UK marketers have overwhelmingly named Marks & Spencer as the UK’s greenest brand in Marketing Week’s latest investigation into the profession’s views on environmental commitment.
By a huge margin, M&S is seen by marketers as the brand that has made most inroads on green issues in recent years. In our survey of 1,006 marketers working in a range of commercial and public organisations, nearly a quarter spontaneously named M&S as the company making the greatest environmental commitment. It garners 222 unprompted mentions, more than double those of its nearest rival Innocent Drinks, and way ahead of the number three, BP.
The online survey was carried out by YouGov between February 20 and 29. M&S announced that it would levy a small charge for its plastic bags on February 28, which gave it a significant green publicity boost. This undoubtedly contributed to its strong showing in our survey, although the findings appear to also reveal a residual belief in the retailer’s commitment to saving the environment. This may be carried over from the launch of its “Plan A, because there is no plan B” campaign last year. It may also bear witness to the retailer’s standing as a responsible high street operator.
When asked which brand they think has the best green reputation, marketers also name M&S as the runaway winner. It gets 60 mentions, ahead even of The Body Shop, which with 54 just pips Innocent Drinks into third place. Other “deep green” brands – those that have built environmental responsibility into their brand proposition – do well in terms of overall green reputation. The Co-op comes in at number four with 40 mentions across its different divisions, while green detergent Ecover is fifth with 26 mentions.
One striking theme of the survey is the strong performance of car brands. Honda is regarded as the most environmentally responsible automaker, taking sixth place with 17 mentions in the list of those with the best green reputation. But on the measure of those that have made the greatest inroads into green issues in recent years, Toyota takes fifth place and Honda comes sixth. Evidently the hybrid electric/fuel powered models launched by these Japanese brands have earned them the green esteem of marketers.
You would expect marketers to be well positioned when it comes to spotting greenwash. After all, they are responsible for much of it. Yet Marketing Week’s investigation into the way marketers perceive the green claims of leading brands reveals that in some cases they are as divided as the rest of the population about which are really the most environmentally friendly as opposed to those that just talk a good game.
Three brands, Tesco, Shell and BP, rate highly on the two contradictory questions.
Tesco gets the highest number of mentions when marketers are asked to say which brands have made the fewest inroads on green issues over recent years, with 90 votes. But it also does well when marketers are asked to name brands which have made most inroads on the issues, coming fourth overall with 66 mentions.
The split perceptions of BP are just as stark. It comes third in the positive list of brands making inroads into green issues with 86 votes. But it comes fourth in the negative league of those making least headway, garnering 49 mentions.
A BP spokesman declines to comment on these contradictory findings but he says: “We are an energy company. We provide energy and we try to do it with the least environmental impact that we can.”
Shell also has a dual perception about its commitment to environmental practices. It comes second in the list of green ignominy with 65 mentions. However, it also garners 28 votes in the league of praise, putting it in 14th place.
Perhaps the contrasting messages about these companies’ activities are having an effect on marketers’ perceptions. For instance, Tesco has been criticised by environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace through the Tescopoly website. But it has also put out its own messages about its environmental commitments. Only those with an axe to grind on either side of the argument or with specific knowledge of the company’s activities are well placed to decide between these views.
Meanwhile, there is bad news for airline British Airways, which is mentioned 49 times for having made few inroads into green issues. That said, it also gets five mentions for doing well on green.
It has performed even worse than Ryanair, which has publicly displayed its enviro-sceptic credentials repeatedly over recent years. Perhaps marketers regard this as reverse greenwash – a company pretending to be less green than it really is. The airline gets 38 votes on the negative side and none on the positive.
One of the most surprising aspects of this survey is the relatively weak performance of “deep green” brands. The Body Shop barely scrapes into the top ten on recent inroads it has made, just pipping the Co-operative brand, which makes much of its ethical credentials, to ninth position.
Other fascinating insights gleaned from our research include the aversion of marketers to the idea that brands should pay a green tax. They believe it is the Government’s responsibility to take care of the costs associated with going green.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the majority of companies do not have a green budget but still want to be seen as more green. A high number think they already have green credentials. But when examining their behaviour in detail, it emerges that many of them do little more than recycling. Few offset their carbon emissions or are carbon neutral.
But there is also considerable reticence on the part of marketers to make much of their brand’s environmental credentials. This is summed up by the comment of one marketer who says: “A green policy seems to be enough. On the one hand there is strong interest in showing you are aware and doing something about it, but on the other a high degree of cynicism over greenwash when a brand makes too much of their green credentials.”
One surprising finding is that it is senior people who are the main force pushing green issues rather than marketers lower down the scale. It might be expected that younger marketers would be more in tune with green issues. Maybe some feel they are not in a position to do much about it.
Marketers’ views on brands’ environmental credentials stand in contrast to those of the general public, who tend to mark deep green brands more highly. But our survey shows that companies which are perceived to be promoting responsible practices will garner the plaudits for their green activities.
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