Friday, March 18, 2011

SPN - Green Consumerism: Behavior or Myth?

This Meetup took place on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at Baruch College / CUNY, William and Anita Newman Conference Center, 151 East 25 Street (btwn Lex and 3rd) NYC.

"In a world where greenwashing accusations run rampant and green purchasing seems a fickle, niche trend at best, green products and consumers have continued to evolve for the 21st century. Today, sustainable products and their corporate manufacturers must not only surpass business as usual regulatory requirements, but also perform as well or better than traditional products. Meanwhile, green purchasers, once limited to eco-conscious environmentalists, have broadened to include much wider demographics, especially as Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) marketing has generated an over $200 billion U.S. industry comprising nearly 70 million consumers. No longer limited to ecolabels and recycled packaging, green marketing strategy must successfully juggle product eco-innovation, brand identity, corporate CSR, and interactive communication in an authentic, transparent, and creative way- a feat that is easier said than done.
Join the Sustainable Practice Network’s experts as they explain changing consumer attitudes and behaviors around sustainability, how compelling campaigns frame sustainable products, and the dos and don’ts of green product benchmarking. Hear their predictions for the future of sustainable product development and green marketing and find out whether “green consumption” is myth or reality."

Jacquie Ottman, Moderator
Ottman was a fabulous moderator who put in her two sense while asking stimulating questions and making connections to tie topics together.  She started out with the statistic that "83% of consumers are some shade of green." Baby boomers on up have grown up with the concept of green in their conscience. (She has some more incredible statistics on her blog) But there has been a dark side to this market. Some companies, and even organizations, have been accused of making misstatements and selling out. In this panel, the goal was to answer three main questions:
  1. Who is the green consumer?
  2. How big is that market?
  3. How can we keep the market for green product moving?
Ottman also pointed out that there are many components to green products. Just as the recycling symbol has three arrows to represent collection, processing, and marketing development, green products need to be not only produced responsibly, but must also be used and disposed of in an environmentally conscious way.  
Another key concept that came up over and over is that trust is the biggest part of marketing, and, at the end of the day, consumers trust their friends and family over anyone else. 

Daniel Katz
"Daniel R. Katz is the Senior Program Director at The Overbrook Foundation where he leads the Foundation's environmental giving in the areas of international biodiversity conservation and sustainable consumption and production. He is the Board Chair and former executive director (1986-2000) of the Rainforest Alliance, an organization he co-founded at the age of 24. The Rainforest Alliance works in over 70 countries and has a budge of nearly $40 million."

David Mallen
David G. Mallen is the Deputy Director of the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division (NAD). Before joining NAD, Mallen practiced law, business counseling and commercial litigation. He is an experienced trial lawyer with a background in biological science. 

Josh Parker
Parker is the COO at VerTerra, a company that makes dinnerware from compacted leaves. The company has corporate, social, and environmental responsibility deeply embedded in its mission. 

Questions for Consideration:

1. What roles does social media play in green consumerism?

2. What role does corporate social responsibility play in the expansion of the green market. 

3. Is relying on a third party certifier a good policy?
Parker: No - Trust is the key, and recommendations are far more valued from friends than from third party certifiers.
Mallen: Yes - Third party certifiers are helpful, but we need to have caution when relying on them because not all certifications are equal.
Katz was in the middle. It depends on the customer (in Europe customers tend to be more educated) and the industry. But, in general, companies and non-profits tend to be moving towards a middle ground: companies are taking CSR and double and triple bottom line into account and non-profits are using business models to raise money. 

4. Should minimum green standards be put in place?
For minimum green standards to be required, the customers have to demand it. Companies want to be leaders, not followers because they need to drive demand. There also needs to be transparency of information and trust marks must gain value. The FTC just updated its standards for green packaging. However, the FTC does not make regulations or enforce them; it makes guidelines and definitions for how companies are allowed to use terms in order to avoid false advertising. 

