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Consumers Reward Green Businesses—Now, More than Ever

A new report confirms (yet again) what I’ve been saying for years: consumers flock to companies that actively support companies with a clear environmental agenda. A survey of 31,000 consumers around the world reported:

• 21 percent of American consumers often or always bought a brand they perceived as more responsible over another in the past year.
• Factoring in respondents from other countries, that figure rises to 34 percent—that’s more than one in three
• 67 percent would like to make purchasing decisions based on social responsibility in the future.

And it’s not just consumers; it’s employees, too. Another study notes that an astonishing 71 percent of Americans would choose employment by “a company whose CEO is actively involved in corporate responsibility and/or environmental issues.”

Thanks to envirojournalist Debra Atlas for pointing me toward both these studies.

Why Marketers and Activists NEED to REPEL Some People

My friend Tad Hargrave wrote a great post about magnetic marketing, in which he claimed:

There are only three types of potential clients you will ever experience: responsive, neutral and unresponsive.

  • Responsive people will come across your work and light up. They’ll get excited and want to sign up and hire you after learning a little bit about you. They’ll be curious, want to know more and ask you a lot of questions. These people are a ‘yes’ to what you’re up to in your business.
  • Neutral people will listen to what you have to say but they won’t react much. They’ll sit there in your workshop politely and take it in. But they won’t sign up for much. They may be cordial and listen respectfully but they for sure won’t seem ‘into it’ like the responsive people do. These people are a ‘maybe’ to what you’re up to in your business.
  • Unresponsive people will actively pull away, show disinterest, might even be rude. These people are a ‘no’ to what you’re up to in your business.

I think there’s a big difference between those who are unresponsive and those who respond with hostility. So I posted this comment:

Let me “bend the magnet” a bit more and take your analogy to its logical fourth category: those who are actively opposed to what you’re doing. You and I as marketers in the green/socially conscious/cool and groovy/progressive activist space will not only attract the cool and groovy people–we’ll repel the Hummer-driving, cigar-smoking, GMO-loving executive at Monsanto or the local nuclear power plant to the point where they might actually speak out against us–just as WE have spoken out against THEIR actions.

And I’m fine with that. Quite frankly, they are a way to gain the attention of those people in in the uninvolved category, who may be within their orbit but have never thought about these issues. They’re a doorway into media coverage, and give us legitimacy in the eyes of reporters (and their readers) because these big important corporations are actually acknowledging and discussing out issues. And every once in a while, lightning actually strikes and some of them start examining the issues and taking action on our side of the fence (as Walmart has—for its own profit-driven reasons—on sustainability, for instance).

I think of my experience as one of 1414 Clamshell Alliance members arrested on the construction site of the Seabrook, NH nuclear power plant, trying to keep the plant from being built, back in 1977. New Hampshire’s governor at the time, Meldrim Thomson, and William Loeb, publisher of the largest newspaper in the state, the Manchester Union-Leader, called us “the Clamshell terrorists.”

Yet not only had we all pledged nonviolence, we had all actually undergone training in nonviolent protest and joined small, accountable, affinity groups (which continued to function after our arrest); it was a precondition for participation.

Governor Thomson kept the Clamshell prisoners incarcerated in National Guard armories around the state for about two weeks. When we emerged, we found we’d:

  • Birthed a national safe-energy movement based in nonviolent civil disobedience
  • Rapidly and throughly raised consciousness about nuclear power plant safety (and the lack thereof)
  • Created a climate where, unlike previous accidents that had gotten little or no coverage, the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979 (and later catastrophic failures at Chernobyl and Fukushima) became front-page news.

Seabrook did go online, so we failed in our immediate goal. BUT in an era where former President Richard Nixon had called for 1000 nuclear power plants in the US, Seabrook was the last nuclear power plant to go on line in the US other than Shoreham, NY, which was shut down after preliminary low-power testing and never supplied the electrical grid. I believe the opposition of Thomson and Loeb to our movement helped make it a mass movement, just as the overreaction against civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protestors helped those movements gain strength.

What do you think—do we need our enemies as much as our friends? Can we “ju-jitsu” their hostility into a benefit for our cause? Do you have a great example, either form your own work or something you’ve heard about somewhere? Please leave your comment below.

China is Now Producing 10 Times as Much Solar as the US!

In the 1990s, the US had a 40 percent share of the world-wide solar market. According to widely respected sustainability consultant Gil Friend of Natural Logic (@gfriend), the current US share of the global solar market is a pathetic 5 percent, while China now has more than half the global market: 54 percent. And that’s 10 times as much solar as the US is producing.

Friend’s article doesn’t discuss such solar leaders as Germany, Brazil, and Israel, but I’d expect all of those are currently making more solar than the US is.

