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The Guardian: Make it green and keep them keen

EXTRACT: Most recently, in November, the Advertising Standards Authority rapped Shell for an ad that claimed the oil company used its waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers, when less than 0.5% of Shell’s waste CO2 is used for this purpose.

THE ARTICLE: The Guardian: Make it green and keep them keen

Inside marketing & PR: Consumers are becoming more environmentally aware and demand the same from their brands, which means a new role for marketers, says Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Caitlin Fitzsimmons MediaGuardian, Monday January 21 2008

When the term “carbon footprint” is used on Coronation Street, you know environmental issues have hit the mainstream. Roy Cropper spent most of this summer trying to lower his footprint in his café, Roy’s Rolls – looking at everything from sourcing food locally to the fact that his plates had been shipped from Taiwan.

Green concerns raced up the consumer agenda in 2007, forcing a fundamental change in the way companies communicate with their customers. The result is that so-called “green marketing” is now one of the fastest growing areas of the sector and is creating both new jobs and rewriting the ground rules for current ones.

The discipline offers brands the opportunity to show customers their green credentials but also carries the potential to influence consumers’ behaviour for the better, and to feed back to management and boards on issues that are important to consumers.

Everyone seems to be embracing the trend – from fast-moving consumer goods giants such as Procter & Gamble, with a campaign for Ariel detergent encouraging consumers to wash their clothes at 30C instead of 40C, to boutique brands such as smoothie maker Innocent Drinks, which will start a campaign this month emphasising the good provenance of its ingredients and the fact that its bottles are now made from 100% recycled plastic.

Greg Nugent, head of brand, product and UK marketing for Eurostar, says green marketing is now an imperative rather than a choice. “In the last 18 months the whole climate change debate has gone from being a science community issue to the front page of the tabloids. It was clear from market research we commissioned that consumers expected companies to take action on environmental issues. We simply believe that those who don’t will be left behind.”

Eurostar found the return rail trip to Paris or Brussels from London generated 10 times fewer carbon emissions than the equivalent flight. Despite this relatively good result, the company went further with its “tread lightly” initiative, committing to a 25% CO2 reduction per journey by 2012 and a comprehensive 10-point environmental plan.

But there are also pitfalls – many marketers are wary, and for good reason, of going out on a limb and risking accusations of hypocrisy or exploiting public fears. If the reality does not match up to the claim, a company risks being accused of “greenwash” and damaging its brand.

Most recently, in November, the Advertising Standards Authority rapped Shell for an ad that claimed the oil company used its waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers, when less than 0.5% of Shell’s waste CO2 is used for this purpose.

Gail Parker Renwick, senior marketing manager at British Gas, says the key way to avoid accusations of greenwash is to back words with action. “It is very easy to put out green adverts, literature or web pages, but we actually follow up on our claims.”

Parker Renwick cites as an example British Gas’s long-term commitment to an energy-saving social experiment it has run for the past 18 months with 64 volunteer households across the UK.

David Thorp, director of research and information at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, says marketing’s role is changing and the value of social marketing is set to become increasingly important over the next decade.

“The need to inform consumers about their choices and the impact of their consumption behaviour will become increasingly important,” he says. “It’s not far-fetched to envisage a time when each marketing team has a social marketing specialist embedded to ensure that awareness of sustainable consumption is communicated as part of the overall marketing message, and to encourage the adoption of socially desirable behaviours.”

Charlotte Mullen, HR and marketing director at recruitment agency Phee Farrer Jones, says companies are interested in green marketing not only as a consumer-facing communication, but also as a way of presenting themselves to potential candidates as a desirable place to work. “These things are important if you want to make the Sunday Times list of 100 best places to work.

“If you want to get into corporate social responsibility, you wouldn’t need to come from a marketing background. In fact, you would be more likely to come with marcomms experience from PR or a charity.”

Most marketers agree that green awareness among consumers will grow and it seems clear that such a profound shift in public perception and attitudes must ultimately affect every aspect of a company. Since marketers sit at the nexus between a brand and consumers, they have a special role to play in the green revolution.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jan/21/marketingandpr

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1 Comment on “The Guardian: Make it green and keep them keen”

  1. #1 Paddy Briggs
    on Jan 21st, 2008 at 15:27

    This is a timely article, and of course the ASA was right to castigate Shell for its particular lie about CO2 and flowers. But really this was just a trivial little porky pie in the context of the mendacity of much of the oil giant’s corporate adverting in recent times. Shell is not alone in this of course, but there is a special offence given when the facts of the company’s business – facts which are open for all to see – are glossed over and instead we are subject to a barrage of greenwash on a daily basis.

    Having worked for Shell for 37 years I know what the business imperatives are – and I wouldn’t have stayed so long if I didn’t think that these imperatives were perfectly honourable. It shouldn’t need saying but here is a précis of what those imperatives are. Around 99% of Shell’s efforts are focused on the search for, and the discovery, harvesting, transporting, processing and marketing of oil and gas – hydrocarbons from that diminishing stock of geological formations under the ground. That’s what Shell does, what drives their profits and what they are, in the main, very good at. It is fantasy to suggest that that there is any other strategy than the continuation of this business – this is the business! Now Shell likes to operate cost-effectively so there is a bias to ensure that waste is reduced as much as possible – but only if it makes economic sense – not because there is a spurious corporate conscience. So flaring (for example) is reduced primarily because it is waste of assets. But where the costs of reducing flaring exceed the benefits then it doesn’t happen – unless legislation says that it must. Technically Shell could have eliminated flaring in Nigeria years ago – but the cost/benefit analysis didn’t give the right numbers. So they dragged their feet.

    Let’s look at processing – for example in refineries. The imperative to reduce waste is an economic one – efficient refineries are those which do not waste fuel. So reducing the amount of energy needed to refine a tonne of crude oil is primarily an economic issue. Shell does avoid waste because it believes that it is environmentally irresponsible not to do so. It does so because the bottom line benefits.

    Finally the old chestnut of “Renewables”. I and others have argued for a while that Shell is only in non-traditional energy such as solar and wind for the PR benefits that accrue. There is some simplistic communications strategy going on that says that if your advertising focuses (say) 80% on something that is in reality less than 1% of your business the public will be fooled. But as David Ogilvy once said the public is not a fool – she is your wife!

    Not all bad news

    Whilst much of Shell’s advertising is like the CO2 flower example direly misleading there is hope. The “Eureka campaign” (see: http://www.shell.com/home/PlainPageServlet?FC=/aboutshell-en/html/iwgen/shell_real/shell_solutions/films/app_view_film.html) I thought was excellent because it told the truth.

    Shell should stop posing as some sort of environmentally virtuous benefactor to the world and concentrate (as it did in “Eureka”) in telling the truth about what it does. Then it might be more believed on other things as well.

    © Paddy Briggs January 2008

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