including “renewable energy”, “sustainable” and “carbon offset”.   While such clarity will be welcome in marketing circles, it may fall short given the complexity of today’s environmental issues.

 

First established in 1992 by the FTC, the Guides for the use of Environmental Marketing Claims provide an “administrative interpretation” of what constitutes a fair environmental claim: transparent and accurate disclosures that clearly delineate benefits between a product and its packaging as well as across different products.

 

It is hard to overstate the importance of such guidelines.  For consumers, guidelines ensure that they have the necessary information to make informed purchase decisions.  For advertisers, guidelines enable companies to feel confident that the environmental claims they are making will not open them up to scrutiny, or worst, accusations of greenwashing. 

 

In clarifying these guidelines, however, the FTC faces three major challenges today:

 

First, regardless of what guidelines the FTC puts into place, it is increasingly difficult for consumers to substantiate corporate environmental claims.  This is especially true for carbon offsets or renewable energy certificates (RECs) that consumers (as well as corporations) rely on to reduce their carbon footprint.  Indeed, for such financial instruments to have substantive impact, they must abide by the “additionality” principle: they must lead to environmental improvements that would not have occurred but for the consumer’s investment in an offset or REC.  Assessing true adherence to this principle is out of reach for consumers as it requires sophisticated financial understanding and time.

 

Second, it is difficult for consumers to discern from current guidelines what the likely secondary environmental impacts are from a particular product.  Take biofuels, for example.  Crops themselves can be grown sustainably and disclosures can be made accordingly.  Yet, arguably, diverting cropland for fuel production reduces the amount of food produced, contributing to (though not necessarily the primary cause of) rising prices for food staples globally.  Moreover, land used to raise biocrops may create added pressure to deforest lands elsewhere in order to grow food crops or raise cattle for human consumption.  In either instance, it is difficult to claim that the fuel was grown in a truly sustainable manner.

 

Third, as the FTC’s guide is only an administrative ruling, the FTC does not have the legal authority to enforce them.  Instead, the FTC can take only “corrective action” against those who violate them which limits their punch in market.  Jay Kilby explores this issue more in-depth on his blog, WeBuyItGreen.

  

Nonetheless, Marketing Green welcomes upcoming revisions of the FTC guidelines for making environmental claims.  Despite their limitations, FTC guidelines provide an essential guide for green marketers as well as empower consumers with information to make informed purchase decisions.  While gaps remain, consumer advocacy groups will likely step in to police environmental claims.  Given the strong interest in green, it is likely that advocacy groups will hold advertisers accountable for their claims in court or in the court of public opinion.

Managing Environmental Risk by Looking through the Rear-view Mirror

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

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

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

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

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.