It’s really hard to take US government claims that they care about creating jobs and greening the economy very seriously when they let a plum like this slip away. Solarizing the US housing and commercial stock would create tens of thousands of jobs, lower carbon footprint immensely, and also reduce dependence on imported oil (while lowering oil bills too, of course) A trifecta win, and we let it get away! Earth to Congress: Get with the program, for goodness sakes! Erth to Obama: Press your agenda on this!

 

Going Green: Can Self-Interest Overcome Resistance?

Marc Stoiber, in his article, “Seven Crazy Reasons Consumers Won’t Embrace Your Green Innovation,” argues that many green initiatives fail because humans (to make sweeping generalizations) are too inertial:

  1. we don’t like change
  2. we resist new facts that contradict our worldview
  3. we prefer the familiar
  4. we’re more scared of losing what we have than excited to gain something new
  5. we are biased toward what we already know
  6. we judge innovation based on comparison to what we’ve already experienced, rather than on its own merits
  7. we prefer immediate gratification to long-term benefit

Stoiber explores each of these a bit in his article, which I recommend reading. And I basically agree with him, at least when talking about the majority culture.

Which is why, in my work as a strategic marketer and copywriter working frequently in the green marketing world, I always do my best to:

  • include both emotional and rational benefits,
  • root my arguments in both self-interest and planetary interest,
  • match my message to its intended audience

Let’s make this concrete.

Say, for example, you want to market a “magic” all-natural enzyme that neutralizes the odor and stain of urine, and thus dramatically reduces the need to flush. The environmental benefit is saving water, a supercritical but very much underappreciated (and underpriced) natural resource. But to someone without a deep green consciousness, living in a place where water is close to free and appears to be inexhaustible, saving water is not a benefit they can wrap themselves around. A traditional green marketer would go to people in big cities and laboriously educate the audience on why it’s important to safe water (people in rural areas often already recognize the importance of water).

But an easier approach, based in appeals to self-interest, might take the marketing campaign to places that restrict water use—with arguments like “your bathroom can smell as clean as it did when you were allowed to flush”, “good-bye to icky yellow toilet stains”, or even an economic argument aimed at large-scale users (including landlords and property managers at large residential complexes—let THEM educate their residents, as hotels did with the towel-washing issue), like “cut your water and sewer bills in half.”

Those kinds of arguments open your product up to those who are caught in the kind of rigid thinking Stoiber describes.

CSAs and Farmers Markets Note Two Decades of Massive Growth-Wow!

22 years ago, the first known CSA (community -supported agriculture farm) organized in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, US; now, there are somewhere between 4570 and 6500 US farms selling shares ahead of the season.

During the same period, the number of farmers markets in the US exploded roughly 500 percent, from about 1350 to 7864. The local food sector in general has seen an astounding 24 percent annual growth for 12 consecutive years! This while the economy for the past several years has been far from robust.

All the above stats come from this slowmoney.com summary of a talk by Gary Paul Nabhan, considered by some “the father of the local food movement.” And the article didn’t even mention such numbers as the growth in Fair Trade and organic, or the way terms like “locavore” have entered our vocabulary.

In short, despite the defeat of GMO-right-to-know legislation in California, sustainable foods are definitely on an uptick.

Why did American Airlines Pull the Green Plane Down?

American Airlines recently did a great pilot program (no pun intended) to drastically improve the green profile of its 737. I found out about this because the company was proud enough that it put a link in the article in its e-blast to all American Airlines frequent-flyer program members.

In the article, you can read about seven different major initiatives for greener commercial airplanes incorporated into its “ecoDemonstrator” customized plane, six of which demonstrate clear cost savings through increased airplane fuel economy as well or lower maintenance costs. The seventh, switching to vegetable fuel from cooking oil, has major benefits in carbon footprint, waste reduction, and reducing the need for offshore oil drilling and other often-destructive extractive technologies.

The plane had a special paint job, so passengers were aware. And American Airlines acknowledges that both the company and airplane builder Boeing face pressure from consumers and other stakeholders to be more eco-friendly.

And the tests were a huge success. Which makes the closing statement in the article deeply puzzling (note: this is a direct quote, grammar errors and all, except that for SEO purposes, I changed “American” to “American Airlines”):

Prior to deliver to [American Airlines] for regular use, all test equipment was removed and the plane was returns to our normal configuration. And although it will look like an ordinary plane on the outside and inside, we’ll always know that we were the first commercial airline to help test these technologies.

Why? If the program is such a success, saving American Airlines money while increasing its “enviromarketability quotient”—making itself much more attractive to customers trying to chose a commercial airline—why on earth (or in the sky!) would they pull all the cool stuff out? I just don’t understand.

Tomorrow, when the work week starts, American Airlines will receive a Twitter invitation to comment on this blog, and explain their reasons. (I’ve already scheduled the Tweet).

Carrotmob: Support Fair-Trade Coffee, Transported by Wind

Heard of Carrotmobs yet? Consumers have used our buying power to avoid companies with the wrong values for decades. Now there’s a positive flip: actively making the effort to buy from companies that support your values. I only heard the term “Carrotmob”—so called because consumers use the carrot of positive business rather than the stick of withdrawing business to achieve social good.

