Be Green Before Going Green
The rush to green is officially on. Almost daily another eco-friendly product is launched with the promise of a healthier you and a greener planet to boot. And no wonder. According to the Natural Marketing Institute, an estimated 35 million Americans – mostly educated women – are LOHAS* consumers. These are individuals who care about their health, have strong social and environmental values, and align their values with their purchasing decisions. LOHAS consumers also have more than $200 billion in combined spending power, making them an extremely attractive target audience for green marketers.
But be forwarned: A recent survey conducted by Ipsos Reid, a market research company, found that many consumers view products touted as ‘green’ to be just marketing ploys. Other studies have found that consumers are confused by the wide range of environmental claims associated with green products. The explosion of eco-products and green claims recently led the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to begin reviewing its long-standing environmental marketing guidelines with the hope of bringing some sanity to today’s confusing and rapidly changing marketplace.
Add to this the discerning nature of LOHAS consumers. They can be sharply critical of companies perceived to be irresponsible or unethical, rejecting their products and telling others to do the same. What LOHAS consumers respond to is credible messaging about a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments and programs – from less packaging to more recycling – especially when the information is presented in ways that convince them a company walks its talk. Too often, companies fall short by not sending the right message, or by saying nothing at all.
While the opportunities for entering the green space have never been greater, so are the risks of being marginalized, misunderstood or accused of greenwashing. To resonate clearly with today’s savvy consumers, make sure the right foundation has been set. Here are some initial must-dos:
• Do your homework: Understand what consumers are most concerned about, particularly those issues affecting your industry. For instance, consumers expect food companies to deliver safe products, but they are also concerned about ingredient traceability, animal welfare, sustainable agriculture, among other issues. Across all industries, consumers expect companies to treat their employees well.
• Hold up the mirror: Take a deep dive and assess your company’s current state, identifying areas of strength and weakness, and see where the gaps exist. Your company may embrace renewable energy, but at the same time, lack on-site recycling. Understanding these potentially contrary positions will be crucial for your credibility. This process will help to reveal low-hanging fruit that can be easily picked off, while also locating the gaps that may take longer to close. Articulate a commitment: If your company has yet to create a CSR vision statement and/or establish an environmental policy, now is the time to do it. This will require the support and engagement of the CEO and senior leadership to set the course and make it meaningful to employees. Then leverage the company’s CSR vision and commitment to develop a strategy, prioritize and create an action plan.
• Enlist employees: One undeniable trend is that today’s employees, especially younger workers, want to work for companies that share their values. According to Monster Track, 92 percent of young professionals say they are more inclined to work for an environmentally friendly company. Moreover, employees want to be part of the process. Consider enlisting their help through ad-hoc green teams, inviting their input about ways the company can be a better environmental steward.
• Make some friends: If Wal-Mart can do it, so can you. Create relationships with environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club or Conservation International, as a way of establishing credibility for the company’s commitments and efforts. Ask for their input about your priorities and strategies, and keep them informed of your progress.
• Raise the window shade: What consumers respect is honest, straightforward communication that can be easily accessed and understood. Web sites are an obvious place to start. Create an online presence where consumers can go to learn about the company’s commitments, priorities and ongoing efforts.
One last cautionary tip is to stay away from bloated claims or inaccurate terms used to describe the company’s green efforts or products. For more direction, check out the FTC’s green guidelines at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/grnrule/guides980427.htm.
*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.
This article was written by Liz Gorman, vice president of corporate responsibility at Cone LLC. She can be reached at Lgorman@coneinc.com.
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