Green is fast becoming the new buzzword of corporate Britain, which suits Steve Howard just fine. The chief executive of the Climate Group, which was set up in 2004 to bring governments and companies together to tackle climate change, is spearheading a new initiative that aims to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 25 million tonnes in three years, and the list of partners reads like a Who’s Who of British business.
Three of the country’s most high-profile chief executives, Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy, BSkyB’s James Murdoch and Marks & Spencer’s Stuart Rose, stood alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair and Environment Secretary David Miliband at the launch of We’re In This Together last month. Now Howard is planning to take the scheme to the US and Australia with the message that companies that ignore the green issue will pay the price in the long run.
“Being good to the environment can be good for business,” he says. “The two things are completely compatible. Businesses that aren’t proactive in this space will lose out. It is not wise not to engage.”
Banks lend support
B&Q, Barclaycard, British Gas, O2 and Royal & SunAlliance are the other companies backing We’re In This Together, with all eight businesses offering products, services or advice to help consumers reduce their household emissions. HSBC has also lent its support to the scheme, although the banking giant has yet to announce the specifics of its involvement, and at least two more partners – one of which is said to be National Express – are set to come on board by the end of the year.
The coalition, which has the support of the Energy Saving Trust, the National Consumer Council, the Church of England, Stop Climate Chaos and Live Earth, was formed as a response to research carried out by the Climate Group that showed that people felt powerless when faced with the challenge of climate change.
Howard says: “People want to do something but don’t necessarily know what. This is about businesses reaching out to people with affordable solutions that they can engage with. We need to make climate change part of people’s lives and make it attractive to them to be part of the solution. This is an unprecedented time that requires unprecedented measures.”
To show its support for the campaign, Tesco has set itself a target of selling 10 million energy-saving light bulbs in the coming year – up from 2 million last year. The supermarket giant is doubling the space it gives the light bulbs in its stores and halving their price in a bid to meet the target.
Leahy said at last month’s launch: “Our customers want to do more but they need our help. They want to know their individual actions can help and that it’s not just the affluent that can make a difference. If we can break these barriers down, we can turn the green movement into a mass-market movement.”
Sky is introducing a new feature on its set-top boxes which automatically sends them into “deep standby” at night when not used between 11pm and 4am. In an exclusive interview with Marketing Week, Murdoch says the environment must now be a top priority for all businesses.
“We can get a snowball going here where brands can feel like they can be part of something,” he adds. “Our customers will care about this issue perhaps more than any other over the next decade and it’s right for us to be caring about what our customers care about. If you’re on the wrong side of this it can be particularly dangerous for a brand. We’re at a watershed moment where we have an opportunity to make a difference. If we don’t we could be in real trouble.”
Barclaycard’s contribution will be to launch a new “green” credit card called Barclaycard Breathe and the company will donate 50% of its profits from the card to support carbon-reduction projects in the UK and abroad. RSA has unveiled a new “eco-insurance” policy, while British Gas is launching a “green” electricity product which it claims will be the greenest on the market.
M&S is encouraging customers to lower their washing temperature to 30°C, O2 will give customers who renew their contracts without changing their phones £100 credit, and B&Q is cutting the price of two of its best-selling insulation products. It says that if everyone insulated their lofts to the recommended level it would save 4 million tonnes of CO2 a year.
Speaking to Marketing Week, B&Q chief executive Ian Cheshire explains why the company is supporting We’re in this Together: “Customers were looking for things that could to help make a difference and we thought if we did it as a collective group it would have more impact. But we know there’s no magic bullet – it’s all about small victories.”
The “small victories” theme is picked up by Murdoch, who adds: “It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go on holiday and that you have to eat raw food. But when you add up all these small victories across millions of households it’s very relevant. We don’t have to wait for the Government to say something or for treaties to be signed. Individuals can have an effect.”
We’re In This Together has been broadly welcomed but charity Action Aid criticised supermarkets recently for chasing the “green pound” while exploiting workers abroad. Meanwhile, environmentalists argue that the Government is relying on “piecemeal” corporate moves rather than taking more comprehensive action. Friends of the Earth says We’re In This Together is a “step in the right direction” but that “we have to act as a matter of urgency to de-carbonise the economy, and that can only be done by the Government introducing new regulations.”
Head of campaigns at FoE Mike Childs adds: “We’ve got to make sure all businesses play their part as opposed to riding the wave of those that are doing their bit.”
Persuading worst polluters
The Climate Group’s Howard admits that companies must “actively want to help” rather than just jump on the bandwagon but stresses that, as well as being good for their reputations, taking action against climate change can also boost their bottom lines.
At last month’s launch, Blair said showing the world it is possible to continue to grow economically was key to being able to persuade the world’s biggest CO2 polluters, China, India and the US, to sign up to new measures.
“The old argument was that we couldn’t afford to take action on the environment because it would hurt the economy,” he added. “I think what we’ve heard from these companies is that it’s win-win.”
Howard may be taking We’re In This Together global, but he is still keen to sign up more partners in this country and the message is clear: “There is both a business reason and a moral imperative to do this.”