Sustainability: Lost in translation?

OgilvyEarth Director of Strategy, Freya Williams, is a member of the Guardian Professional Network. Her article originally appeared in the Guardian.

I’m going to play back to you a conversation I’ve been in more than a handful of times, and in which I’d be willing to bet that many of you have found yourselves at least once.

“We need to talk about sustainability, but without using the actual word ‘sustainability’,” someone says.

“Oh yeah, I hate that word,” someone else chimes in. “Our employees/customers/consumers/I

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have no idea what it means.”

“Er, so what can we say?” asks somebody else.

The topic of language and vocabulary is very much on my mind following the Unilever Sustainable Living Lab and as we prepare for the Guardian Sustainable Business and Forum for the Future panel on Better Ways of Doing Business at our New York headquarters this week.

The world finds itself in a period of accelerating change as we seek to redefine the way business operates and its role, goal and purpose in society, not to mention what people expect of business and their relationships with companies and brands.

And as we attempt to articulate these new concepts and new relationships, we’re scrambling to find the words to keep up.

There’s sustainable business, ethical business, environmentally/socially responsible business, resilient business, green business and shared value. Conscious capitalism, conscientious capitalism, new capitalism, sustainable capitalism and collaborative consumption. Sustainable brands, purpose branding, meaningful brands and brands with belief. I’m sure I’ve missed many, and not all of these represent an apples to apples comparison, but you get the point.

After several years of somewhat bankrupt terminology – the now ubiquitous ‘green’ and ‘eco’ spring to mind – this explosion of innovation in language is encouraging insofar as it is a reflection of a transformation in thinking, business and culture. Some of the terms represent breakthrough attempts to articulate powerful new concepts – shared value and collaborative consumption, for example.

But the lack of alignment on a common language can lead to meetings in which some participants are left wondering what exactly they are discussing, while others are talking at cross purposes, and some are trying express ideas for which a name may not yet exist.

This linguistic challenge also makes it hard for professionals to explain what they do.

From a marketer’s standpoint, it makes other things difficult; what questions should we be asking people in research? What brand attributes should we be tracking and what success metrics should we set in place? And, crucially, how on earth do we explain what we are doing to employees and consumers? At OgilvyEarth, defining sustainability or responsible business in terms that can be readily understood to the “man on the street” is at least 60% of our job.

This is often the way with innovation. It’s hard to name what we do not know. But soon, when we get further along on this journey and gain a better sense of what the right path is, it will be important to coalesce around a new set of terms that can be shared, understood and agreed upon by everyone – across business disciplines and stakeholder groups. My creative brief for this language

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would be along the lines of: a clean, elegant term which frames sustainability, responsibility and sound ethics as simply part of business leadership in the 21st century (rather than bolted on as some previous incarnations of the terminology can imply).

I actually think we could do worse than the term The Guardian and Forum for the Future have chosen for next week’s panel: Better Business. It’s simple, clear and hard to argue with. Maybe if you join, we can discuss it.

Is your glass half empty or half full?

Posted on March 23, 2012 by OgilvyEarth

Author: Michael Vilcinskas, CEO of Abrazos/OgilvyEarth for LatAm

I was gloomy when I started laying out the subjects for this post. Maurice Strong and New World Order, The Republican presidential candidates with thoughts about climate change: “The greatest hoax in many years”, “Junk Science”, “A scam”, “The causes are not important”… Al Gore and his millions… China and India growing so fast. The Brazilian Amazon only just beginning to be partly protected as from now, Corruption in my country and irresponsible open pit mining, the growth of poverty and hunger, the predictions about Río + 20 and the biggest prediction of all. The end of 2012 will be a blast. Thank the Mayas for getting lazy on new calendars.

Decided to feel better, I poured myself a One Malt

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the most sustainable of drinks), sipped slowly and began to look at the bright side of things. My glass was still half full.

First thing first, I said, and suddenly remembered that the Mayan calendar had no leap years, so they were either wrong, wrongly interpreted or we have been dead for over seven months now and nobody told us. One sip later, other thoughts struck me. The republicans may not win, and wise policy can prevail. Things were looking better now, we still have time left, so let’s still plan ahead, its’ worth it.

