FPRA 2009 Annual Conference: General Session C, Green Marketing and Communications

FPRA Annual Conference

This year’s conference has had a focus on being green. From the notepads to the reusable shopping bags attendees received at registration, everything is sustainable or green in some way. Our Green Marketing and Communications speakers from Earthsense, LLC Wendy Cobrda, President and Founder and Amy Hebard, Ph. D., Chief Research Officer and Founder, keep the green conversation going.

Greening of America
Going Green
Green Products
Green-washing
Green fatigue

Do you hate the word green yet? What does it really mean anyway?

Earthsense interviews 30,000 people every month to better understand the attitudes and opinions of consumers in relationship to “green” trends. What have they learned: Opinions about going green are relative to each individual – and people’s definitions are varied.

There are several key areas where consumers look when deciding if something is “green”:

  • Composition
  • Production
  • Packaging
  • Distribution
  • Consumption
  • Disposal

Earthsense has noticed a shift in consumer behavior from small groups proselytizing to an awakening of the mass market. This changes the way we talk to our audiences.

From the corporate perspective green is no longer something companies are doing as an occasional add-on. More frequently, it is a fundamental part of corporate strategy. So how do you get involved effectively when there are so many elements?

The concept is that there is a compromise – you don’t have to do everything to meet a goal of being sustainable.

One threat out there is called “Greenwashing.” That’s when companies make green claims in advertising or other messages when it may in fact be irrelevant or misleading to audiences. Their claims about products may or may not help you be any greener if you buy them.

They mentioned seven sins of Greenwashing:

  • Hidden trade-off
  • No proof
  • Vagueness
  • Worshiping false labels
  • Irrelevance
  • Lesser of two evils
  • Fibbing

Consumer skepticism is also a major barrier to corporations who have adopted green strategies as a part of their fundamental business plans. According to recent surveys, people are bombarded with green messages every day and they assume most company claims are simply political moves.

Cobrda emphasized most consumers do not believe manufacturers are taking enough responsibility for their effect on the environment. She says the key for corporations is to help bridge the gap between what companies think they are doing and what consumers realize they are doing. Even if they are in the sustainability game, their consumers may not know it. She urged attendees to listen to audiences through good research and look for opportunities to communicate their responsible practices more effectively.

The truth is, going green is a process. Compare it to a marathon rather than a walk to the mailbox: it takes some training and conditioning to get to the ultimate goal. Bashing companies for their baby steps is not necessarily the best way to encourage future green behavior either. Our speakers said we should support and promote any steps companies take to improve.

Hebard says consumers often avoid going green because they feel it is too expensive. On the other hand, people who are buying more green products are doing so largely for environmental reasons, and they feel able to make a difference for the better.

The bottom line to Earthsense is that green is here to stay. Case in point:

  • 58 percent of U.S. adults agree or strongly agree tighter government regulations on the oil industry and resources is needed to protect the environment.
  • 62 percent feel recycling should be mandatory even if it’s not profitable.
  • 50 percent feel global warming is primarily caused by humans.
  • A mere 12 percent feel being green isn’t necessary.

Earthsense Top Take-Aways:

  • Consumers need to hear from corporations about corporate social responsibility efforts.
  • Going green is not easy – consumers are confused and torn between conveniences and the way things have always been done.
  • Don’t be scared of Greenwashing – if you’re honest and authentic, it’s all good.

Questions you want to ask of your consumers:

  • Where do they see you now?
  • Do they notice the changes you make?
  • Are you developing at a good pace toward your ultimate green goals?
  • Are you an effective role model for other companies?

“Start where you are, know where you want to get to, and bring the consumer along for the ride!” Hebard said.

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