Are the World's Most Valuable Brands Adopting Green? (Part 2)
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 a market and business failure that is doomed to go out of fashion any day.
Is there merit to claims from these divergent doomsayers? This article (part 2 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.
#5 Microsoft (Estimated brand value: $78.2 Billion)
Microsoft has numerous large-scale initiatives under the "Microsoft: Environment" banner. With a focus on the world's infrastructure, Microsoft is working with municipalities to make cities more energy efficient. Considering that there is currently a historically unprecedented migration from rural areas to cities, and that top environmentalist-scientists believe that "efficiency models" are our greatest hope for a sustainable future, Microsoft's green focus should not be underestimated for its genuine positive impact.
#4 McDonald's (Estimated brand value: $81 Billion)
Two noteworthy initiatives stand out with McDonald's corporate responsibility initiatives. McDonald's Global Best Practices initiative recognizes suppliers who exemplify leadership in various areas of environmental or ethical concern. Categories include: employee wellness, animal welfare, climate / energy, waste, water, raw materials, and community impact. McDonald's is also experimenting with sustainable integrated systems by using recycled vegetable oil to fuel trucks. Interestingly, this pilot is being launched in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.
#3 IBM (Estimated brand value: $100.8 Billion)
IBM's "Smarter Planet" initiative puts little emphasis on the typical green buzzwords. At first glance, the IBM program seems to lack any environmental focus whatsoever. A quick gloss would have you thinking that IBM is just pushing for a faster and cheaper way of completing everyday tasks like commuting, or buying groceries. You need only to scratch the surface however to see that IBM's vision is very much one of long-term sustainability, and resource efficiency. The "Smarter Water" video illustrates this poignantly.
#2 Google (Estimated brand value: $111.4 Billion)
Google is well known for its forays into green technology. Innovation is what drives Google's seeming obsession with solving the world's environmental problems. With bold headlines like "Can we fight CO2 from Space?," Google positions itself as a curious and powerful innovator. Front and centre in Google's communications is an inquisitive spirit. Refreshing to see that a company who provides billions of answers daily, also admits a certain naiveté about future solutions. So, though Google does set its sites on seemingly out-of-this-world goals, it tempers this with refreshingly humble realism.
#1 Apple (Estimated brand value: $153.2 Billion)
Then there's Apple. Apple makes devices. Now, Apple makes greener devices. The MacBook Pro is the poster child of this initiative. Apparently, this notebook conserves energy at several levels, uses less packaging, and is manufactured with far fewer toxins than its predecessor and competitors. With Wall Street estimates at 4.5 million Macs sold for this quarter, this could eventually add up to a significant amount of energy and waste reduction. Let's hope that they extend this thinking to all of their products.
The Future of Green?
If green infrastructure and communication is being adopted by the most prolific brands in the world, it really makes me wonder what people mean when they declare that green marketing is dead. Like other forms of marketing and communication, it can be ineffective, unethical, inefficient, outright falsification, or just plainly drab. But, it's hardly "dead."
I'd like to propose that we move the conversation beyond "dead vs. alive" and start focusing on the future of green marketing. Will infrastructural change in product design and lifecycle management eventually be a winning combination, or will the boldest green claims (as unsubstantiated as they may be) win the race?
Are people looking for leaders like IBM, Microsoft and Google to step in with international programs that modern failing governments can't (or won't) afford? Or, will people see these initiatives as corporate megalomania? How far will companies like Google go to indelibly attach "environmentally sustainable solutions" to its brand?
Or, perhaps all this infrastructural investment, brand positioning, marketing strategy, and shifts in supply chain management are all just passing fads? The more I research green initiatives, the more I see a trend that is clearly moving in the opposite direction.