Pioneers seize the initiative

Just under a year ago, eight of the UK’s most powerful chief executives stood side by side with then Prime Minister Tony Blair and pledged to take action against climate change. Robert Lester learns the Together initiative has done much to reduce CO2 emissions, but there is a long way to go

CO2%20emissions%2C%20climate%20controlIt was almost a year ago that eight of the UK’s most powerful chief executives stood side by side with then Prime Minister Tony Blair and pledged to take action against climate change. The resulting initiative, called We’re In This Together, has so far helped cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by almost 500,000 tonnes but it still has some way to go before it achieves its ambitious aims.

Together, as the scheme is known, is the brainchild of independent body the Climate Group, which was set up in 2004 to bring governments and companies together to tackle climate change. It aims to help every household in the UK cut CO2 emissions by one tonne within three years, meaning a potential saving of up to 25 million tonnes.

The eight original companies – Tesco, BSkyB, Marks & Spencer, B&Q, Barclaycard, British Gas, O2 and Royal & SunAlliance – have since been joined by National Express and HSBC. And Together, which is also backed by the Mayor of London and the Church of England, is set to unveil more corporate partners at an event in May to mark its first anniversary.

Energy saving lightbulbs

The eight original partners agreed to offer products, services and advice to help consumers reduce their household emissions. Tesco, for instance, set itself a target of selling 10 million energy-saving lightbulbs in a year – up from the 2 million it sold in the previous 12 months (see Richard Brasher’s comment.

Together says that an average home can save an estimated £65 per year by switching to energy-saving lightbulbs but that two-thirds of consumers are not aware that changing could save them money.

The Sun newspaper ran a promotion on energy-saving lightbulbs in January, while Together worked with the Mayor of London, British Gas and B&Q to run the UK’s first lightbulb amnesty. Meanwhile, Tesco ran a buy-one-get-one-free scheme on energy-saving lightbulbs in January and last weekend began selling the lightbulbs for 1p. The retailer is likely to hit its 10 million target before Together’s first anniversary.

Six million energy-saving lightbulbs were sold in total in January through the Together initiative, which international campaign director David Hall calls a “pretty big step change”.

Together will launch in the US on June 5 and Australia in the “near future”, but Hall says the priority in the UK this year will be to get more corporate partners on board. It is thought that some of the UK’s biggest charities are also in talks with the Climate Group about getting involved.

“We have spent the last year bedding down the partners we have got and launching new initiatives,” he adds. “This year’s focus will be on widening the partnership a bit more. We want to get more co-operation going between businesses. It’s about setting aside rivalries and trying to do things together. We’ve already got M&S and Tesco [from the retail sector] and we are calling for more businesses to join.”

To show its support for the scheme, Barclaycard launched a “green” credit card called Barclaycard Breathe last summer. The company donates 50% of the profits from the card to support carbon reduction projects in the UK and abroad. Sky launched a new feature on its set-top boxes which automatically sends them into “deep standby” at night (see Jeremy Darroch’s comment), while British Gas unveiled what it claims is the “greenest” energy tariff in the UK.

Environmental credentials

Since the launch of Together, the environment has become an integral part of many marketing strategies, including those of brands that are not part of the Together coalition. But Hall warns that companies are still making basic mistakes when it comes to communicating their environmental credentials, leading to “greenwash”.

He adds/ “Greenwash occurs when brands take an existing product that has a mildly green benefit and then use that as the main marketing message. My sense is that because a lot of people are talking about green, advertising agencies are happy to use that angle with consumers. I would say the evidence is to the contrary. If consumers feel that brands are just slapping a green label on an existing product they tend to be very cynical.

“If they feel there is an ulterior motive they tend to be very sceptical about that. If you have got something really substantial and new which will make a difference and help people be greener, then shout about it. But if it’s the same old stuff and brands are just looking for the green angle that seems wrong.”

Together has been broadly welcomed and has helped businesses and consumers begin to tackle climate change. But it must sign up more leading brands and develop more initiatives if it is to meet its considerable targets within two years.

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