Give consumers a green option they can’t refuse to succumb to

Brands can lead the way in the eco sea-change by offering consumers innovative and aspirational products – that just also happen to be green

Many companies outside of the large polluters have thought for a long time that the challenges presented by catastrophic climate change are not about them. That is now beginning to change as a new consensus forms around the fact that just as climate change affects all of us, so it is everyone’s responsibility to take action. And the fact that climate change is emphatically about our customers and their families makes it relevant to all companies, regardless of their carbon footprint or environmental record.

A business focused on durable and meaningful customer loyalty needs to be on the same side as its customers, and in listening closely to our customers, it became increasingly clear that climate change was of concern to the many, not the few. Inside the Sky business we shared those concerns, so we responded.

As well as a wide range of changes made to our own operations – for example buying power from renewable sources and using low-emission vehicles – we also felt there was an unmissable opportunity to amplify the impact of those changes many times over by supporting our customers’ efforts to make green changes.

Last year we became the first media company in the UK to become carbon neutral. But, much more importantly, we have provided our customers with a range of practical steps that support and encourage them to make an individual contribution. For example, our latest Sky Plus and HD boxes now automatically put themselves “to sleep” when they need not be on. That feature alone will save 32,000 tonnes of CO2 this year – nearly as much as our entire organisational carbon footprint.

And here lies the challenge of business; to channel a passion for change in a way that also supports and inspires customers to do the same.

Hard truths about the climate challenge have a place in jolting people into awareness and a sense of real urgency. But solving the problem will also be about positive motivation on a long road to total victory. The accumulation of small victories, in all of our lives, will be a major contributor to this. This means that tackling climate change is an opportunity for consumer brands to find a new voice in encouraging meaningful engagement, helping drive momentum towards a tipping point where environmental awareness evolves into a mass consumer movement.

In addition to instilling a sense of vision and energy, we must also make it easy, affordable and desirable to do the right thing. One example is the We’re In This Together initiative, in which eight major consumer brands – including Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Sky and B&Q – have joined forces to help customers reduce their own energy use. These include simple measures that can be embraced by millions right now. These range from low-energy light bulbs, better deals for drivers of energy-efficient cars, affordable loft insulation, our own energy-efficient set-top boxes, and much more besides.

But ultimately low-carbon products need to be seen as inherently better that what’s gone before, not simply greener. This shouldn’t be a question of compromise. Rather, consumers should be motivated as much by their own self interest as they are by “doing the right thing”. Take as an example the Eden Project’s Sexy Green Car Show or the new electric Stealth motorcycle – these are examples of how to combine innovation in design with great execution in communications to deliver consumers products that aren’t simply marketed as the “green option”, but which excite and energise at a basic product benefit level.

If we are going to engage consumers at large in tackling climate change, then we are going to have to offer leadership of a different kind. This may involve communications that speak to their desires to have a positive role in society. But equally it could simply reflect the demand for products and services that are more innovative, attractive and of better value – and which also happen to be more environmentally minded. Better and greener should not be viewed as mutually exclusive.

The marketing industry, however, needs to be a driving force of this with both better messaging and creativity around the issue of energy efficiency. We must move away from the clichés of the rather apologetic “are you doing your bit?” to something much more aspirational – advertising that appeals to a sense of achievement and which encourages people to seek and demand change rather than react to it.

As in so many of the issues outlined above, the key to success for brands is not so much to react to change, to deal with it as it is done to you, but to bring change, to relish and thrive on change. The role for marketers has never been so compelling nor significant in delivering real and long-lasting social benefit.

James Murdoch is chief executive of BSkyB

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