Friday, May 30, 2008

Green Science

Green science is very important to anyone who seeks to employ sustainable business practices. Although rarely explicitly communicated in an effective marketing message, scientific evidence must implicitly support Green marketing claims. By definition scientific investigation means that conclusions will always be subject to review. Therefore it is incumbent upon sustainable businesses owners to continually reevaluate their Green promises.

Atmospheric sciences, environmental chemistry, ecology, and geosciences have all contributed to the large and growing body of evidence. Taken as a whole the results confirm climate change, reductions in biodiversity, diminished water quality, soil contamination, resource depletion, and air pollution.

Those who try to dismiss the plethora of data ignore the facts. There are those who have funded environmental research as a stall tactic. Others argue that such things as climate change are part of a normal process citing the fact that we have experienced periods of global warming (and cooling) in the past. However it is a fact that our climate is warming faster as a consequence of human habitation. This should be obvious to even the most cynical scientist, taken as a whole the weight of the evidence is irrefutable. There is no simple panacea, but there is scientific consensus: Threats to our environment are real.

Marketing messages that pander to doubters may lose the attention of their core audience. There is adequate exposure to scientific evidence to discard the views of the politically motivated or intellectually questionable luddites who feel climate change is some kind of hoax. Effective Green marketing is often best when it implicitly incorporates sustainable attributes. Knowledge does not infer wisdom, but it is an important step on the road to intelligent stewardship. Scientific observation is an invaluable tool, what we do with it, is up to us.

Green Asia: Japan

Environmentalism or kankyôshi is an integral part of Japanese life. Grassroots efforts have effectively pressured the Japanese government to pass some of the world’s most stringent anti-pollution laws. Japan has emerged as a leader in reducing workplace greenhouse gas emissions. And the Japanese government remains committed to radically cutting the country's carbon emissions.

There are however salient differences between Japanese environmentalism and the Western Green movement. Japanese environmentalism seeks "to safeguard the environment in order protect man rather than save the environment for its own intrinsic value."

According to Junko Edahir, Co-Founder of Japan for Sustainability: "[A]cross the board, Japanese companies now view environmentalism as not just a moral imperative, but a competitive necessity. I think many Japanese companies in the manufacturing sector are seeing the environmental challenges as a new source of innovation."

Some have speculated that the corporate boom in environmentalism is due to the conformist tendencies of Japanese society. In Japan the concept of harmony is very important. Firms have a tendency to follow each others leads. Japanese people tend to understand the power of small gestures. And many Japanese firms have demonstrated their efficiency in saving energy and recycling office supplies.

The Kirin brewery is a good example of Japanese corporate environmentalism. Kirin Brewery's Yoshiyuki Yamamura, manager of environmental and social affairs said: "[B]eing enviro-conscious also helps us cut costs and strengthen our management. There are many advantages to becoming environmental-friendly."

In 1990 the Kirin Beer company sought to cut its carbon emissions by 25 percent. In typical Japanese fashion, the company's efficiency initiatives were so effective, it cut those emissions by one third. As reported on PBS "Across Japan, firms like Kirin Beer demonstrate that environment-friendly doesn't mean unprofitable."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Green Asia: China

Beijing signaled its official commitment to sustainable development in 1992 after the Rio Earth Summit. However, the Green movement in China is a grassroots phenomenon. Chinese NGOs also play a pivotal role in the proliferation of Green. As reported in Yale Global: "[Chinese NGOs] are spearheading a quiet grassroots environmental movement engaged in consciousness-raising, problem-solving, and even advocacy." Environmental reporting is now ubiquitous in China. And the language of Green is now part of the Chinese vocabulary. Even Greenpeace now has an office in Beijing.

In China sustainable development is grounded in the local context which includes not only unique ecological challenges but profound philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism. "These traditions stress the harmony between humans and nature, reject human-centered approaches to the environment, and admonish humility before nature."

