Carbon Neutral Leisure

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by: David Wigder

Events such as the 2006 World Cup and Super Bowl XL, as well as leisure destinations such as ski resorts, are beginning to market themselves as “carbon neutral”. This implies that the equivalent carbon released is offset through planting trees, investing in renewable energy sources or similar.

Much of this is self-serving: ski resorts are aggressively shifting to renewable energy sources, in large part, because climate change threatens to reduce ski season and profits. (On August 1, Vail Resorts became the latest ski report to announce that it was purchasing 100% renewable energy, making it the second largest US corporate purchaser of renewable energy after Whole Foods. This followed a similar announcement by Aspen Skiing Company in March).

Moreover, carbon offsetting is also a way to generate positive PR. For the ski industry, this is a boon. Often criticized for harming the environment (e.g., clearing forest for new trails), ski resorts have embraced renewable energy, giving them something positive to talk about with consumers.

Yet, beyond generating favorable buzz, carbon neutral leisure is a new opportunity for product managers and marketers alike. Specifically, this trend does the following:

Recognizes the potential of an emerging segment: the eco-conscious consumer. A new consumer segment is emerging, one that is defined less by their green politics than by its purchasing power, receptiveness to a climate change message and willingness to do something about it if consumers feel that their actions will make a difference. Consumers in this segment are open to paying incrementally more to participate in leisure activities if they believe that they are making a positive contribution.

Marketers should embrace this openness and capitalize on it in messaging and promotions. For example, not only will Vail Resorts offset carbon emissions from its operations, but it has launched a promotion offering consumers a free one-day lift ticket in exchange for signing up for renewable energy for one year. It also offers consumers the ability to purchase “tags” to offset carbon emitted during their drive to the mountain.*

Raises consumer expectations regarding what it means for a product to live up to its brand promise. As an eco-conscious segment emerges and the idea of carbon neutral leisure becomes more familiar, brands should expect that they will be increasingly expected to demonstrate that they are living up to their brand promise, rather than just talking about it. This will be especially true if the brand is positively associated with the environment. For example, eco-tourists, zoos visitors and concert-goers could soon expect these leisure activities to be carbon neutral, driving the potential for broader adoption of carbon offsetting in the near future. For marketers, the best defense may be an aggressive offense: embrace carbon offsetting and leverage as a source of competitive differentiation.

Creates new channels for building awareness about climate change. While those that produce carbon neutral events generate positive buzz for themselves, they also build awareness of – and educate consumers on – the impact of global warming. Where else to generate awareness for a global issue than at a truly global event like the World Cup? (FIFA organizers contracted with MyClimate to offset carbon emissions though offsetting programs in South Africa. Project details and video).

Non-profit marketers should take advantage of this emerging channel and work closely with event producers to develop win-win opportunities – generating PR for the event while building awareness for and educating consumers on climate change.

*Additionally, Bonneville Environmental Foundation has worked broadly across the industry create “Mini-Green Tags” to offset emissions by individuals.

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