Is Green The New Red, White And Blue?

  • by , Featured Contributor, February 8, 2007
Green is a hot topic these days. It has been virtually impossible to listen, watch, read or browse any national or business news source over the past several weeks without running into stories relating to carbon emissions or the "greening" of popular issues around the world. The cover of the past issue of The Economist was titled, "The Greening of America." Almost every day for the past 15 days there has been a story in The Wall Street Journal about a green issue. And, to top it off, almost every major ad trade over the past three weeks has had not just one, but several, green-related stories.

Is green the new red, white & blue? That was the question that I recently heard posed at a conference by Sir Norman Foster, the British architect who has created some of the world's highest profile environmentally friendly spaces, like the new Hearst building in New York City. His perspective was that while Americans are sometimes late to more "global" issues, once they adopt them, they tend to drive them harder and further and more effectively than anyone else. His message was, Americans are starting to care about these issues. They are starting to make them a priority.



Of course, many are also wondering whether carbon neutrality and other green issues are just "flavor of the month" public policy issues, which have ways of ebbing and flowing and entering and exiting the public consciousness over time, or whether they are issues that the public is going to fundamentally embrace over the long term, and which may become one of those core issues that demonstrate where society will cleave, not unlike nationalism.

Those who make understanding the development and importance of these kinds of consumer issues a profession, whether they are in academia or politics or, yes, advertising, are now trying to understand whether green is the new defining issue in the choice of political candidates and consumer brands. Certainly, there are a lot of signposts pointing in that direction. Not only are most of the major 2008 presidential candidates already articulating views supportive of carbon neutrality, but the White House, long an opponent of green positions -- but always quick to respond to pollster-detected shifts in grass-roots public sentiment -- is now getting onboard as well. Thus, being green may no longer be a partisan issue, but one of only degrees.

In California this week, the state Department of Motor Vehicles announced that it has already issued the entire allotment of 85,000 passes that permit drivers with approved hybrid cars to use restricted car pool lanes even when driving alone. And, as we would hope, marketers are jumping onboard as well. Almost every major car maker has now put their hybrid car line -- if they have one -- front and center at car shows, with journalists and in their advertising. Car companies know that being green makes a difference with their consumers, even if it's only to make some consumers feel less guilty about the other gas guzzlers that they drive.

What does this mean for marketers? A lot, I think. If green is in fact the new red, white & blue, the issue could very well become one of the most important defining elements for every brand in the U.S. consumer marketplace over the next several years. It already is in a number of European markets for a number of products. It already is in a number of smaller U.S. markets, particularly in the Mountain states in the west.

While I don't think that we'll see school children pledging their allegiance to green ideals every morning, I do think that the issue will be on their minds whenever their parents bring new products home from the store. It might not be unlike the light-switch phenomenon of the immediate post-energy crisis in the mid-1970s -- with schoolchildren following behind their parents from room to room turning off the lights after their parents had exited those rooms and admonishing their parents about wasted electricity, a message that they had been learning in school.

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