The Bilderberg Group and Obama’s selection of Bilderbergers for key posts, That is one hard bone to gnaw on, but so are all Conspiracy theories. The story is out and the more people know about it, the more difficult

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for it to happen, so definitely all is not lost. Again another sip of my drink and I felt the warm sun shining through the window. Al Gore and all his millions? Just another politician making hay while the sun shines. Maurice Strong? Like many, an impressive start and a poor finish. I thank him for globalizing the environmental movement. No more. I don´t believe in a new world order and in a world bank forcefully administrating resources and handing them out to corrupt governments who have impoverished their land.

I believe in

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God, I believe in mankind. And when talking business, I totally believe in the market. In brands and Consumers. Here is where the sustainability solution lies.

The triple bottom line has been proven right. Consumers have awakened and now are global citizens, socially responsible, caring about their environment, caring about their neighbor. This is a whole new concept. Or maybe not: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. Not love for their neighbor, perhaps but RESPECT at least. And Companies have caught on. Companies live thanks to consumers and are always looking for the best way to please

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them. And in this particular quest, they have found that brand engagement has taken them to sustainability. Far more than Being Echo friendly, Brands and companies are now socially involved, committed to their own people as they are to consumers and Social

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Responsibility is now just one part of the Sustainability Concept.

Investments in Sustainability are beginning to pay off as well, going green is also about making more money in the long run. All around we see the upcoming of greener products, we see consumerism and the establishment being defied, and the new generations are setting a pace in places we thought it would never happen. But it is happening.

We are on the right path, I am convinced. Things are changing fast even if we don’t grasp the full picture yet. Sustainability is a snowball catching speed. Companies, Brands, Politicians, be very attentive, the new economy is here and players left out, will not make

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Happy now, I turned to my whiskey, savored the last drops and noticed I had finished.

Remember, no matter where we are or what we do, we are all in the game, let’s do our part.

So never forget Granny’s words “Waste not Want not” and “Love thy Neighbor as Thyself,” They are turning into two most powerful drivers in the economy of this XXIst century

The Dirty Side of E-Commerce

The courier just arrived with a sack full of this-and-that to deliver to my office colleagues. A jar of

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face cream, a mobile phone charger, a scarf, a pair of funky boots . . . mostly things that they would have otherwise picked up on their way home, or during the weekend, but there was no time to shop. The sound of unpacking fills the air. Tape is ripped, outer plastic covers cut, cardboard boxes slit open, tissue paper

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and bubble wrap discarded. In a flash, their garbage bins are full.

Let’s examine this more closely. Every minute, there are 48,000 items sold on Taobao. The moment a sale happens, the vendor proceeds to wrap, and then wrap even more that small, individual piece of merchandise, so that it will survive the rough and tumble of the journey. An army of couriers kick start their bikes, still largely running on gasoline, and rush to pick up the order. They toss the boxes into sacks and deliver them to

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the logistics company for shipping. At the destination, another army of motorcyclists is waiting, engines throbbing, smoke spewing from their machines, to deliver the goods.

It’s a game of passing the parcel that has gone amok. In a study we did last year, 55% of the respondents said that their purchases were driven by convenience. Blinded by the numbing choice and convenience of the online shop, we are creating an environmental monster. Such is the allure of e-commerce for customers and entrepreneurs that it never occurs to them that the byproduct of their exchange, if unchecked and unregulated, will choke us to death. An article in People’s Daily earlier this year pointed out that 50% of all goods being sold in China were ‘excessively packaged’.

It is worth reminding ourselves about what the ‘old way’ of distributing products was. A shop owner, or supermarket manager

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estimated consumer demand and placed an order. When the manufacturer or distributor sent out the goods, no individual items were shipped. The items were already packed in boxes, making use of all available space; they were stacked tightly inside containers, without an inch being wasted and obviating the need for a cushion of extra packaging.

How did people shop? We drew up a list of things that we’d run out of, of expected to run out soon, and went to the store to buy it all together. Mostly. We still do, but this ability to satisfy our impulses through a few clicks is going to drown us all in a sea of bubble wrap and cardboard.

So what might be the solution? I have a couple of ideas.

- Have the courier take back the packaging trash. No sack comes back empty.The delivery company must be required to return the packaging waste to a central collection, sorting and recycling center.

- Standardize the box sizes, and place a minimum order requirement on purchases, based on size: purchases must fit into one small box / one medium box and so on. That way, space could be optimized, and the standard sized boxes can be re-used. Customers who return the boxes get a discount on their next purchase.

This post originally appeared in That’s Beijing magazine.

Can Flash Mobs Engage Consumers on Green?

