08 The Year Ahead – Green

With environmental concerns increasingly important, businesses adopting a green approach must practise what they preach in all areas or run the risk of consumer scorn. By Matt Franks, Eco Incentives

How the tide of green marketing is set to keep rising

With environmental concerns increasingly important, businesses adopting a green approach must practise what they preach in all areas or run the risk of consumer scorn. By Matt Franks, Eco Incentives

Consumer attitudes towards the environment over the past four years have created a major change in the way businesses market themselves. 

It was apparent this year when record numbers of businesses brought the environmental issue into their marketing programmes. The phrase on most marketers’ lips was “Green is Good”. But is the green wave that has undoubtedly washed right across the UK business community set to keep its momentum in 2008, or is the environmental bubble about to burst?

Green will undoubtedly be the colour again in the year ahead. However, with predictions of increased market growth in green promotions comes a word of caution – companies marketing themselves as environmentally friendly need to reflect that in their promotional items too or run the risk of consumer scorn. 

More consumers than ever before are bringing environmental considerations into their purchasing habits. As consumer interest in the environment has grown, so too has that of businesses. Rather than see environmental issues as a thorn in their side, businesses are increasingly seeing them as opportunities on which to not only grow, but improve their brand values and corporate reputation. 

Where 18 months ago a business that promoted its green approach stood out from the crowd, today being eco focused is an approach that all companies cannot afford to ignore. 

This growing popularity has been reflected in the eco-friendly promotions sector, which has seen significant growth and increased customer spending year on year, and which is set for record growth in 2008. In the US, for example – not renowned for its green corporate approach – annual sales of environmentally-friendly promotional items have grown steadily since 2002.

Diminishing barriers
Such has been the improvement in choice, quality and price within the green promotions sector that it is now more than comparable to the traditional promotions market. 

For a company keen to introduce a green marketing campaign, there has never been a better time, with consumer interest set to grow further over the next 12 months. But as the environmental market grows, organisations need to manage their marketing campaigns thoughtfully, seriously and strategically.

According to marketing and branding agency BBMG, firms that fail to back up green marketing with sustainable business models are running the risk of a major consumer backlash.

While managing the message is extremely important, promotional items also need to stand up to scrutiny. There is evidence of some promotions companies making misleading claims, so buyers must beware. Ask questions about the products you are sourcing to find out if they are as green as you are being told. A reputable company will be a knowledgeable one. Given the message behind a pro-eco marketing campaign, you really can not afford to take any chances.

The rise of green incentives
The growth of all things green in the promotional sector will undoubtedly continue in 2008. 

Popularity in organic clothing, especially products made from bamboo, will shoot up. Bamboo is softer than cotton, hypoallergenic, fast drying and naturally anti-bacterial. It requires no pesticides to cultivate and regenerates naturally, making it 100% biodegradable. 

Jute bags will enjoy another great year. Jute is a natural bast fibre composed of cellulose, which is 100% biodegradable. New for 2008 are corn bags – corn carrier bags – which completely biodegrade leaving no toxic residues.

The range of sustainable wood products available will increase significantly, and products made from biodegradable alternatives to plastic will also be hot. For example, the new Vegetal Pen, made from a material derived from corn starch, is at least 80% biodegradable. 

Looking ahead, the eco-promotions sector shows no sign of slowing down. The industry looks set for record growth in 2008, fuelled by innovative and imaginative new product development and growing interest in green alternatives. For businesses that get it right, green marketing can not only tick all the boxes, but reinforce and strengthen their brand and their reputation. 

Matt Franks, Director, Eco Incentives 

Act now to save the world

The focus on green issues will continue in 2008, but consumers and watchdogs are not going to be fooled by false claims and half-hearted efforts. By David Benady

Over eight out of ten Britons have vowed to make a green New Year’s resolution for 2008, according to a survey by YouGov. For most people, this will consist of a simple commitment to do more recycling or use low-energy light bulbs. Like all such self-made promises, they may be broken with impunity. But brand owners, by contrast, will have to stick by the environmental commitments they make for 2008 or face charges of green-washing.

