Four R’s for the green marketer

greenmarketerGreen initiatives are an important point of differentiation for your customers.  A study by Greenfactor found that “More than 70% of global respondents said they “probably” or “definitely” would increase their preference for a brand’s green products if they were convinced of the positive impact on the environment and business.  Almost 60% said they would expect to pay a premium for green products.”

With this in mind, here are four customer questions that brands need to answer about their company’s green practices:

How can your company help me to be a green consumer?

The needs of the discriminate customer are often kept in mind when a brand begins to evaluate their products and services.  New products and innovative solutions can be the unexpected results of a company’s journey toward sustainability.

Wolfgang Puck found this to be true.  His company implemented “Wolfgang’s Eating, Loving and Living” (WELL)™ policy in 2007 to work toward 100% organic food sourcing, humane treatment toward animals and a carbon-neutral footprint.  As a result of these commitments, their brand continues to be successful and they were able to secure new business with the California Academy of Sciences food vending services, among numerous other contracts.

The natural house cleaner category was missing a clear market share winner.  Clorox saw the opportunity and created GreenWorks, a line of natural cleaning products.  Supported by an endorsement from the Sierra Club, GreenWorks has secured 42% of the market.  The success of this project, with Jessica Buttimer at the helm, has started to infiltrate other areas of the company.  According to Buttimer, “What’s really exciting is that we’re building knowledge and confidence within the rest of the company that we can do the same things with a lot of our other product lines.”

What is your company doing to find a solution to critical environmental problems?

Giving back is not a new concept, but the number of companies that measure and offset their impact on the environment is a more recent development.  A presentation by Al Gore and David Blood reminded us that “We Need Sustainable Capitalism: Nature does not do bailouts.”

New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO has long been considered the leader of sustainable beers.  However, their commitments to sustainability are gaining attention from big brands as well.    The company was published in a 2007 Sustainability Report as well as the Life Cycle Assessment of a Fat Tire 6-pack.  New Belgium’s commitment is part of the company DNA.  In the Sustainability Report the company says, “We believe that making choices that are more environmentally sustainable or enriching for our culture is just good business sense; we would no more calculate a separate ROI on these investments than we would investments in quality or safety.”

Dell has also earned their stripes in the sustainability field.  The computer manufacturer made a commitment to become the greenest technology company on the planet at the end of last year with their Zero Carbon Initiative. They are reaching these goals with programs in customer use, design, operations and recycling.  Last year they met their goal of being carbon-neutral five months ahead of schedule.

Where can I responsibly dispose of your product?
Recover is a new addition to the other three sustainability Rs, recycle, reduce and reuse. Consumers want to see that a company is taking responsibility for the product throughout the life cycle.  One of the industries that can have the most impact at the end of the product’s life is the electronics industry.

There are some bleak statistics about electronic waste.  According to Joel Makower- “We recycled only a tiny fraction more e-waste in 2007 than the year before, even as the amount of toxic electronic equipment entering the waste stream grew.  In 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, we collected only 18 percent of the 1.32 billion tons of computers available for recycling.”

However, many companies have taken steps to make it easier for customers to dispose of their e-waste.  Samsung Recycling Direct program accepts all electronics at drop-off locations in all 50 states.  Their home page states “All things come to an end.  Let’s make sure it’s a green end.”

To date, they have collected 165,822 pounds of electronics for recycling.  Last year YTD was 109,826 pounds.

At the Packaging Strategies CEO Summit, DuPont’s head of packaging asked his colleagues to consider how packaging could be designed in a way to provide value after it serves its primary purpose.  According to William F. Weber, there are three ways that packaging waste can be eliminated: designed with recycling in mind, composted or used in waste-to-energy solutions.

Who can answer questions that I have about your products and practices?
Social media has a higher impact on customer’s purchasing decisions than company websites. Customers have voiced their opinion: they want green.  Fill that need and watch the conversation bloom throughout the Gort Cloud.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2008 Environmental Sustainability Report reported that the blogosphere considers Toyota, General Motors, Honda and Whole Foods to be the most sustainable.  There is also a place in social media reporting for companies that simply claim to be green.

Customers place companies in the Hall of Shame located on the home page.

MediaPost 2009 Trends Report predicts that the Federal Trade Commission will update their Green Marketing Guidelines this year.  Don’t get caught off-guard.

As customers become more discriminate and the environmental condition continues to decline, it is imperative that brands step up and consider the triple bottom line: planet, profit and people.  It’s a win-win-win situation.