OgilvyEarth’s David Wigder offers up an interesting tool for green marketing. His article originally appeared in

Recently, National Grid launched a surprise dance performance in a Saugus, MA mall as part of its ‘Tap into Savings’ campaign. In many ways, this performance resembled a flash mob, with dancers appearing seemingly from nowhere, to engage an unsuspecting crowd of shoppers, and then disperse.

As a social phenomenon, the flash mob emerged in the

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early 00′s, enabled by Internet and mobile connectivity. While some flash mobs organize spontaneously, most are actually well-choreographed events that often captivate unsuspecting audiences where they occur. One of the most viewed flash mobs was a choreographed rendition of “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music in Central Station Antwerp, Belgium.

While flash mobs are no longer the rage, marketers have periodically embraced the medium, as they consider it a tested way to engage new audiences and promote viral marketing. Two corporate flash mobs are stand outs: First, in 2009, T-Mobile sponsored a flash mob at Liverpool Station, London. More recently, Wells Fargo sponsored a flash mob in New York City’s Times Square as part of their 2011 launch (rebranding of Wachovia) in the city.

Marketers in the green space have also embraced the flash mob, though primarily to make political statements rather than promote brands. One such statement was made by students at the University of Catania in Sicily in its “The World Has Been Stripped Enough” flash mob for the 2011 World Environment Day.

Intriguingly, as green marketers and brands try to engage a more mainstream audience, it

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seems that there is broader role that flash mobs can play. Specifically, flash mobs can:

Capture and hold attention. Flash mobs capture consumer attention through the element of surprise, and hold it by being entertaining.

Green marketers can take advantage of this by turning the event into a teachable moment, especially when engaging audiences that might not ordinarily tune into an environmental message. National Grid, for example, used its dance performance to teach shoppers about energy savings.

Reach fragmented audiences. As channels have proliferated and audiences become more fragmented, marketers have had to respond by investing

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Take T-Mobile, for example. While the

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flash mob captured the momentary attention of the surrounding crowds, it was also filmed for a TV spot that aired 36 hours later. Interestingly, content distribution did not stop there. Video cuts were also distributed through channels like YouTube and viewed by millions more users. This use of flexible assets enabled T-Mobile to get the most out of a single event.

Cultivate peer endorsements. Marketers recognize that consumer endorsements

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can influence the behavior and beliefs of their peers. Many marketers take advantage of this today by actively encouraging such endorsements as a key objective of the campaign. Interestingly, flash mob dynamics may facilitate consumer endorsement more deliberately, or perhaps even enable a marketer to stage it.

A flash mob sponsored by TVA Canoe, an Internet TV site in Quebec, provides a great example of this. In this case, flash mob participants effectively reversed roles with unwitting bystanders. To initiate the flash mob, a performer left an empty plastic bottle on the ground next to a recycling container in a well trafficked area of a mall. Shoppers filed pass the plastic bottle without much notice, while participants waited, blending in amongst the crowds.

Then, one woman, an unwitting bystander, picked up the bottle and put it into the recycling container. When she did, she was met with a standing ovation from the flash mob “audience”.

From a bystander’s view point, it looked as if fellow shoppers spontaneously broke into applause in response to an altruistic act by a peer. Such overwhelming praise has the potential, in of itself, to be perceived by consumers as a peer endorsement, reinforcing the positive behavior in the minds of the consumer audience

Transform brand enthusiasts into participants. It is important for marketers to remember that green consumers tend to be passionate about not only what the brand stands for but how much they can reduce their impact by choosing one product or brand over another.

Marketers should cultivate this sentiment by finding meaningful ways for enthusiasts to interact with the brand and share those experiences with others. One way may be to invite enthusiasts to actually participate in a flash mob itself. What better way to engage with the brand? It certainly provides fodder for generating and sharing social content afterwards.

It has been a decade since flash mobs emerged as a social phenomenon. Over that time, marketers have embraced the medium to drive engagement and encourage viral marketing. Interestingly, green marketers challenged to engage mainstream audiences may find the flash mob especially useful in reaching target audiences and influencing behavior change.

Original article appeared at

We need a sustainability movement to make ‘green living’ the norm

Freya Williams is the Director of Strategy for OgilvyEarth. Her article recently appeared in The Guardian.

One research subject confessed that she would ride her bike to visit green friends but would use a car to visit the 'soccer mum' crowd so as to fit in.

A dramatically different approach to marketing and positioning of sustainable products, services and lifestyles is required to make sustainable living mainstream. It can be done with a radical little idea called normal — and thus far, we’ve been making sustainable living anything but.

