What's the Future of Green Marketing?
By Vicki Powers, freelance writer, Deliver® Magazine
If there’s one thing that we at Deliver®
in putting together this article, it’s that we seem
to have reached a tipping point when it comes to
sustainable business practices. Clearly, green is
here to stay. But, in the process of developing a
more eco-friendly approach to business and
marketing, what have we learned along the way? How
far have we come from the roots of the eco movement?
And where is it likely to head?
To explore those questions, we recently spoke with
three green-business thought leaders: Jeff Renaud,
director of marketing for GE’s ecomagination
business; Paul Comey, vice president of
environmental affairs for Green Mountain Coffee
Roasters; and Andrew Winston, author of Green
Recovery and co-author of Green to Gold.
Deliver: Why has green business become mainstream?
Winston: Green has become a central part of the
business discussion for a lot of reasons. Companies
are feeling pressure from a whole range of
stakeholders, including customers, employees and
vendors. Then there are tangible mega environmental
pressures — such as climate change and water
shortages — that are evolving no matter what the
economic situation is. Combine all these forces, and
there really is no choice anymore. But there are
great proactive reasons to look at the business
through a green lens. It saves money, reduces risk,
drives innovation and new product development, and
builds brand value and loyalty. Finally, it’s a
great way to survive this recession.
Comey: We’ve reached the point where you can’t
continue to consume your environment and think that
it’s going to be OK. Through the ’90s, people became
aware that we were consuming resources at a
horrendous rate. Even so, we don’t currently pursue
new green business ideas as environmental projects
so much as good operational practices. If we want to
change the way we handle waste at our company, for
example, I’ll pitch it as an idea that will reduce
waste cost, reduce hauling cost — and, oh, by the
way, it helps our environment. Looking at it from
two different lenses gives you a much better
Deliver: How have the eco-business efforts at your
company changed over time?
Renaud: I think the general environment has
certainly changed over the last four years since we
launched ecomagination in 2005. The debate centered
more around whether we — the broader business
community, not just GE — should really be focused on
the “green space.” And, if so, could we deliver
returns to our shareholders in the process? The
consensus seems to be a resounding “yes.” If you
look at our ecomagination product portfolio, we
launched with 17 products, and today we have more
than 80 products. Customer demand drives our growth
in the ecomagination product line.
Comey: Early on, most of our green efforts were
employee-driven by a champion in the organization
who had a passion. In the early ’90s, for example, a
couple of engineering folks wanted to save money by
developing a filtration system to replace the
purchasing of liquid in small bulk tanks. We still
have those champions sprinkled throughout the
organization as our company has grown larger, but we
also take a more systematic approach to it. This can
involve processes like replacing lamp fixtures with
more energy-efficient versions anytime we do
renovations in acquired buildings. Our Knoxville,
Tenn., location is getting ready to proceed with
this. We have applied for Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) certification for one of
our recently remodeled buildings, and we’re
currently looking for similar opportunities as we
Deliver: Is the economy changing the way companies
approach green business efforts?
Winston: Leading companies in green business are not
slowing down. They’re still pursuing and, in some
cases, accelerating their green efforts. Companies
that consider putting their green efforts aside to
wait out the economic downturn are making a big
mistake. The smartest companies are recommitting to
sustainability and using environmental thinking not
only to stay profitable but also to drive innovation
and help their customers. Green thinking can help
companies get out of these challenges.
Sustainability is at the very core of survival.
Green is about doing more with less, which can save
you money quickly.
Renaud: We are responding to the economy by
continuing to invest in ecomagination. We believe
you need to innovate even in a downturn to come out
stronger. Our researchers are focusing on new
technologies, such as new ways to maximize wind
capture. Even in our current economic environment,
the GE ecomagination initiative achieved $17 billion
in 2008 revenues, which is a 21-percent
year-over-year increase from 2007.
Comey: The downturn in the economy makes us look
harder at what we do and justify our costs. There
are green initiatives we do that cost money, such as
removing the petroleum from our paper-cup liner and
substituting it with polylactic acid. Our costs went
up, but it wasn’t a cost we felt we should pass
along to the consumer. We felt it was the right
thing to do in an effort to get the industry to
start looking at biopolymers and renewable resources
as the correct way to go.
We also just installed a 100,000-watt solar array on
top of our distribution building. We were able to
put together a package — even in a down economy —
that allowed us to spend $750,000 on a solar array
and have it make good financial sense for the
company. Typically, solar has a 15-year payback,
but, by looking for tax incentives and energy grants
from the state and accelerated depreciation from the
federal government, we were able to make it work.
As a company with a very successful consumer direct
channel, it was important for us to look for ways to
reduce the environmental effect of our catalogs, so
we sought ways to offset their impact. As a first
step, we just converted our catalog to paper from
sustainable forests, which is a big move for us. And
our printer is using ink from 27-percent renewable
Deliver: Where do you see things headed in the
future with eco business?
Comey: I’d like to see renewable resources in
packaging make greater gains. To keep coffee fresh,
you need to keep out oxygen, moisture and sunlight.
Once you’ve made a package that keeps out those
properties, you’ve basically designed a package that
isn’t going to break down, isn’t recyclable and
isn’t made from renewable resources. It’s a
petroleum, metallic package. We’re all looking for
packaging innovations that can protect our products
from the elements and be environmentally friendly.
That’s what I’m hoping to see in the future.
Winston: Green business is becoming the norm. In the
future, we may not talk about green business per se,
just business in general. Companies will need to
operate in a way that recognizes environmental
pressures and strives to reduce them. Those that
make these changes will survive and thrive. Those
that don’t will find their cost structures are too
expensive to operate and will have trouble competing
Renaud: In the near term, we’re focused on
continuing to execute the commitments we made in
2005, which are achieving certain revenue targets,
R&D targets and performance targets. We’ve got a
substantial ability to deliver environmental changes
today, but there’s still a lot of opportunity out
there. We recently announced that we’d be launching
a venture to manufacture advanced batteries for the
transportation market. GE certified its first few
products that are focused on recycling heat from
different processes and using it to generate steam
or additional power. These are big markets and large
opportunities that we’re focused on.
GE created its ecomagination initiative in 2005 to
help solve the world’s biggest environmental
challenges through new products targeting industries
such as commercial, electric utilities, government,
residential, and transport, to name a few. Through
ecomagination, GE has developed more than 80
products ranging from solar, hybrid locomotives and
compact fluorescent lighting to wind turbines,
Energy Star appliances and aircraft engines. Jeff
Renaud, director of marketing, spearheads efforts in
ecomagination and is the lead for developing new
products for the green building market.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was pushing organic
and fairtrade coffee long before these coffee
options were fashionable. Based in Waterbury, Vt.,
the company sells wholesale coffee as well as the
single-cup brewing system by Keurig, which Green
Mountain Coffee Roasters acquired in 2006. Long
recognized as a leader in socially and
environmentally sustainable business practices,
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters continues to push the
boundaries regarding green business initiatives
while achieving double-digit revenue growth. Paul
Comey, vice president, environmental affairs, guides
the company’s green business efforts.
Environmental strategist Andrew Winston co-authored
Green to Gold, a 2006 best-selling guide of what
works and what doesn’t when companies go green. His
latest book, Green Recovery: Get Lean, Get Smart and
Emerge from the Downturn on Top, makes the case that
companies that do not put their green efforts on
hold during challenging economic times will survive
---Source: Deliver Magazine
Sept 8, 2009 (www.delivermagazine.com). Deliver
is a USPS® publication. Vicki Powers in
an award-winning, freelance writer specializing in
business and technology. Reach her at http://www.vickipowers.com/contact.htm
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