[Tom Idle, Editor, Sustainable Business - www.sustainablebusinessnetwork.net]
The focus of February’s Green Monday session centred on the potential of brands to effect behavioural change among consumers to help them reduce their environmental impacts – and the role of marketeers in communicating encouraging and inspiring messages.
Kirstie Hawkes, Proctor & Gamble’s sustainability affairs manager, suggested a three-step guide to creating an effective working relationship between her firm’s marketing and sustainability functions. P&G has been aware of its green credentials for the past 50 years and is now on its tenth sustainability report.
For Kirstie, the first rule is to make sustainability relevant to every element of the business and to every member of staff. “This gets rid of the tensions,” she says.
Secondly, you must remember that the consumer is king. “70% of consumers are not willing to pay more for sustainable products – so don’t design something that won’t sell.” She points towards Aerial’s Excel Gel product, which allows consumers to wash their clothes at lower temperatures, as a good example. The marketing centred on the ability of the Gel to make your clothes clean, because “if the ads focused purely on the environmental performance of the product, people wouldn’t buy it”.
Lastly, P&G’s innovations need to be “deliberate” and “meaningful”, she says.
Reckitt Benckiser’s vice president of sustainability, Edward Butt reaffirmed the need for consumer-facing brands to take responsibility and realise their potential to effect change in the marketplace. RB’s operations, including packaging and transport, accounts for less than a third of its overall carbon footprint. Most of its impact comes in the use phase of its products by customers.
Ed bought along a shopping basket of RB products, including French’s mustard, Air Wick and Vanish, to demonstrate how the company is trying to reduce packaging and its use of resources. “But consumers are still undecided,” when it comes to using cardboard instead of plastic to wrap products in. “The challenge is to reduce our environmental impact in a manner that consumers like and is convenient for them,” he says.
It’s also about giving those consumers the right information. Why do customers flush their toilets before applying Harpic toilet cleaner? There’s no need for it – “it’s about changing behaviour”. Also, according to Ed, if 50% of dishwasher users in Europe switched to low-temperature dish-washing products, it could save 338,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. That’s more than the entire carbon footprint of RB’s global operations.
The panel was completed by Eileen Donnelly, head of sustainable development at the Virgin Group – a company which is “at the start of a long process in understanding what sustainability means” for each of the products under the Virgin umbrella (which includes everything from video games and mobile phones, to drinks and spaceships).
And Daniel Vennard, sustainability director for Mars Drinks (a division of the giant food and drink firm Mars Incorporated) explained how research commissioned by his team managed to put a price on creating a brand around sustainability leadership.
Next month, representatives from the three main political parties will battle to win the hearts and minds of Green Mondays regulars in the run-up to the General Election. It should be very interesting indeed.
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