Over the past year OgilvyEarth has spent a lot of time trying to understand the gap between what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do when it comes to living and consuming more sustainably. The group we’ve been

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Middle Green, the 66% of Americans (and 50% of Chinese; we’re rolling the study out to other markets now) who have the best of green intentions but fail to fully act on them. This group is otherwise known as the mainstream consumer; they purchase most of the products and services the clients of an agency like Ogilvy are trying to sell. We published our findings in our report Mainstream Green: Moving Sustainability From Niche to Normal.

Some of the barriers preventing the middle green group from following through on their intentions were interesting but expected: the more sustainable options are more expensive, harder to find, less convenient, of inferior quality and green labelling systems are almost impossible to decode. These barriers are persistent and important, but they have been flagged before.

The fresher insight was at once unexpected and blindingly obvious. The penny dropped for

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us as we listened to our research subjects talk about how hard it is socially to be a green-acting consumer in America today. A Chicago vegan told us she felt like an outcast at the neighbourhood barbecue as her hostess made jokes about her eating mud in front of fellow guests. A New Jersey mum said she feared the judgment of her greener-than-thou neighbour, commenting in a snide whisper that the same woman didn’t dye her hair or shave her legs. We saw men trying desperately to cram reusable shopping bags under their desks before their colleagues should see and judge them. “It just feels kind of girly,” said Michael of New Jersey. Another mum confessed to wanting to ride her bike and doing so when visiting her green friends, but feeling compelled to drive her car when hanging out with the minivan-driving ‘soccer mum’ crowd so as to fit in.

What these consumers were telling us was that to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle is to step outside the norm, to mark yourself out as ‘different’. Fine, we thought. It’s cool to be different. But these people were telling us that for them, it most definitely was not cool to be different. Indeed 50% of Americans said green products and services are for ‘crunchy granola hippies’ or ‘rich elitist snobs’, not for them, and not for anyone they aspire to be. They crave the security and anonymity of the mainstream. They are actually there by choice. What the mainstream consumer wants to know is, am I normal? And today, living a more sustainable lifestyle in America, and some other countries around the world, is manifestly not normal. It means attracting a social stigma that even ‘super greens’ struggle to deal with. Mainstream consumers just aren’t willing to go there.

Sustainability marketing until now has got it all wrong. We package our products in burlap. We slather them in green leaves. We advertise them with polar bears. We put them in special aisles. In short, we do everything we can to single these products out as different, not normal. We seem to have decided that, when it comes to sustainable living, human beings park human nature at the supermarket door and a higher, altruistic self comes out. They don’t and it doesn’t. We are motivated by human needs and desires in this area as in any other, and the need to fit in and belong is hardwired.

By this reckoning, green marketing has not been just benign but ineffective. It’s actually been wildly counterproductive, continually reinforcing the un-normalness of green and propping the green gap wide open in the process.

So if we want to create a mainstream movement of people living and consuming more sustainably, as we know we must, we need to stop making sustainability feel different and make it just normal. In terms of marketing, this can be achieved through normalised pricing, packaging and advertising and other ordinary selling techniques.

But marketing alone won’t be enough. There’s much more to it. An edifying contrast was provided by our respondents in San Francisco where a combination of regulation, infrastructure and culture have conspired to make a more sustainable lifestyle the norm and behaviour that is seen as normal elsewhere in America, weird. Here consumers happily go about their comparatively sustainable lifestyles, and people who move there from elsewhere feel compelled to get on board. So there is a clear role for regulation that changes the defaults and infrastructure that makes it easy and possible.

But marketing does play an important role. So let’s try a fresh approach. Let’s ditch the ‘g’ and ‘s’ words in favour of the ‘n’ word: normal. Normal is not a dirty word nor a boring strategy. Normal is mainstream, popular and above all, sustainable.

Biodiversity and the King of Pop

By Melissa Baird and Grethe Mattheus

So, what would the King of Pop and Biodiversity have in common you may ask? A large percentage of the media savvy public knows exactly WHO the King of Pop is, but if you ask them WHAT Biodiversity is, you are likely to get a blank stare in reply. I would have definitely have been one of them until a week ago and I am only just beginning to understand this intricate world of beauty and interdependence. Prompted to write a blog on biodiversity and having the privilege to attend a workshop on Biodiversity in preparation for COP 17 at the end of the month, I set out to equip myself to converse on the subject without sounding pompous, or better yet, like an airhead. What I found has inspired me to delve deeper into this multifaceted construct in order to give it as much airtime as the man who could moonwalk.

