by: Michael Hoexter
Green marketing is not just green advertising. Nor is it, for the cynical, “greenwashing”, at least in its principled forms. Green marketing is, in part, about using the persuasive and communicative media we have available to us to help people make more sustainable choices and help organizations and companies understand what the market needs are for their goods and services. Green marketing can involve product development and internal re-organization to meet the needs for sustainable products and sustainable ways of doing business.
As concerns about our environment and fuel prices grow, we have seen a growing crop of green advertising initiatives. Notable in green advertising currently are ads for both devices and organizations that are emphasizing either actual products or future intentions to introduce green products. There is as well an increase in public service announcements that advertise the concern of the networks, the Ad Council, and public entities about the environment and global warming.
One piece of green advertising is the now well-known spot with Kermit the Frog advertising the Ford Escape Hybrid. The actual greener characteristics of the product are implied in the ad, though the word “hybrid” communicates greater efficiency and lower emissions. The Escape Hybrid does in fact deliver lower emissions and MPG compared to other SUVs in its class. In terms then of the ad content, we are then amused by the play on the familiar “It’s not Easy being Green” that the Escape makes it easy to be green.
BP, one of the more forward-looking of the major oil companies, has been leading the US market by provoking questions in a variety of media including the web about viewers/users/readers “carbon footprint”, a term that is probably more familiar in countries where the Kyoto protocol has been ratified. Additional ads in BP’s current arsenal interview the public about where they think an oil/energy company should be heading. While BP owns and markets solar panels through Home Depot and solar installers, its main business is still in the extraction of petroleum, so this campaign reflects something of the reality of the company as it switches gears. No concrete greener products are offered but at the same time the campaign informs the public about the direction of where BP is moving relative to other oil companies.
Tesla Motors has in a way the opposite, higher quality problem of having ONLY a greener product to offer the market. Tesla is a California-based start-up that is building electric vehicles for the high-end and eventually the mass market. As Tesla’s new $85K-100K roadster will be one of the greenest production vehicles out there by far, transparency on their content-rich website yields a great deal of positive green information about their product and company. Particularly notable are Tesla chairman Elon Musk’s blog which lets us in on the Tesla “secret” and Tesla founders, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning’s white paper. The rich detail on the site only adds to the attraction of the product that will start delivery sometime next year.
If Tesla is the model for a company with only greener products, what about a company with a wide range of holdings that are not necessarily green? General Electric, the company that Thomas Edison founded is one of the biggest companies in the world and is also a classic and highly successful conglomerate with properties in heavy industry, in media content (NBC Universal), in household appliances, in finance and in healthcare technology. While GE as any large 20th century industrial company has had its problems with emissions and waste disposal, General Electric’s technological and energy base is by luck AND design relatively cleaner than traditional large automobile companies or oil companies.
In addition to its technology base and expertise with electricity which has turned out to be an efficient and greener energy carrier, GE has the advantage of being one of the top producers of some of the key technologies (in particular wind turbines and to a lesser extent diesel hybrid locomotives) needed for our advance to a more sustainable economy. As we move away from petroleum use, GE will continue to benefit from its dominant market position in electricity generation equipment of all types.
GE’s Ecomagination initiative, a complex plan that included marketing and strategic policy decisions, was in part conceived by the GreenOrder sustainable business consulting firm. Ecomagination is both a series of advertisements for GE products and GE as a brand and a series of company wide initiatives to improve the company’s product line and environmental footprint. GE has committed to cut greenhouse gas emission intensity by 30% by 2008 and absolute greenhouse emissions by 1% worldwide by 2012 which would otherwise have grown substantially from 2004 levels.
Ecomagination advertising is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only do we have dancing elephants (not my favorite ad) and sooty locomotives (particularly well written and funny) in current TV ads but GE has integrated its efforts to create more sustainable technologies and has a VP of Ecomagination to coordinate the efforts. GE has also upped R&D spending on sustainable technologies. Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO is personally involved as well in the Ecomagination program.
While GE is uniquely positioned to play a major role in a sustainable economy, it takes the initiative through its Ecomagination campaign and re-organization to capitalize more fully on its unique assets and market niche. Can other companies with a diversity of assets do the same? Of course, but it will take more initiative. time, and R&D for some of the major industrial combines and players to be able to orient their businesses in the direction that GE has taken.
What have we learned? For one, the major supports to a successful green marketing initiative are, of course, greener products and research programs. Whether these products have emerged through careful market research or through the inherent unfolding of a company’s original mission and R&D program becomes irrelevant when it is time to show the market the benefits. Green advertising can help to broadcast intentions and educate the public even when a greener product line is years away or a small fraction of the offerings of a company. Finally, there is no substitute for the commitment of corporate leaders to working on issues of sustainability on an ongoing basis no matter what the level of public information nor the prospect for immediate payoff or damage control.