Are The World's Most Valuable Brands Adopting Green? (Part 1)

Ever since January 2010, when green marketing was proven to be a trend by the Center for Media Research, critics have emerged from both sides of the spectrum, declaring green marketing's imminent doom.

On one hand, environmentalists claim that companies are not doing enough to change company infrastructure and culture to really deserve the title "green." On the other end of the ideological spectrum, green marketing is considered to be a market and business failure that is doomed to go out of fashion any day now.

Is there merit to claims from these two divergent doomsayers? This article (part one of a two-part series) aims to shed light on this issue, by studying the green initiatives of the 10 most valuable brands in the world, according to BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Brands 2011.

#10 General Electric (estimated brand value: $50.3 billion)
GE launched its Ecomagination project in 2005. This program focuses on the development of compact fluorescent lighting, smart appliances, battery technology, wind turbine manufacturing, a hybrid-powered water heater, and a highly efficient aircraft engine. In June of 2010, GE announced that it would invest a further $10 billion because of the success of the initiative. The 2010 Ecomagination Report shows that related products and services generated more than $85 billion in revenue in a single year. On top of stellar profits, GE reports that it reduced operational greenhouse gas emissions by 24% and water use by 22%.

#9 China Mobile (estimated brand value: $57.3 billion)
China Mobile (the largest mobile carrier in the world) initiated its Green Action Plan (PDF) in 2007. What's remarkable about this initiative is that it encourages (read: enforces) upstream suppliers to also initiate carbon-saving and other environmental measures. Highlights of the initiative are a 300% explosion in alternative energy use (mostly solar), as well as major efficiency efforts in mobile base stations. It has also participated in large-scale infrastructural joint construction and sharing initiatives to reduce duplication of energy and resources. Despite exponential economic and customer growth, overall energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions have not been commensurate with this growth.

#8 Marlboro (estimated brand value: $67.5 billion)
If there were any company that would seem at odds with green initiatives, it would be a cigarette manufacturer. Parent company Philip Morris' stated objectives, however, are "to reduce the environmental impact of our business and promote the sustainability of the natural resources upon which we depend." The company admits that discarded cigarette butts are a significant form of pollution and has introduced litter prevention programs in over 575 communities. The James River water treatment initiative was a finalist for Global Water Intelligence's 2010 Industrial Water Project of the Year. Its packaging reconfiguration program reportedly reduces the company's package footprint by 1.9 million pounds a year. Regardless of cigarettes' well-documented health concerns, the impact and important of green initiatives are certainly not lost on this major brand.

#7 AT&T (estimated brand value: $69.9 billion)
AT&T is an interesting case, because much of its green focus is based on replacing carbon-fueled vehicles with its communications technology, for business purposes. Green marketing for AT&T means convincing people to use "telepresence" technology as an alternative to face-to-face communications. AT&T's short-term goals are to reduce CO2 emissions by 5.5 million metric tons by replacing 1 million commuter vehicles. AT&T is unapologetic about its opportunism with greening the planet, stating up front that:

"The most competitive economies of the future will be those that turn natural resource constraints into opportunities." -- att.com/telepresencerevolution

#6 Coca-Cola (estimated brand value: $73.7 billion)
Whether or not you think Coke gets a failing grade for green initiatives, it certainly gets an A for consumer-facing effort. Coke typically makes the headlines for agency-led publicity campaigns, with a green spin. Most recently it was in the Philippines, with a billboard consisting of 3,600 refurbished Coke bottle "pots", housing carbon-neutralizing plants. Some critics would argue that this is green-washing. Regardless of your personal take, it's uncontroversial that this is an inspiring, innovative, and -- above all -- green move by Coca-Cola.

Next month, I will count down the mundane to "so-crazy-it-just-might-work" green initiatives of the world's top five brands.

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4 comments about "Are The World's Most Valuable Brands Adopting Green? (Part 1) ".
  1. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC , July 27, 2011 at 9:53 a.m.

    Most, if not all, of this seems more green-washing than actual green innovation.

    GE and China Mobile appear to be leading the pack on actually delivering value beyond lip service, but Philip Morris' efforts at keeping the James River (which I live next to) clean - a laudable goal - don't wipe out the vast piles of Marlboro cigarette butts across the globe. AT&T's clean-vehicle program sounds great ... until you realize how very un-green the making of phones is. The Coke-bottle gardens? I hurt myself laughing.

    I can't wait to see what the Top 5 have come up with ...

  2. Eric Scoles from brand cool marketing , July 27, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.

    I have to agree that there's an element of greenwashing, here. 3 of 5 of these examples are purely business decisions: GE will make money on new, mandated lightbulbs if they stay ahead of the curve, and in a post-peak-oil world, companies that run on oil (like airlines) will be looking for more efficient ways to use it; China Mobile & AT&T are clearly trying to save operational $$.

    Philip Morris is clearly in Positive PR mode on that one. It's chump change, and as Casey notes does nothing to offset their greater negative impact.

    Coke is kind of the most egregious greenwashing of the lot. There is just nothing at all green about Coca-Cola, in a either an energy or resources sense. It's essentially a lemons>>[very sour] lemonade thing.

  3. Eric Scoles from brand cool marketing , July 27, 2011 at 10:29 a.m.

    ... to clarify a little, I'm not damning GE and the mobiles for recognizing that energy efficiency is a good thing. But it's a good business thing for them. What would be really nice to see is businesses recognizing some obligation beyond immediate shareholder value, as it's traditionally been computed. If that's the equation, then you'll never ever get a company like Coke to go truly green.

    How do we get that? I don't know -- boards have to want it, I guess. This is the problem with market-driven solutions: Markets don't look forward 50 years, they look forward a year or (increasingly) a quarter.

  4. Brad Stewart from Adjoy , July 27, 2011 at 11:20 a.m.

    Hi Casey. FYI: Phillip Morris has a huge cigarette butt clean up initiative that they are investing in as well. Is it working? According to many, no. But (the point of the article): are they investing? Big time.

    Eric: I added these divergent examples from each company in order to show different levels of green marketing: from trivial to substantial. As with Casey's feelings, many people probably agree with your take. I'm a "halfway to another glass" kind of guy, so I feel some investment is better than no investment.

    The point is that all of the biggest brands in the world are investing in green marketing of all sorts. So, if you're a media/marketing person and want to be taken seriously, don't ever ever say "Green marketing is dead". Or, at least qualify the statement with something that professionals in the field can actually make sense of, and measure.