5. What are the biggest mistakes companies make with green marketing?
The biggest mistake tends to be over-enthusiasm - companies take a small step and then make a general claim. 
Often companies use a reverse process, thinking about how they can say their green before doing the small actions that will have the biggest PR impact.
Companies should also talk about where they fall short because it can help build trust between the advertisers and the consumer. 

6. Should there be a ratio on how much money companies can invest in product development to how much they can spend on advertising?
No - This could potentially limit small businesses, but an interesting concept.

7. How can we make life-cycle assessment by the consumer possible? Should labels list total resource usage such as gallons of water and carbon emissions? How can bar code apps help with the transparency of this information and create a more informed consumer? 
Resource labels have been considered, but may actually cause more packaging. Bar code apps are helpful, but don't tell the whole story and aren't a solution. The Good Guide is a great example of one of these bar code apps. 

8. Do regulations impede or help? 

9. Why is California ahead of NY?

10. Why is there a gap between the U.S. and Europe?
This is really because Europeans (in general) have smaller apartments and don't have lawns. While these are generalizations and so is the question, there do seem to be cultural differences that make the green economy very different. 
Katz: In Europe, people tend to do things for the greater good, while the U.S. is focused on me me me, my way or the highway, and "no one's going to tell me what type of light bulb to use!"
Mallen: The first amendment is incredibly prominent in U.S. culture. This give companies the freedom to innovate in terms of their marketing, etc.

11. Levi's WaterLess Jeans
Levi's new jeans brand uses 96% less water. The logo is confusing - it can easily be read in a way that implies that the jeans take no water to produce, but the it really mean that they use less water. The entire audience ended up agreeing that it is an unauthentic marketing campaign. First of all, which part of the supply chain are they starting at? Because cotton is a crop that takes an incredible amount of water and pesticides to produce. Next, it was pointed out that 20 or 30 years ago, jeans were made with hardly any water (and that's why they were so still). So, is Levi's making jeans with 96% less water than their most recent brands or ever? It might even be the case that they are using more energy or being less environmentally friendly by not using the water. Andthe information below from the website shows that some jeans on this line save as little as 28% of water.

Levi's® Wants to be Part of the Solution

Levi's® believes that it is important to take action because we're part of an industry that depends on water. An average pair of Levi's® jeans needs 42 liters of water to be dyed, washed, and finished. Once we take them home we use even more water caring for our jeans using 21 liters every time we wash. That's 4 times the amount of water someone in a developing country might use for an entire day's drinking, cleaning, cooking, and washing combined.
Building Better Product
The Levi's® brand is offering one way to address the water used in our part of the equation: Water<Less™ jeans. Water<Less™ jeans reduce our water usage by an average of 28% per pair--and up to 96% for some styles. It's not going to fix the problem, but it's a step in the right direction, and one that we're committed to as we're increasing our Water<Less manufacturing.
But We Can't Do It Alone.
Starting March 2011, we intend to provide access to excess; we will provide clean drinking water to communities in need around the world, and we need your help distributing it.
To join us in caring for the planet please sign up below.
12. Should companies have a sustainability manager, and, if so, what department does he/she work under?

13. How do we educate consumers about the true cost of products (True Cost of Food) when it is extremely rare that they see more than their own usage of the product (no one sees where their product comes from or goes).

14. 85% of Americans think corporations have too much power (Annie Leonard - Story of Citizens United vs. FTC). How can these corporations use their power to influence government in a good way to increase green infrastructure and support a green economy?

"Established in 2004, the Sustainability Practice Network (SPN) is a New York-based interdisciplinary community of professionals who seek to learn and share knowledge to advance sustainable development across sectors and disciplines. We mobilize our members to practice sustainability in their lives and work. Our mission is to raise awareness of the importance of individual and corporate sustainability and thereby create a more stable and equitable world."

If you have any comments or questions please leave a comment below.

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