I found this article raising the challenges facing carbon labeling interesting. Basically the point being, calculating the carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing and transportation of product sounds like a really great way for users to make informed decisions about the products they choose. But given the huge and extremely complex (and expensive) task of standardising the way these kind of calculations are made, it seems unlikely that it will catch on.
Of course, the challenge we face with reducing our own footprint is that it is such an abstract concept to grasp. When you are a regular smoker for example, it's not long before you start wheezing and coughing and feeling like they might actually be some truth in the messages that tell you cigarettes are killing you. Maybe the promise of extreme weather, political and financial instability may have not been enough to get people to alter their lifestyles. But now we're actually seeing some of these things happening around us, maybe we'll start to see some change in the way people consume?
I just read about this fantastic initiative.
I remember thinking about this when I was in Kenya last year. You can drive for miles and miles along dusty roads to communities without even the most basic amenities, yet you are never more than a few miles from the nearest bottle of Coca Cola. It must be the most efficient distribution network on the face of the planet - so why not use it to do distribute some good?
"It's a tragic fact of life today that one in five African children die before their fifth birthday from simple causes like dehydration from diarrhea. Basic medicines could save those children's lives, yet no means has been found to make them readily available. A new grassroots project, however, aims to tap into the formidable distribution network of none other than Coca-Cola to get life-saving medicines to the children who need them.
The ColaLife project aims to distribute oral re-hydration salts and educational materials to people in developing countries through a partnership with Coca-Cola by which its distributors carry medicine in addition to soft drinks. The concept actually dates back 20 years, when its originator—Simon Berry, who was then an aid worker in Zambia—was struck by the realization that one could buy a Coke virtually anywhere on the planet, yet medicine was hard to come by. He proposed designating one compartment in every 10 Coke crates as "the life saving" compartment to transport medicines. His idea fell on deaf ears back then, but today the power of social networking is giving it new life."
Specifically, Berry's ColaLife project has tapped the power of Facebook and other social networking tools to amass a group of more than 6,000 supporters, garner widespread media coverage and—at least as important—get the attention of Coca-Cola.
Berry has since met with high-ranking officials at the company, and talks are under way to push the idea further. Meanwhile, ColaLife groups have been added on Google and Flickr, and a YouTube video was created earlier this month to promote the project's submission to Google’s Project 10^100 initiative.
Currently, ColaLife is seeking an NGO to participate in the project as well.
The web is facilitating social change in ways that simply weren't possible before, uniting like-minded activists and gathering support from around the globe. Will Coca-Cola jump in with both feet? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, one to watch—and learn from."
This article from PSFK caught my eye. It's interesting to me as it raises some interesting questions about how we consume. There are god knows how many 'green' or 'ethical' fashion brands around these days but actually maybe what really need to do is completely re-think the whole thing.
As I am currently developing some thoughts around the whole notion of repair and how we might 'brand' them, I found the story both inspiring and also a signal that I'm onto something...maybe.
Some peoples idea of green is very odd. Take 'green' diary for example. Why, when we computer software solves so many of these tasks so brilliantly, would anyone want to buy a paper brick full of adverts? Dont get me wrong, I support the initiative of collecting this information and making it accessible for people but why couldn't it be done smarter. All the info. is there. It just needs turning into pixels.
I found this report very interesting reading. Deeper Luxury takes an in-depth look at the luxury brands market and some of the challenges and opportunities the issue of sustainability raises in this sector.
"We observe shifts in the luxury paradigm, emerging from major changes in social dynamics. In the future the highest quality product or service will be the one that generates the most benefit to all involved in it's production and trade. Consumers' knowledge of that benefit will be essential to their elite experience, and the prestige ascribed to them by their peers. In future, luxury brands could represent the greatest positive contribution any product or service could make to people and planet: they would identify the luxury consumer as a person who has both the means and the motivation to ensure that others do not suffer. The deeper and more authentic approach to luxury would require truly excellent social and environmental performance; consumers expect excellence in this, because they expect it in all aspects of a luxury brand."
I love the fact that they've chosen focus on topics such as celebrity endorsement, dedicating specific guidelines to this area. There are so many examples of celebrities making ill-advised decisions that are totally out of touch with shifting consumer opinion. I cringe every time I flick through the glossy magazines and see the face of some sports personality hawking sunglasses or perfume. It's just seems so shallow. I also love the fact that they've chosen not to overlook the importance of emerging luxury markets too. Factoring these issues in makes it a much richer document.
This post by Joel Makower looks into a recent survey by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing. They sent out teams to investigate any products making green claims. After initially identifying 1,081 products making 1,753 separate claims they found "all but one made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences."
Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off — claims that suggest a product is "green" based on a single environmental attribute (the recycled content of paper, for example) or an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important, or perhaps more important, environmental issues (such as the energy, climate, water, or forestry impacts of paper). Such claims aren't usually false, but paint a misleading picture of the product than a more complete environmental analysis would support. This was the most frequently committed "sin," made by 57% of all environmental claims examined.
Sin of No Proof (26% of all claims examined) — any claim that couldn't be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, or by a reliable third-party certification. TerraChoice determined there to be "no proof" if supporting evidence was not accessible at either the point of purchase or at the product website.
Sin of Vagueness (11% of all claims examined) — any claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer, such as "chemical free" or "all natural."
Sin of Irrelevance (4% of all claims examined) — claims that may be truthful but are unimportant and unhelpful for consumers, such as CFC-free products, since ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons have been outlawed since the late 1980s.
Sin of Lesser of Two Evils (1% of all claims examined) — environmental claims that may be true, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole, such as organic tobacco or green insecticides.
Sin of Fibbing (less than 1% of all claims examined) — claims that are simply false, typically by misusing or misrepresenting certification by an independent authority, when no such certification had been made.
I agree with Joel Makower's point that not all of these are necessarily greenwashing and that some of the cases are probably down to sloppiness.
"marketers' efforts to place a green sheen on a product, perhaps rightfully so, but without offering some basic proof points."
But what does this all mean or green marketing and for those brands that really do help us minimise our impact on the planet. Well, it's basically bad news isn't it? Any genuine effort to offer a greener product or service could be met with scepticism. The last wave of green marketing we saw during the nineties eventually died a death because it too was based on a lot of marketing hot air and people saw through it.
I think the real danger is if people are successful with their greenwashing efforts, then the truly green, the truly innovative companies — the ones that have really figured out how to reduce their carbon footprint, how to produce a nontoxic product, how to make products out of renewable materials that can be reused — the truly innovative products are going to lose out.
An interesting article from The Guardian which takes a hard line against the greenwashing of brands; a debate which I find fascinating.
Brands should think very carefully about marketing their green credentials. "You can't put a lettuce in the window of a butcher's shop and declare that you are now 'turning vegetarian'." explains John Grant, author of The Green Marketing Manifesto.
Of course, it is totally counter-productive to claim to be something you're not, when everyone has the ability to see through it. This kind of tokenism will be seen for what it is very quickly.
It seems there are many examples of bad practice in this area but also an encouraging amount of truly brilliant examples of companies who've grabbed this Corporate Social Opportunity and done something fantastic and innovative with it.
I love this example which The Guardian article points out:
"Popular, well-trusted brands have the potential to build on the relationship that they have with consumers, encouraging them to make adjustments towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Kia Motors, for instance, has been backing a walk to school initiative for the last three years. The car firm estimates that 20% of the traffic on the roads at 9am is connected to the school run and wanted to launch a project that helped tackle that congestion. To date, 250 "walking buses" have been set up involving 53 local authorities and 8,000 children. In 2006, Kia estimated that the initiative saved 100,000 commuter miles every week."
Such an initiative can only be seen as positive, surely? Even if it was initiated by a car manufacturer.
"A new marketing study reveals that conscious consumers expect accountability and transparency from companies that claim to be “green.” Companies that fail to do so put themselves at risk of a consumer backlash.
Who are these “conscious consumers”? According to the inaugural BBMG Conscious Consumer Report, almost 90% of Americans say this term describes them well. When shopping for products that are of equal value and price, these consumers would choose items that are energy-efficient, promote health and safety benefits, support fair labor and fair trade, and are made according to environmentally-friendly standards.
Some of the most interesting findings of this study include:
• Health and wellness are most important: Conscious consumers expect the products they buy to have a positive personal and direct impact.
• “Conscious consumer” is the preferred term: Americans prefer to call themselves “conscious” or “socially/environmentally responsible” over “green.”
• Price and quality are still #1, but locally-produced, healthy, and energy-efficient qualities are increasingly important to consumers.
The study also reveals that consumers are savvy when it comes to detecting “greenwashing” marketing attempts. “In a world of green clutter, conscious consumers expect companies to do more than make eco-friendly claims. They demand transparency and accountability across every level of business practice. Avoiding the green trap means authentically backing your words with socially responsible actions.” says Raphael Bemporad, founding partner of BBMG.
Consumers value honesty and are paying more attention to how their purchases impact the world beyond the supermarket. Producing conscious goods and services, and successfully communicating their authenticity, is the way to capitalize on this new consumer trend."
He's promising free copies to bloggers who link to this post but I'm plugging John Grant's new book regardless.
I was lucky enough to read through an early draft and I can tell you it's packed full of useful stuff if you're interested in how green issues can be used as a platform for communication and innovation. (everyone should be) I'd love to have gone along to the launch party tonight but I don't think it would hae been that environmentally responsible. Instead, I'll have a glass of wine tonight and read through a few pages.