Surf the internet any day of the week and you’re bound to find an article about another company going “green.” Be it Dell, Wal-Mart, GE, Victoria’s Secret, or Hewlett-Packard, the press is filled with news about companies’ “sustainability” initiatives — commitments to both environmental and social responsibility. They’re building greener buildings, stores, and cars, and producing greener fuels, foods, consumer products, and print marketing materials.
Some companies are being pushed into sustainability by advocacy groups, legislation, or consumers. Others are doing it because they feel it’s the right thing to do for our planet. Still others see a bottom-line benefit that can’t be ignored.
A report by UK-based environmental pr firm GreenPortfolio shows that 54 percent of marketing and pr executives believe green credentials give companies a competitive advantage, and 84 percent predict the importance of being green will grow over the next two years.
A few Fortune 500 companies are positioning themselves as green in their marketing efforts, including BASF, United Technologies, Honda, Bayer, and Exxon. However, they tend to be the exception. Most green efforts today qualify as PR rather than marketing. “I think companies are relying more on PR and aren’t making it a cross-platform initiative. But there’s evidence that if they back it up with real needs, they’re thinking seriously about how to weave it into their overall messaging and branding,” says Will Brent, senior vice president of PR firm Weber Shandwick and head of its Cleantech practice, which focuses on clients’ sustainability programs.
DMA Helps Members Get Green
One new initiative is the Environmental Policy & Vision Statement Generator from the Committee on Social Responsibility at the Direct Marketing Association. The program will help members set goals, plans, and metrics around sustainability, and drive change in five areas: list hygiene and data management; design, production, and printing; paper procurement and production; packaging; and recycling and pollution reduction.
“One of our strategic goals here at the DMA is the concept of building consumer trust, and that’s what we’re doing with this tool,” says Pat Kachura, senior vice president for ethics and consumer affairs. “Our members are going to be improving the environment, their brand image, and making money too, because consumers concerned about green issues will patronize us if they find out we are green marketers.” The DMA is setting up benchmarking metrics against what members are doing today and will measure progress in two years.
Green: Soon to Be Ubiquitous
“Sustainability is becoming the benchmark entry point,” says Brent. “Companies that don’t embrace it are going to be behind the eight ball. Whether it’s from a natural-resources or business-health perspective, or consumer-perception point of view, those are all things that encompass sustainability; without it, you’ll be losing out.”