It’s Time To Make The Next Wave

10 Feb

Was “going green” just a fad? Originally Posted by Marketing: Green.

by Michael Martin, Tuesday, February 8, 2011, 8:15 AM
I’m hearing scary statements from marketing people lately. “Green is so last year.” “Green is out.” “Green is dead.”
Meanwhile, several green-themed television shows have been cancelled. Sun Chips bailed on a compostable bag for most of its SKUs. The climate legislation failed in Congress even after the Gulf disaster, the worst environmental disaster in memory.

Just last week, the Harris Poll on America’s Green Attitudes concluded, “Between 2009 and 2010, fewer Americans are now ‘going green’.” Harris found consumers less likely to engage in such “green behaviors” as using less water or buying organic and local produce and products.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of our environmental problems were solved because some corporations got behind “green” for a couple of seasons? That would be great but it isn’t going to happen. Business has a stake in the environmental game, and the clock is running out. All things being equal, consumers will support those brands doing the right thing for the planet over those that don’t. More than simply associating with “green,” driving it is essential to a sustainable economy and society and business needs to take the driver’s seat.

I’ve seen this wave crest and fall before. Two decades ago, the environment was the topic after the Exxon Valdez and Union Carbide Bhopal disasters, only to fade out. Corporate and institutional mistrust ran high back then, and environmental groups had not made the fundamental economic arguments needed. In 2005, when the current green wave swelled, a level of public sentiment was established and the “it will save us money” argument took hold with corporations.

Now that some marketers think green is falling, it’s time to start the next wave. I say this because government can’t institutionalize change the way business can. We need to respond to the exceptional threats to the planet. We also need to answer to the millions of influential consumers for whom the environment remains a priority.

That means green-thinking marketers need to do three things:

1) Keep your convictions. Pollution, climate change, rainforest destruction, species extinction and fresh water shortages aren’t taking a timeout while talking heads debate them or some consumers tire of hearing about it. For example, the 2010 General Accounting Office report shows that perchlorate, a main ingredient in rocket fuel and one that can cause significant thyroid issues, was found in the water supplies and soil in 45 states. There are 15 other toxic chemicals found in our drinking water right now that we need to clean up as well.

2) Repackage the conversation. As marketers, we have to do what’s ultimately right for the sustainability of our brands (and companies, careers, economy and society) and to sell it however the market will buy it. If “green” doesn’t excite consumers, rewrite the playbook. Take on the issues they prioritize that still benefit the environment. A campaign for local foods becomes more about fresh flavor and higher nutrients than the environmental impact of food miles.

3) Work with the government. Despite what some would have you believe, both Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson are passionately pro-business. They’re looking for new ways to bolster the economy and environment together. They have mandates and budgets for green jobs and green innovation. Study their sites, make a call, and enlist their help.

The same Harris Poll that showed Americans fading on green noted that while Americans are taking fewer environmentally sound actions, a greater number of us (a 20% increase, in fact) see ourselves as “conservationists,” “environmentalists” or “green.”

In the perception world of brand marketing, then, green matters more than ever. While for years marketers have only had to follow consumer momentum into green, now they need to lead consumers with the subtlety that distinguishes great marketing.

Top Bottled Waters
1 Aquafina
2 Fiji
3 Poland Spring
4 San Pellegrino and Evian
5 Volvic and Perrier
6 Deer Park
7 Dannon
8 Dasani
Source: Brand Keys Customer
Loyalty Engagement Index 2011

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Michael Martin is CEO of EFFECT Partners, a Minneapolis-based sustainability agency whose clients include U2, CLIF Bar, P&G, Green Giant and Cascadian Farms.

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