Wall Street had a stormy 2008, but there is a silver lining: Industry leaders are now turning to all things "eco" as a new source of (genuine?) green.
Here are the top five green marketing stories from a volatile year—and what they may mean for your business in 2009.
1. Advertising Goes Green and Gets Noticed
The Story: Despite budget cuts across the board, cause-related marketing still enjoyed 3% growth in 2008, and now represents one in nine dollars spent on sponsorships. Wal-Mart, GE, and HSBC won the first-ever Green Effie awards, while other companies like Innocent Smoothies, Cotton USA, and Fiat and EasyJet got accused of making false green marketing claims.
With eco-savvy shoppers on the prowl for truly environmentally sound companies and products, a new site—Greenwashing Index—allows consumers to rate companies' green ad claims.
The Spin: Green marketing campaigns are proving to be a good investment, but they had better hold up under public scrutiny, because consumers also wise up to "greenwashing."
The prospect of free PR from Green Effies and other awards that are popping up will make green an easier sale for marketing departments.
2. Federal Trade Commission Updates Green Marketing Guidelines
The Story: With so many environmental claims sprouting up, the FTC placed updates to its Green Guides, last reviewed in 1998, on a fast track. Among the key topics, carbon offsets were mulled over, green packaging requirements were reevaluated, and green building claims came under scrutiny.
The Spin: Keep an eye out for revised FTC Green Guides in 2009, and heed their advice. Not legally binding, they are the best guidance available for would-be green marketers looking to keep claims on the straight and narrow.
3. Bottled Water Industry Takes a Hit—and Strikes Back
The Story: With environmental consciousness informing consumerism, critics shunned bottled water for its inherent wastefulness and contribution to climate change, particularly in cities with perfectly acceptable drinking water.
Michael J. Brune, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, told the New York Times: "Bottled water is a business that is fundamentally, inherently, and inalterably unconscionable. No side deals to protect forests or combat global warming can offset that reality."
To quench scrutiny, Fiji reported that its bottled water was truly "carbon negative" and allied with Conservation International for technical advice and oversight of Fiji's investments in renewable energy and conservation efforts in the Fiji rainforest. To reassure consumers, Fiji plans to disclose its carbon footprint on a new Web site. Nestle, too, retaliated against industry criticism with its "next-generation" water bottle—claiming it is the lightest bottle on the market. With Ethos water, Starbucks and Pepsi took a different approach, pushing eco-philanthropy in order to ease consumer conscience.
The Spin: According to some critics, no matter how strongly bottled water brands try to minimize packaging and to recycle, the idea of depleting ground water and transporting it over thousands of miles may just be unsustainable, and many consumers will continue to tap into other sources instead.
Pay close attention to consumers' concerns with your own product's environmental impact. Consider an assessment of environmental impacts over the lifecycle of your product (unite with industry competitors to share costs) to identify areas of greatest vulnerability.
4. The Crash of Detroit and GM Introduces Chevy Volt
The Story: The auto industry has been hit hard in the current bleak economy—a fiasco that could have been averted if, like their Asian counterparts, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors had seen the writing on the wall decades ago. Not surprisingly, many say that a bailout should include an eco-makeover, creating new opportunities for green transportation technologies.
Forging a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute, GM is one of many automakers racing to clean up their act and, among other things, take steps to "ecologize" production. GM now pins its hopes on a Chevy Volt intro, pushed up to 2010. Its lithium-ion battery can be recharged right off the grid. GM has also announced plans to devote an entire design studio to cleaner vehicles.
The Spin: Expect more cleaner, greener, smaller cars on the road in a hurry. Plan ahead. Monitor long-term changes in your own industry. Five-year timelines are too short for a planet that's six billion years old!
5. Administration Change
The Story: With the Bush/Cheney having taken its last bows, major change for environmental politics is anticipated. Environmental groups long criticized the Bush administration for its ecological ignorance and refusal to support clean energy alternatives, but change may be in sight; executives say that with an Obama White House green business will flourish.
The new administration has plans to bolster clean energy, provide five million green-collar jobs, and set strict regulations for businesses. Already, the new president directed federal regulators to quickly consider applications by 14 states to set limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks; and he ordered the Transportation Department to draft rules that set higher fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks.
The Spin: A renewed focus on environmental issues in Washington will surely strengthen the green market and require cleaner and greener marketing strategies for all industries. Expect green to move from a niche to a mainstream business necessity.