The growth of environmentalism in China can be attributed to international trade and globalization. Yale Global characterizes it this way: "In the 1990s, a host of domestic and international events integrated China further into the world community, widening domestic political spaces and boosting environmentalism. A growing awareness of China's grave environmental problems...has increased China's connections to the world."

The growth of China as a capitalist power has radically reduced poverty and contributed to liberalization and democratization. It has also directly benefited the Chinese Green movement. But, in China, environmentalism also serves as a protective umbrella capable of promoting democratic practices and values.

Next: Green Asia Part 2: Japan

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Marketers Need a Green Education

In an April 28, 2008 article in Adage, Jonah Bloom directly confronts the problem of greenwashing. He exonerates consumers and unflinchingly ascribes blame squarely where it belongs.

The same article cites a 2008 BBMG Conscious Consumer Report that indicated 86% of consumers identify themselves as 'environmentally friendly,' it also found that in practice, only one in five consumers 'always' buys based on social or environmental concerns. The same survey examined consumers buying decision. Predictably quality and price top the list. But there are other attributes which are also important to consumers. 44% indicated they consider 'where a product is made' to be very important. 41% indicated they consider 'energy efficiency' to be very important, whereas 'convenience' was considered very important for 34% of those surveyed. The attributes of 'made from recycled materials,' 'all natural,' 'locally grown,' and 'company donates to money or causes I care about,' all were considered more important than 'brand,' by consumers.

A large and growing number of consumers want Green products from Green companies. Marketers are rushing to cash in on this demand but consumer skepticism is well warranted. Mr Bloom concludes by asking "Does the marketing world care enough to actually know what it's talking about, or just enough to hang out a recycled shingle and make a quick buck? At the moment, it still looks a lot like the latter."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Green Drivers

Despite what ideologically motivated Green purists would have us believe, free markets are crucial to the growth of Green. Significant Green market opportunities are drawing investors and forging entirely new industries. Eco-capitalists are responding to market demand by providing consumers and industry with a range of Green products and services.

Traditional environmentalists understand the interdependence of the natural world's ecosystems, but far too often fail to understand the interdependence of the worlds national economies. Trade is intimately connected with social welfare. In Asia and around the world, billions have escaped poverty due largely to international trade. In the wake of the failure of socialism, there is no viable alternative to capitalism. It is time to normalize sustainable business practices by reclaiming Green from those on the margins of society.

We need to get on with the business of Green and this implies carefully examining the larger picture to understand the implications of our actions. Sustainable living involves a wholistic approach, and includes economic considerations. As we are seeing in the agricultural commodities markets, ignoring broader considerations can contribute to other serious crises.

The growth of Green as a mainstream movement is being driven by consumer demand. The burgeoning cost of fossil fuels enhances the value of conservation efforts and drives innovation. And reduced costs are a major incentive to increase energy efficiency. Market forces are driving corporations to adopt Green business practices.

The rapid increase in corporate social responsibility is a function of customer pressure and this is being translated all the way down the supply chain. According to a PwC survey cited in Backbone Magazine, "currently 18 per cent of technology executives claim their companies practice environmentally preferred purchasing, with 53 per cent stating they will implement this practice in the next two years...the drastic increase in energy costs and the impending threat of government legislation and taxes which will ultimately make unsustainable practices increasingly expensive.

Industries that develop their own standards for sustainability reporting will be in a good position, to face government legislation. This is already beginning to influence business practices in Europe and parts of the US." Clearly customer pressures are impacting corporate culture and demand for Green is already driving investment and innovation.

The popular conception of the importance of Green is being driven by scientific evidence. People also have tangible evidence of eco-degradation. This includes loss of flora and fauna, climate change, water shortages, air pollution, and extreme weather. Growing eco-awareness is driving buying behaviors. The general public has much greater access to information. In today's fragmented television market, viewers have highly specialized information access. Increased nature awareness is also fueling conservation efforts. These realizations are changing our values.