Living in South Africa, one can identify with the unique paradox that makes up our everyday lives. The growing divide between rich and poor, a homeless and distraught family against the

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beauty of Table Mountain in the background, the wealth of natural resources of our continent, with a population that is just on the right side of poverty ( and I mean just). All of us, living together, co-existing in various degrees of harmony and friction still depend on the one thing that brings us all down to the same level; the diverse resources of biodiversity. We are constantly looking towards industries, organisations, government, and businesses to help us address this problem of social inequality and the destruction and exploitation of our natural environments. Policy’s and shares seem to prevent a blanket scale solution to ensuring economic growth and job creation that will not be at the

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expense of natural resources, but rather working in harmony with them. Yes the answers are to hand, but the question is – who is willing to listen?

C.A.P.E described Biodiversity as “the full variety of life on Earth – from the tiniest plant to the largest animal”…We’d go further to say it is a word to describe what makes up LIFE itself and includes everything and everyone. “South Africa is one of the most bio-diverse countries in

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10% of the world’s known bird, fish and plant species and over 6% of mammal and reptile species”. What exactly does this mean? Our wealth of natural resources is the key to our development as a nation. The C.A.P.E partnership programme explains this in a comprehensive

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and informative way: “We have to invest in maintaining, restoring, and building our natural capital, so that it can help support socio-economic development for all people”. This initiative describes a strategic approach to investing in Biodiversity in a way that will reach specific and holistic value creating goals. Biodiversity is a resource for job creation in various industries such as fishing, tourism, harvesting, conservation, and game-farming. In South Africa employment blocks averaging at 100 days was created for 119 000 previously unemployed people through the Environmental Sector of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). This programme also aims to create 4.5 million job opportunities from 2009-2014, with R6 billion earmarked for environmental programmes. Biodiversity is also a resource for food security by making farming sustainable. A strategic

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focus on Biodiversity also provides a resource for delivering water, and ultimately adapting to climate change.

South Africa is hosting COP 17 in a month’s time and businesses here are slow to respond to the opportunities that adaptation and mitigation can bring. The call to action to do business and live in more sustainable ways is proving to be one that is not easily heard and there are deep concerns COP 17 will end up being an epic failure in addressing reachable targets for emission reduction. Does South Africa feel that it can compromise on this because we are “just” a developing country? Shouldn’t that be exactly the reason why we should investigate and exploit the opportunities that Biodiversity, sustainable practices, and an international platform like COP can provide? Why are our media and businesses not shouting it from the rooftops as challenged by Thomas Kolster? COP 17 presents the perfect platform to educate the public and get involved with various initiatives to help build a holistic approach to caring for our community and environment, but it is very difficult to discuss a trend that people assume is something of the future and not of the present.

With a bit of a detour, this brings us back to Michael. When asked what they love most about their planet and why the delegates at COP 17 should Consider Us, a young contributor drew a colourful picture with a message that said “Heal the world, make it a better place. For you and for me, and the entire human race”. This 11 year old could quote Michael Jackson’s song when asked about the environment, which is pretty random, unless his parents are big fans.

But as the music may have taken hold – has the concept of our dependence on natural resources? We are more informed, and interested for that matter, in pop culture than in the fibres that will determine the quality of living for our future generations. So will we “see the nations turn their swords into ploughshares” at the end of the month? South Africa, the floor is yours.

Buyers Beware: One Size Does Not Fit All

Teljya Oka-Pregel is the Practice Director OgilvyEarth Sydney

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that we are living in a time of truncated oversimplification. Understandably, the tendency to want to reduce everything down to a sound bite is in reaction to the almost manic state of our 24/7 news cycles and multi-channelled communications feeds. True that there is a time and place for boiling down a complicated idea to its essential concepts. Yet, I fear that we have entered an era where important ideas risk getting overlooked entirely if they are not reduced to bullet points (having said

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that, I now wonder if I should also prepare a bullet point version of this blog post). I have seen this inclination to summarise messages within environmental and sustainability communications, and am worried that people are missing the type of ‘big-picture’, ‘long-term’ perspective so vital to devising sustainability solutions. The fact is that, you simply cannot save the planet in “Ten easy steps” (I pause here for a moment to thank Annie Leonard, the creator of the fantastic viral video The Story of Stuff for reminding me of this last weekend when she delivered a talk in Sydney).