I think I only heard the term a month or two ago; since then, I’ve run across it several times. This concept seems to be entering the language faster than anything I can remember since “Ms.” was invented as a gender-neutral alternative to Miss and Mrs., back in the1970s.

Here’s a particularly cool one with the odd twist that it was initiated by the company—and since I write about out-of-the-box people-centered marketing of green products and services, worth flagging here. I imagine this marketing strategy could get old fast if too many people do it, but the idea of having your customers pre-fund your sustainability venture is a good one. Think abou Kickstarter campaigns; this isn’t so different, after all.

A coffee company has decided that organic/fair trade coffee is not enough; the coffee should be transported on cargo ships powered by renewable energy. Specifically, using wind power.

Thanksgiving Coffee, a California-based artisan roaster, will arrange for wind-powered shipping if people buy $150,000 worth of coffee on Carrotmob. The goal is to prove demand for wind-transported coffee and research ways to make wind-powered shipping a reality in our own time.

It’s worth remembering that all cargo shipping from the dawn of history into the 19th century was either wind-powered or human-powered (by rowers). So there’s no need to prove that cargo shipping can be wind-powered. However, a transatlantic voyage by wind took many weeks, sometimes went way off course, was more susceptible to storms, etc. Steam and then diesel made shipping fast and reliable enough to create the modern global economy. So the real challenge is not to prove that they can use wind-powered ships, but that they can compete effectively using a modern wind-powered shipping fleet.

This of course could have a huge impact on the entire cargo shipping industry, if it can be done effectively and inexpensively enough to transport many different types of items. And certainly, it will inspire the shipping industry to add more sustainable practices even if using conventional diesel-powered cargo ships.

Meanwhile, if you’re a coffee drinker, you can help Thanksgiving Coffee test the waters for sustainable shipping. Go read the article on Ecopreneurist, or skip directly to the Thanksgiving Coffee Carrotmob page and buy a pound or two.

Edible Coffee Cups: Great Idea, but Is It Ready for Prime Time?

I just came back from my local cafe, where I had a second iced coffee in the compostible cup I’d saved from yesterday (which I did compost when I’d finished it)–and discovered this article about edible coffee cups from Italian coffee giant Lavazza.

We’ve been doing this with ice cream for about a century–why not coffee?

It sounds good in principle–but I have questions:

  1. What if you prefer your coffee unsweetened? This cup is made of sugar.
  2. If this becomes popular, will it worsen the epidemic of sugar-related health problems like obesity and diabetes?
  3. How long will the cup last before falling apart? I tend to wait until my coffee is room temperature–does the sugar start to melt by then? I say this out of some negative experiences with very early biodegradable disposable diapers when my daughter was an infant–some brands had a tendency to start biodegrading while they were still being worn–not to mention leaky ice cream cones (despite this, when I get ice cream, it’s usually in a cone, for environmental reasons—no dishes to wash or throw away)
  4. Considering how much coffee is consumed in transit, can it take a lid?
  5. Is it too hot to hold in your hand?

Still if they can work through these issues, it’s a great concept. Obviously, I haven’t tried these cups. It’s totally possible they’ve worked through all these issues and more. I wish them well; they certainly get points for creative thinking and cross-pollination from different market sectors.

General Mills: Greenwashing Does Not Pay

Yet another company has gotten in trouble for greenwashing. Raz Godelnik writes in Triple Pundit about cereal giant General Mills’ legal woes: multiple lawsuits over deceptive packaging, claiming for example that its Nature Valley brand of granola bars is “all natural” when in fact it’s highly processed and contains such ingredients as maltodextrin.

You’d think by now companies woud have caught on that honesty really is the best policy.

Of course, it would be nice if the word “natural” actually had a legal definition, and thus some teeth. But it would also be nice if a company that claims to be strongly guided by ethics would do a better job of walking its talk.

How to Talk Green to Tea Partiers: Van Jones

I’m a long-time fan of Van Jones, and one of the things I love is that he can frame things in ways that those on the other side of the political continuum can relate to.

Too often, the left frames things in its own language (often couched in liberal guilt)—and the right dismisses us as silly and naive. Listen to minutes 30 to 35 of this speech to see how Van Jones puts the argument for going green into an issue of individual economic liberty, and turns the don’t-subsidize-solar argument into a compelling Tea-Party-friendly argument for ending oil subsidies (why doesn’t he talk aobut nuclear, which would not exist as an industry without subsidies?)

Later in the talk, he discusses solar and wind as farmer power, cowboy power, etc. And demonstrates that organic farming is traditional, and that we should return to our roots after a century of “poison-based agriculture.” And calls not for subsidy for green initiatives, but for green as entrepreneurship, enterprise, and job creation—arguments that both liberals and conservatives should relate to.