We now understand the world to be profoundly interconnected. The so called 'small world phenomenon' or notions of 'one world' are expressions of these new values. For many eco awareness is seamlessly connected to compassion, cultural sensitivity and the lofty values of altruism and social responsibility. Environmental concerns are part of popular culture. Green is growing because sustainable products and services are increasingly mainstream and cost effective.

There are some interesting studies which demonstrate the importance of psycho-social factors in the growth of Green. In California posting consumption increased conservation. Another study demonstrated the bandwagon effect. In this study "61% [said they] feel it’s important to take steps to reduce environmental impact." Fear can also motivate people to buy Green. Love for the earth and its inhabitants is yet another powerful psycho-social driver, as is Green guilt.

Federal environmental policies and concomitant legislation are crucial if we are to have enforceable industry standards. Legislation and taxation are powerful industry drivers. In 2008 going Green is a matter of enlightened self-interest. An article in Backbone magazine reported that: "Politicians and big companies have been pushed, if not shoved, into listening to the environmental concerns of their citizens and consumers over the last few years. Now many of those same people are looking at whether their employers’ policies are green enough, and if they are demanding enough of their companies are being proactive by investing in sustainable R&D and reevaluating their manufacturing and packaging processes in order to stay ahead of the curve and ensure a reduction in environmental impact."

These competitive pressures are being addressed voluntarily. Other corporate leaderships which are less receptive are being pressured by shareholders, institutional investors and current and potential employees. There are good reasons why Green is now coming of age. Not the least of which has to do with the buying behaviors of Genration Y. This is the first generation that has grown up steeped in an awareness of Green.

The same article continues: "Companies now realize that many investors and Gen Y employees are looking for organizations that demonstrate ethical and sustainable business practices and offer feel-good employment and investment opportunities...For organizations looking at the big picture, these two influencing forces seem to be enough to drive legitimate change."

The "lifestyles of health and sustainability" sector of the U.S. economy has ballooned into a $240 billion gold mine. And total sales are growing sharply. With unprecedented interest in healthy, organic, fair trade foods, socially conscious consumers are acting on their concerns and fueling the Green foods industry.

Concerns about world hunger demand that we find efficient and sustainable means of feeding the world. The growing demand for food necessitates efforts to find healthy and sustainable methods of production. Aqua-culture is an example of the learning curve involved in the production of sustainable and healthy foods. Although fraught with difficulties, the blue revolution has grown into a large industry. However, the farming of seafood is improving. Better methods are being introduced along with greater emphasis on species better adapted to sustainable farming (i.e.; shellfish, carp, tilapia and catfish).

Greater government regulation is required, but consumers will ultimately determine which species and what methods will survive. Educating consumers will enable them to make choices which are truly sustainable.

Close collaboration and an atmosphere of inclusiveness will drive the next waves of environmental innovation. According to Anthony Giddens,“Environmental technologies are likely to be for the next 20 years what information technology has been for the last 20 - a driving force of wider economic and social change.” While there are numerous forces behind Green, market forces are driving Green infinitely faster than decades of marginalized environmental activism.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Green Unity and Other Utopias

"[T]he trend, from both deliberate and inadvertent human action, is towards a more integrated world. The world will ultimately be united politically, economically, and culturally, at least as much as any society is today. Our choices should be made to bring about a world society that reflects the best that modern societies have to offer..." (Research paper on the Prospects for Integration and Disintegration in the World.)

Unlike the Socialist Green Unity Coalition's political agenda, the new Green movement is inclusive. Environmental management demands international cooperation. International cooperation is required if we are to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gases. Issues like water management and air quality are also trans-border concerns. Green cooperation is a promising source of unity because at its best, it transcends political partisanship.

Green is growing because of the economic opportunities it affords. For those seeking political office, Green is amongst the few issues that garners widespread interest. Green appeals to consumers of all ethnicities and political stripes. In Europe Green has unified Europeans. The same may one day hold true on the world stage. Responsible people experience guilt, and guilt can provide a grass roots impetus for global changes.

