Alex Clack, Ogilvy - Out of the red, into green

How to avoid accusations of 'greenwash' and achieve actual consumer behaviour change.

Alex Clack, Ogilvy - Out of the red, into green
Alex Clack, Ogilvy - Out of the red, into green

During the past 18 months, the UK has been in and out of a recession and, within this time, many brands have focused on communicating value and cost saving to maintain their place in the market. But what does this mean for those brands and products that see sustainability as their primary USP?

The good news, according to a recent Populus survey, is that consumers are still concerned about businesses' social and environmental record. With a continued appetite for sustainability-led communications, how do you avoid accusations of 'greenwash' and achieve actual consumer behaviour change?

A few key points to keep in mind when planning your campaign:

- Living more sustainably needs to be seen as aspirational.

For too long being 'green' has been about giving up something - your car for the school run or not having your heating on as high as you like. To achieve long-term behaviour change, consumers need to be inspired and excited; they need to see that changes in their daily activities, or the products they buy, will actually enhance their lives, not deprive them. Otarian, a new boutique, casual restaurant, soon to open in London, will be the first global chain to carbon footprint every menu item to internationally recognised standards. The new concept places sustainability at its heart, fusing a passion for the environment with a passion for great food. Consumers make savings on their carbon footprint while still getting great tasting food.

- Seek true partnerships with NGOs where the collaboration is one of co-creation and open dialogue. This will mean opening up your business to NGOs or scientific and environmental experts earlier in your campaign planning than you might think. This shouldn't be a cause for concern: the best NGOs understand that real change can only be brought about with the support of the commercial world, so developing trusted relationships is of equal importance to them.

For instance, the Rainforest Alliance works directly with firms to set targets, deliver meaningful change, report on results and police activities on behalf of the companies they partner.

- Consumers are sensitive to 'greenwash'. Before making claims to the wider world, you must be able to show you are embracing sustainability internally; that it is wired into the fabric of the business. As part of its Cleaner Planet Plan, Unilever investigated the environmental impact of its laundry products, from acquiring raw materials through to consumer usage. It discovered that 80 per cent of the environmental impact takes place through consumer use, with only 20 per cent occurring during manufacturing and distribution. Consequently, Unilever is taking responsibility for communicating to the consumer responsible ways of using the product, as well as making changes to its manufacturing processes.

So, if effective positioning around sustainability requires significant operational and cultural commitment, how can you build the necessary support with internal stakeholders?

The answer lies in demonstrating the commercial imperatives. CEOs perceive one-off, feel-good environmental projects as a discretionary cost. Instead, the focus should be on how sustainable business practices can save money and improve the bottom line in the immediate term. The Energy Saving Trust, for instance, estimates that an organisation with a fleet of 100 vehicles could save up to £90,000 each year by implementing green fleet practices.

It is no longer possible for the corporate conscience to be cleared by the odd donation to a recognised 'green' charity. Only a meaningful commitment, based on actual organisational behaviour change, will achieve cut-through with today's consumers.

- Alex Clack is head of consumer PR at Ogilvy London

VIEWS IN BRIEF

- What is the best coverage your agency has attracted for a story based on a survey?

A survey on food intolerance for client York Test, using Denise Lewis as spokesperson. It completely owned the news cycle for a day - TV, radio, print and online.

- Who is your fantasy campaign spokesman/woman? Why?

Barack Obama - the most trusted man in the world. The spokesperson we are currently using for the Global Fund Born HIV Free Campaign comes a close second - Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

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