In my line of work, I am often faced with questions about how to best communicate sustainability messages. Generally, people are expecting a quick, elevator-pitch response. However, I usually reply with a question instead: “Who are you trying to communicate with, what are you hoping to communicate, and what do you want them to do with the information”? Too often, I have found people tend to jump to the tactical solution stage of an implementation process before having properly sat down to ask enough questions to form a proper strategy. Presented in this way, the majority of us easily agree that this is not an ideal way of communicating effectively, but you’d be surprised how many people skip the important preliminary steps.

Although communicating sustainability is sometimes most effective when messages are simplified down to snippets of information, I would argue that the majority of scenarios require a longer-term, more complex communications effort. This is because a most people talking about sustainability are not just trying to get us to change the length of our morning showers, they are trying to do things like facilitate deep culture and behaviour change, improve eco-literacy or devise win-win solutions between opposing groups. The reality is that it takes time to shift cultural norms and achieve long-term behaviour change, and if a communications strategy does not plan for phased-in or follow-up messaging, it is unlikely to achieve its desired objectives.

So, effective sustainability communications often requires a little more work at the outset and in the follow-up phases of a communications initiative. Sustainability practitioners must remember that we need to take the time to understand our audiences and clarify our own objectives. To change people’s hearts, minds and actions, we need to ask enough questions to properly understand what motivates them, what worries them, what their understanding of the issues is, how they like to communicate, who they

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give? I have yet to see a situation where communications does not require some degree of tailoring and customisation. After all, communications is about connecting with people, and we humans are a complex and varied bunch that most certainly is not “one size fits all”.

A Hot Bed for Green Innovation

It’s no secret that both parties in Washington are having some trouble finding common ground these days. In fact, the amount of common ground seems to be disappearing faster than you can say ‘economic recovery,’ or ‘debt ceiling,’ or ‘mama grizzly,’ or

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whatever the sociopolitical buzz words of the moment are.

But from Obama to Bachmann, everyone appears to agree that the economic downturn isn’t going away quietly, and that to grow we need to innovate our way out of this recession.

While the methods of economic stimulus are hotly debated, some companies aren’t waiting around for guidance on how to adapt and thrive. One city by the bay is making a name for itself with thriving sustainability start-ups, and surprisingly it is not the one you think.

Oakland, C.A., not always shed in the fairest light, is home to several green tech start-ups that are doing

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really innovative work. One such company is Ditto, who identified a market need for a greener way to showcase retail merchandise, and well, found a solution.

Some analysis shows that more than eight billion clothes hangers — most of which aren’t easily recycled — clog dumpsters every year. That’s enough to fill the Empire State Building from basement to top nearly five times.

Ditto is working with companies like The Gap, Adidas and Bed Bath & Beyond to not only utilize more sustainable materials in their hangers, but ensure they are made with universally recyclable materials (paper, PET plastic) — which sadly is currently not a standard industry practice.

Another Oakland-based company putting a green twist on everyday practices is Fogbusters Inc., an organization that works with restaurants, municipalities and companies to remove fat, oil and grease from wastewater without chemicals, safely and cleanly.

All companies and homes operate and cook with oil and greases, but Fogbusters has developed technology to capture this oil and actually reuse it, keeping it out of waterways and reducing waste.

Ecologic Brands is another thriving Oakland company that’s completely rethinking how we use packaging materials, and has partnered with companies like Seventh Generation and Straus Family Creamery to deliver goods in 100 percent recycled and recyclable materials, turning potential waste into a resource.

And neighboring BrightSource Energy designs, develops and sells solar thermal power systems that deliver reliable and cost-competitive clean energy to utilities and industrial companies — many of which are in Oakland.

Beyond start-ups, major companies like Clorox and Cost Plus World Market — both Oakland-based — have also adapted operations and products to meet the demand for more sustainable businesses.

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San Francisco and Silicon Valley were the only stars of the innovation movement? I think the bay area just got a little greener.

The case for a sustainability ‘double-dip’

By Kathleen Enright

I’m working on several pitches at the moment, all for companies wanting to run awareness campaigns to promote their sustainable products and services. And that’s great! The products and services are great – but it’s still no easy task!

When you get down to the crux of it, sustainable or not, it all comes down to the age-old question of what the consumer benefit really is? That’s the marketer in me talking, not the LOHAS* in me. Green products are a relatively easy sell to hard-core greenies on a mission to save the planet… but ‘green’ alone isn’t enough of a marketing proposition for mainstream consumers.