After a year in which saving the eco-system has become one of the hottest topics in marketing, flesh must be put on the bones of brand owners’ promises to reduce their carbon footprints and avoid harm to the environment. Their green marketing be will need to easily understood and, above all, truthful. 

During 2007, the Advertising Standards Authority has seen a massive jump in complaints about misleading green claims in ads and has vowed to crack down on such false statements. Consumers have wised up to the fact that all that is green is not necessarily environmentally beneficial.

Avoiding green-wash will be one of the greatest challenges of the year ahead, according to Iain Patton, managing director of communications agency Satellite, which runs the Green Awards. “There is a gap in implementation of campaigns between the marketing department and whoever is substantiating the facts and figures. Marketers are making claims that haven’t been substantiated, which is quite worrying in terms of compliance. They should link up with whoever designs the supply chain,” he says. 

Engaging confused consumers
Equally worrying is confusion among the public about green issues. Patton believes that people still need educating about the effects of global warming, carbon footprints and excess packaging, creating a massive issue for brands: “The challenge is to work out the best way to communicate those issues – do we need to go back to basics in educating people about the terminology? People don’t know their carbon footprint, they don’t understand carbon labelling.” 

Adding to the confusion, there are many ad campaigns and organisations encouraging people to recycle waste and lower their carbon footprints. This is leading to a diffusion of messages. For instance, the Department for Transport is running the Act on C02 campaign to encourage “smarter car driving and greener car buying”. Meanwhile, the Energy Saving Trust – a nonprofit organisation funded by the Government and business – campaigns to reduce carbon emissions. Then there is The Carbon Trust, a private company set up by the Government to “accelerate the move to a low carbon economy”, working with business and the private sector.  Not to be outdone, the European Commission has launched its own campaign through the environment director general. The pan-European TV ads, by M&C Saatchi, use cartoon characters to raise awareness of climate change. Such a multi-pronged strategy risks creating a sense of green fatigue, which will have to be overcome. Already there are signs that people are getting bored of green issues.

Even in the light of environmental weariness, there are opportunities for marketers to cut through the clutter with new products and brands that offer green benefits. 

Quentin Higham, who runs brand consultancy HOQ, says he is in talks with a number of personal care companies about green initiatives. One is a new brand from Jo Wood, wife of Rolling Stones bassist Ronnie Wood and creator of organic beauty range Jo Wood Organic. The Jo Wood Everyday range launches this spring and is a department store brand boasting environmental benefits, according to Higham. “The problem is, you want something that aesthetically looks beautiful and gives you personal joy but you also feel guilty thinking do I really need this? The challenge for marketers is to find something beautiful that is also environmentally sound,” he says.

The three Rs of reducing, re-using and recycling waste are set to become a growing issue next year. The Government-funded Waste & Resources Action Programme has three targets to be hit by March 2008: to increase recycling by 3 million tonnes of material, to boost the number of people recycling by 4 million and to reduce the amount of food thrown away and ensure more is collected for composting and recycling. If it manages to hit these, it will move on to even more stretching targets. 

According to Lucy Richardson, UK chief executive of brand consultancy Added Value, fast moving consumer goods brands and retailers will look at their packaging and the use of plastic bags to find ways of reducing them. This could have dramatic implications for the branding and design of products on shelves. She thinks there are missed opportunities for consumer electronics manufacturers to make greater use in their marketing of the Europea  Commission’s drive to ensure the recycling of old fridges, washing machines and other equipment. “The marketing angle is how can they build the benefits of recycling and create more brand differentiation around the fact you are able to recycle their goods,” she says. 

Just like 2007, green issues are likely to be red hot topics in the year ahead. The difference is that the time for talking is over and the moment for action has arrived. 

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