Nations will be forced to address common environmental concerns because the need is palpable and the logic is inescapable. Greater international cooperation is facilitated by increased international trade, better transportation, and communication. International cooperation is required to establish standards and strategies. Many nations in the world are already cooperating, for example, to further trade and coordinate relief efforts. We will need even greater cooperation to develop a Green blue-print and coordinate Green research and education.

People are changing their buying behaviors and increasingly purchasing Green. In the west, the popular will is receptive to Green, even if there is a lack of understanding of the issues. Although Green is still very young, Green initiatives may prove to be an emblematic example of international cooperation.

Green possesses a magnetic attraction around which many diverse belief systems can coalesce. As an ideology, Green is capable of captivating the popular imagination. As a matter of pragmatic necessity, nations will be forced to cooperate with each other. Green is an impetus for endless collaboration and an ongoing catalyst for unlimited international cooperation. There are no utopias, but a Greener world will be a more unified world.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Religious Psychology of Green

Green is no longer the exclusive domain of liberal intellectuals or the politically correct. Where other brands need to create an experience, the essence of a Green brand is already widely engrained in the popular imagination.

Green’s mass appeal has caused more than a few observers to make religious comparisons. This comparison is not without merit. Green’s popularity is at least partially attributable to the fact that it is seamlessly compatible with the teachings of most religions. In the east, religious traditions like Taoism emphasize harmony and balance. Veneration of the natural world is at the heart of Shinto. Traditional Aboriginal cultures are emphatic about the importance of their relationship to the earth and its creatures. As one Australian Aboriginal writer explained, “Our spirituality is a oneness and an interconnectedness with all that lives and breathes, even with all that does not live or breathe.”

Buddhism offers an inherently Green philosophy. “Caring for the environment is a natural part of the Buddhist path. The Buddha encouraged us to understand more deeply the underlying unity and interconnectedness of life. Values such as simplicity of lifestyle, sharing with others, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and compassion for all living things have always been at the heart of the tradition.”

As explained in the Big Green Jewish Web Site, "[The] moral imperative sublimely reflected in Isaiah, the Psalms, the Ten Commandments, impels us to be engaged on a perpetual process of repair of the world (Tikkun Olam)."

In the Islamic tradition, Green is more than a sacred color. In Malaysia environmentalism has spread throughout the intellectual and activist communities. And in the UK a group of Muslims have declared June 3rd "Green Islam Day." A conference scheduled for the same day will review Muslim environmental efforts in the UK and around the World.

Even the Christian right, traditionally Green reticent, is showing signs of change. As reported by Bill Moyers of PBS, a group of 86 respected evangelical Christian leaders from across America initiated a campaign for environmental reform. And as reported on MSNBC, Southern Baptists are now fully committed to Green.

In the western world, the similarities between the dominant religion and Green run deep. Like historical Christianity, the new Green religion grants dispensation, sells indulgences, and mitigates guilt. Buying into the Green movement is psychologically similar to receiving the rites of communion or confession. Through the symbolic medium of a host or penance, we are cleansed of our sins. Similarly, when we make a Green purchase, we are paying to assuage our guilt. Carbon credits are like the selling of indulgences by the pre-Lutheran Catholic Church. And our efforts to restore order can be traced to the rites of sacrifice which lead back into the primeval mists of man's beginning.

Many of the mythological motifs of Christianity have parallels with Green. The Garden of Eden is like the earth before the rise of man. Heaven is envisioned as a place where we live in harmony. And our environmental footprints bear similarities to original sin. The language of redemption and salvation can be transposed with words like sustainability and responsibility. And the apocalyptic end times can be construed as a toxic environment within a hostile climate.