‘Green’ as a product/service benefit

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is perceived by mainstream consumers as:

- Talking to a niche population (not them)

- Being more expensive

- Trust in brands is at a low

OK, so we agree on the need to stress the primary benefits of sustainable products and services. But what might those be? How do you answer questions such as “what’s in it for me?” and “what happens if I don’t do it?” when the very problem of sustainability is that it’s not immediately tangible (unless you live in Bangladesh or the Maldives).

* LOHAS is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, a market segment focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.

Many ‘green’ marketing campaigns fail to stress primary benefits, likely for two reasons. In the past, many of the sustainable products offered didn’t work as well as their “conventional” counterparts, so messages to the consumer tended to be a simple: “our product does everything your current brand does but in a greener way”. Now mainstream brands are realising that the name of the game is doing what they do naturally—leading with messages of primary benefits, while bringing in environmental messages as secondary.

Looking ahead, one day green will likely be so integrated into design and culture that we won’t have to trip over it when crafting marketing messages that resonate with consumers.

So, for now at least, if we’re not

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selling “green”, what are we selling?

I can’t help but feel that the easy route (it’s all relative) to take is the ‘double eco’ positioning. Eco for economical (save those pennies) and Eco for ecological (you’re also helping the environment). But while a financial incentive will create a short term effect, past campaigns have proven that it has a limited effect in creating lasting change. A purely monetary incentive doesn’t create a sense of added value for doing a specific action so people fail to continue that action if the incentive is no longer in place. In addition, the incentive has to be significant in order to break habit (which is why energy efficiency campaigns struggle to get results).

The ‘money saving’ benefit will work for small actions but has not yet proven successful in getting people to do more. Back to the drawing board!

Many green products are now promoted with messages that lead “beyond green” and underscore such primary benefits as health, superior performance, good taste, cost effectiveness or convenience. The Toyota Prius was launched on the premise of a quieter ride, and later when gas prices spiked, stressed superior fuel mileage, The Cooperative bank’s main sell is their high level of consumer satisfaction rather than their ethical policy.

Then it occurred to me that there was another approach worth exploring…While ‘green’ isn’t enough of a marketing proposition, the benefits of being green might well be. Apparently being green makes you happier! Bring on the sustainability double dip!

Matt Mellen writes about this for Positive News and highlights the 10 reasons he believes make green people happier (

1. Living a more local life

2. More vibrant healthy communities

3. Human powered transport

4. Connection to the natural world

5. Choice pruning

6. Less materialistic

7. Enjoyable pursuits

8. Personal development

9. Social actualisation

10. Transcendence

This is an interesting way of re-thinking the primary benefit of being green as being happier, and it’s also a great way to re-think product promotions. Could we work any of the above into a loyalty programme? Could we imagine brand KPIs built around the Human Happiness Index (first proposed by Amartya Sen)?

Happiness marketing isn’t new. But marketers rarely talk about happiness directly, preferring the creation of the feeling of happiness. But I’m not talking about inspiring happiness; I’m suggesting that we embed these principles in our marketing campaigns, promotions and information on product use to help people lead happier lives.

And aren’t people always in the pursuit of happiness?

Reporting to consumers – A missed opportunity?

With a somewhat late start in 1999, when Shell started the ball rolling with China’s first ever sustainability report, over the past few years we have seen that sustainability reporting is on the rise in China. In 2010 there were over 700 released.

The rapid growth in reporting in China is not surprising for several reasons: a shift towards a bigger focus on corporate responsibility and sustainability as the issue of climate change and the over-exploitation of resources has been covered more intensely by the media. Secondly consumers are looking for a greater focus on accountability due to increasing food prices and safety ‘scares’ with corporations usually at the centre of discussions. Thirdly, in recent years, the Shanghai Stock Exchange has also been putting increasing pressure on its members to report and have issued guidelines for doing so. Consequently corporations say that compliance, credibility, global pressures and leadership are the main reasons driving them to create these reports.

It should be noted that the most responsible reporters are often those companies with the biggest footprint, both environmentally and socially. However as this trend shifts across to a wider variety of players the contents of reports are including not only information around compliance but also

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more about the sustainability values of the brand, and a growing number of smaller companies are stepping up to provide information.

Sustainability reporting was originally born out of demands from society and in particular special interest groups, but only a very small group of people actually end up reading these reports. Generally consumers do not even visit company websites unless there are incentives or advice on offer, and they generally don’t stick around to read the latest press releases or CEO statements let alone in-depth reports.

