Lean, Green PR Machine: Developing Inside-Out Sustainability Strategies

It may or may not come as much of a shock that many Americans (48%, to be exact) erroneously believe that "green" products and services have a positive/beneficial impact on the environment when, in fact, "green" more accurately describes products with a less negative impact than competing versions (Source: 2008 Green Gap Survey, conducted by Cone and the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship). It's a clear disconnect, especially considering the growing obsession with "green-ifying" our lifestyles to prevent (or at least postpone) inevitable planetary combustion. Add a few more stats into the mix--47% of Americans trust companies to tell the truth in environmental messaging, 45% believe companies are accurately communicating information about their environmental impact and 61% say they understand the environmental terms companies use in their advertising--and you will realize why, on April 30, the FTC will have a public hearing on government regulation of environmental marketing messages. What does this mean for communicators? As the public and now the government increasingly scrutinize green marketing, accuracy, credibility and deliverables are all the more important. Thus, initiatives must be aligned with an organization's mission--not to mention connected to its bottom-line goals--to have lasting impact. Here's how to get started. Inside Out: Live The Green Green marketing plans have to start somewhere--that is, internally with a sustainable business strategy. According to Glen Franklin, SVP of product strategy, Citi Card, and Courtney Zwart, VP of product strategy, Citi Card, "in most cases, internal activity does not need to line up with a position in the market or a specific cause; [for example], Whole Foods does not need to certify the eating habits of their employees to credibly deliver on their positioning. It's different with green. To credibly sell a green product or service, you must act green." John Friedman, board member of the Sustainable Business Network of Washington, identifies more tangible benefits of conducting business in green/sustainable ways: License to operate (speed to market) Cost reduction/avoidance Market opportunity/advantage. "Brand reputation is arguably the most important asset a company has over the long term," he says. Employee engagement Access to investment capital So, the reasons to go green internally are there; now it's just a matter of making it happen. *Align the program with your core business model. "Successful businesses must be adept at determining market changes, trends and expectations," Friedman says. "They cannot be in such a rush to embrace the 'new' trend that they abandon their fundamental and core purposes." In terms of said core purposes, Robert Best, SVP of commercial real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, recommends establishing an environmental sustainability policy by defining the business objectives, the sustainability strategy and goals and key senior sponsorship. Then, create a team to communicate and enforce this policy. Best gives the example of Jones Lang LaSalle's ACT: A Cleaner Tomorrow program, whose team exists in layers, from a Global Environmental Sustainability Board to regional boards, to internal environmental initiatives. *Determine where you can make an impact, and integrate practices into your day-to-day operations. Best says these impacts can be made in a number of areas, from energy conservation to waste management. When linked to your organization's sustainability policy, you begin to see specific, measurable results; for example, Staples saved $6 million in two years by using centralized lighting controls, Best says, and FedEx Kinkos retrofitted more than 95% of its branches with energy-efficient lighting and motion sensors. Friedman expands on this step with these tactical tips: Move from a vision to a culture by communicating the sustainable, green business strategy. Identify and build on "quick hit" benefits. Reduce costs: tax advantages/incentives and risk management, for example. Increase opportunities via social marketing and co-branding. Identify longer-term benefits, including a stronger reputation and image. Align incentives with desired outcomes to empower employees. The last point is absolutely essential, as any external communication of green business practices will come across as greenwashing if said practices aren't being championed by senior management and imbedded into employees' everyday responsibilities. Organizations like Citi and General Electric have extremely successful green marketing campaigns primarily because they are being executed from the inside out, via cross-business collaboration that's facilitated by environmental affairs at Citi and the franchise-wide Ecomagination program led by GE VP Lorraine Bolsinger. Jones Lang LaSalle goes so far as to train employees to execute its sustainability goals. *Develop an overview of action items and how they will be implemented. Referring to the ACT program, Best cites specific initiatives that his organization undertook, from eliminating Styrofoam cups in office kitchens and conference rooms to setting thermostats one degree higher/lower in the summer/winter to become greener internally and, in turn, have something positive to communicate externally. This, of course, is the embodiment of the overarching communications plan: Identify goals, develop strategies, implement via tactics, measure success and communicate it accordingly. Outside In: Creating A Green Marketing Campaign Once your organization has a green program worth sharing, it's time to shape communications campaigns. *Craft the message. Franklin and Zwart offer these tips that can apply to all message-creation sessions: Know your target audience and understand what's in it for them. Personalize and localize the message by putting it in context for the target audience. Keep the messaging simple and tangible with just enough information to ensure they [audiences] understand, believe, care and act. Don't pigeonhole yourself into solely discussing environmental benefits; also think in terms of economic or health advantages. "Depoliticize marketing," they say. "Inspire the audience to take part." Reference relevant, credible third parties, including the Environmental Protection Agency, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. *Disseminate the message thoughtfully. When choosing communications channels, make sure they are congruent with the green message; for example, if you are talking about recycling, don't send out reams of paper. Instead, use digital platforms or, when printed material is required, make sure the paper is recycled and the ink is soy-based. Banking is just one example of an industry that's successfully using greener communications channels, as many companies are moving from paper bills to electronic statements. Citi Card's paperless statement initiative, tagged "Make a statement with your statement," offers customers a simple, tangible action item ("Enroll in Paperless Statements today"); provides context by explaining what Citi will do when they enroll (donate a tree to the National Arbor Day Foundation); and gives a "what's in it for me" explanation chock-full of added benefits (e-mail notifications, instant access, etc.). PRN CONTACTS: John Friedman, johnf@sbnow.org; Robert Best, bob.best@am.jll.com

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