Despite widespread acceptance, some religious conservatives seem to perceive Green as a threat. It is as though they fear that Green may replace God, and they may be right. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that religious notions of a compassionate, interdependent universe espouse an inherent ecological sensitivity.

Green responds to some of the same deeply embedded psychological needs as religion. In our secular world, it is easy to see why Green captivates widespread attention. Green’s appeal transcends cultures and demographics. The Green movement is now a universal belief system. This explains why companies are clamoring to be identified with Green. For marketers and business owners Green psychology is like the Rosetta Stone. If understood correctly, it can help decipher buying behaviors and even provide keys to one of the largest markets the world has ever known.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Black the New Green: The Power of Small Gestures

A couple of years ago Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter declared "Green is the new black." Now, two years later, black is the new Green.

Energy saving, search sites like Blackoogle and Blackle are proclaiming "Black is the new Green." These two sites were created “to remind us all of the need to take small steps in our everyday lives to save energy.” Powered by GOOGLE Custom Search™. Blackoogle and Blackle save energy because the search screens are predominantly black. A monitor requires more power to display a white (or light) screen than a black (or dark) screen. Several studies have shown that up to a 20% saving could be reached on CRT monitors Energy Star Desktop Information.

The significance of such measures should not be overlooked. As explained in a Treehugger article: “[T]here are over 600 million computers in the world, many of which never get turned off. For the sake of argument, let's say their screen savers are running around the clock. That's 60,000 Megawatts an hour. Just to keep shapes bouncing around a screen. Just to put that in perspective, the largest wind turbines out there are rated at 10 MW. A large coal-fired plant generates about 300 MW. Even China's Three Gorges hydroelectric dam, which is so huge that filling its reservoir actually made the Earth wobble on its axis, is rated at 30,000 MW.” Although there is disagreement about the significance of the energy savings, the concept has value.

Emma Marris, a Washington correspondent for Nature wrote an article about carbon sequestration subtitled "Black is the New Green" in which she discusses the relatively simple yet effective approach of sequestering carbon by putting it into the ground. This would keep it out of the atmosphere and enrich the earth with charcoal fertilizer.

Tag lines like "Black is the New Green," help to raise awareness and lead to pragmatic changes in our business culture. As reported in Forbes "Green is certainly the new black for companies using and making computers...Now corporate technology managers--and so computer makers--are tallying up their performance per watt, or how much processing power a system can provide while consuming the least amount of power."

The power of "Black is the new Green" comes from leveraging Green’s broad-spectrum support. Something simple and small when replicated enough times, can be something big. This is an important message for those aspiring to a Greener world, and as we will discuss in even greater detail in forthcoming articles, there are implications for marketers and business owners.

For Green to be sustainable it must be woven into the fabric of our values and culture. It must touch upon every aspect of our daily lives. Two years ago the International Herald Tribune quoted Bono as saying "we have got to find ways of making our activism sexy, and fashion is it." A book by Tamsin Blanchard entitled "Green is the New Black," reifies Bono’s hypothesis. Subtitled "Changing the World with Style," Blanchard seems to be suggesting that in terms of its iconic status in fashion, Green has arrived. Lily Cole explains the book by saying “…ethics seems to have become the new fashion trend...These are important changes as we begin to recognize and appreciate the scale to which the small things we do produce consequences on a larger scale.”

Some people believe the earth's salvation will come from large scale technological innovation. They may be right. But while we wait for such miraculous innovations, we would do well to remember that the most sustainable solutions we have today are small gestures multiplied millions of times. "Black is the new Green" reveals the invaluable wisdom of thinking big by thinking small. It is also a testament to Green's ascendency to popular prominence. First Green was being compared to black as a cultural standard in fashion, now, only two years later, Green is the superordinate locus of secular values. Green has come to be the focal point of comparison, the cultural relative against which things are valued.

A 2006 ABC article asked "Will Environmentalism Wear Well as the Latest Fashion?" In 2008 we can safely say that Green is proving that it has the enduring elegance of a timeless classic.