When looking for information on a brand the first port of call are search engines, and so inevitably, if anyone has posted anything about the brand – either positive or negative – these will appear in brand searches, making a well put together sustainability report sitting on a corporate website on the whole void for the larger population.

So with the main driver for reporting being brand reputation, and more corporations rushing to keep up with their peers by producing sustainability reports, I find it strange that companies are not doing more with the information that they put in these reports.

Outside of China, companies have already been looking for more dynamic ways of demonstrating to consumers that they are stepping up to the sustainability challenge, but it is still very much in the early days of development.

Here in China as consumers are getting to grips with the deluge of marketing messages they receive every day, and paranoia on increasing in regards to who is trustworthy, there are many opportunities for brands to demonstrate their positive brand values at many stages of the consumer experience.

Channels such as digital media and on packaging are where subtle but important connections can be made with the consumer. In particular, mobile technology is growing stronger every moment, making it easier for consumers to quickly check things such as price, availability and product features while on the move and in store. I am always surprised that more brands do not take the opportunity to communicate with consumers about why their product may be a better environmental and social choice than a competitor’s.

Patagonia, the outdoor sportswear company, do a great job of reporting. In terms of

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transparency and education, they do a good job of giving the consumer a peek into the supply chain of their business in an accessible way and they demonstrate great brand stewardship. ‘The Footprint Chronicles’ focuses on communicating water, transport, energy used, Co2 and waste in a selection of products. One of the reasons they have such a strong brand following is because of their transparency and openness on progress achieved.

Virgin Media are a good example of a brand reporting to a wider set of stakeholders in a fun and engaging way. Through their corporate sustainability website they provide the traditional report but more prominent are the regular updates with bite size chunks of information about the progress they are making, usually in video form that allows viewers to share on digital media platforms.

Balancing the bad with the good

One of the main reasons companies hold back on reporting to a wider audience can be the difficulty of proving data and figures around this kind of performance. With standards changing constantly and a new topic in the media every month, it is understandable that a company may be nervous about communicating so openly to a broad group of stakeholders.

One thing that both Virgin and Patagonia do really well is the way they present information. The content available is less ‘look how great we are’ and more, ‘take a look at the impact of our business and see how we are trying to be better’. I think it’s fair to say that any company that has reached the stage of a sustainability report has a fairly good idea of the impacts and progress being made, so rather than being scared about communicating this information more widely, companies should use it as an opportunity to engage their consumers about how they are making changes for the better and bringing them along on their journey.

With such reporting, a company also has a great opportunity to get valuable feedback from their consumers as to what they really care

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about by both tracking the content viewed and reaching out to consumers for ideas, creating real brand value.

Visual content stays with the viewer for longer than verbal and written content, and video and images are not only a great way of getting to the consumer to see progress but are also simple forms of shared media that allow consumers to pass on content they like to their peers.

What’s the hurry?

So what is the risk of not engaging consumers now with sustainability? Losing the early mover advantage when a brand may already have great stuff to talk about could be the biggest mistake a brand can make as consumers look for brands to trust.

The way stakeholders interact with brands has never been more different and through an ever growing number of new media channels, consumers are getting to really know a brand’s ‘personality’. Add this to growing safety concerns and it’s no wonder over 17% of Chinas 1st and 2nd tier urban consumers consider themselves to be LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) consumers. It’s only a matter of time before third parties step up to provide information if consumers in China can’t find it themselves.

The GoodGuide is an organisation that’s been around in the USA since 2007. Both online and available as an iPhone app, it allows consumers to see not only a score of how companies perform overall but also to add filters according to what they care about most, for example animal testing, or social responsibility. As consumers shop they can search for a brand on the spot to see how it ranks against others. Others have since sprung up around the world such as ‘checkitmobile’ in Germany which shows there is a growing number of consumers that are looking to get their hands on more information.

We also see issue specific projects cropping up more and more> For example, The ‘Plastic disclosure project’, launching globally this year, asks companies to report their plastic use, policies for reduction and recycling incentives. It hopes to encourage more companies to take action to reduce plastic in their supply chains. Brands that have not fully mapped their impacts will be open to being exposed.

A world where consumers can stand in a supermarket deciding between brands that offer the same product and have as much easy access to details of their environmental and social performance as they currently do on nutrition content, price etc may be only a pipe dream right now but the more brands make this information available, the more quickly they will reap the rewards of brand loyalty from consumers who are

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looking for accountability.

This blog was adapted from an article written for ECOnomy magazine