Green marketers get food for thought

Photo by Jess Timms

Photo by Jess Timms

LEADING figures in green marketing gave delegates plenty to think about at the Green Marketing Conference 2009 in Peterborough on March 12.

World-renowned environmentalist Jonathan Porritt gave the morning’s keynote speech and started the conference on an uncomfortable note, blaming marketing for some of the problems the planet faces.

“For years marketing has promoted unsustainable lifestyles,” he said. “Clever marketers persuaded many people to do things that were bad for them and bad for the planet.”

Although the problems posed by climate change are very serious, Mr Porritt told the conference that it’s not too late to solve them. “We have a very short time – 10-15 years perhaps – but it’s do-able,” he said. “Marketing professionals have to get clients into a position of sustainability. Use tone and language to deal with despair and move to the positive ‘what we’ve got to do’ stage. We need to retool the genius of the human mind to move away from this celebrity-obsessed, consumer-driven frenzy.”

John Grant, author of The Green Marketing Manifesto and the Greenormal blog, found something positive in the recession: a real willingness to change. “Charity shops are out of stock,” he said. “Starbucks is suffering and people take fewer baths!” Mr Grant went on to explain how these are examples of behaviour change and further changes could be environmentally beneficial.

“We’re all in this together,” Mr Grant added, “and we’re ready for a big, bold scheme – a Kennedy space race-type moment.” He gave delegates a to do list for 2009:

  1. Help people to understand.
  2. Seek out platforms for co-operation.
  3. Bring public will to COP15, the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

Mr Grant suggested that if everyone at the conference spoke to ten people this week, and each of those ten spoke to ten others and so on, it would take just seven weeks to reach the whole world. He also urged people to watch Age of Stupid, a film that goes on general release next week.

Sadie Ramm, brand manager at ECOVER, explained how the household cleaning products manufacturer produces great products that are ecological rather than ecological products that attempt to do a great job. The products have to work.

Ms Ramm explained how ECOVER operates with a “triple bottom line” comprising ecological, economic and social parameters. ECOVER’s brand, like many others, is judged on price, performance and convenience but the company has added two more: sustainability and health.

“We use advertorials to explain what we do and how we work,” she said. “And we interact with bloggers. We have a database of advocates that we interact with. Ecological products should be a fundamental choice, not a lifestyle choice.”

The creative director and co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications, Ed Gillespie, slammed the practice of “greenwash” – the cynical use of green messages for profit or half-hearted adoption of green polices. Mr Gillespie gave delegates his ten point Greenwash Guide to help spot greenwash and avoid it in their own campaigns:

  1. Fluffy language, e.g. “eco-friendly”.
  2. A green product from a dirty company.
  3. Suggestive pictures, e.g. flowers from a chimney or exhaust pipe.
  4. Irrelevant claims.
  5. “Best in class” claims.
  6. Just not credible, e.g. organic cigarettes.
  7. Gobbledegook.
  8. Imaginary friends.
  9. No proof.
  10. Outright lying.

Bob Beavan from AB Sustain presented a case study on how two supermarkets were working with the farming community to reduce environmental impact and help wildlife and Luisa Fulci explained how Royal Mail is working with its direct mail customers to cut the amount of junk mail and adopt greener materials.

John Luff, former head of BT’s global branding, global corporate social responsibility (CSR) and now a leading consultant, described CSR as “the long-term positive contribution your organisation makes to society directly and indirectly”.

Mr Luff explained how every organisation now has to have an opinion. “You might be asked what your position is on Burma or climate change,” he said. “And you have to have a view. Neutral is not an option.

“And the focus has moved from the means of production to the means of seduction. I did some work with a fast food company and asked them a question. Imagine an obese kid comes into your fast food restaurant three times a day, every day, I said, and orders a burger, fries and a thick shake. Is it the responsibility of your organisation – server, manager, director – to point out to this kid that what he’s doing might not be that good for him?”

Mr Luff went on to describe how in a survey among employees of a large software company it was revealed they most valued their family and their integrity. “Guess which two they were most often asked to compromise?” asked Mr Luff.

In his closing comments, Mr Luff reminded delegates of their responsibilities. “Branding is attributed to us,” he said. “Get this wrong, break your promise and soon you’ll be quoting singer Warren Zevon: ‘Send lawyers, guns and money’.”