Conference highlights opportunities for telling green stories

SAN FRANCISCO: Paul Zeven, CEO of Philips North America, and Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation, served as the keynotes at PRWeek's Target Green conference on May 9.

SAN FRANCISCO: Paul Zeven, CEO of Philips North America, and Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation, served as the keynotes at PRWeek's Target Green conference on May 9.

Zeven's afternoon keynote spoke of Philips' initial failure to respond to a challenge from Greenpeace India, which named it as the worst offender for avoidable carbon dioxide emissions in India.

"Our PR group did not [initially] get the word out" about the good Philips was doing, Zeven said.

Addressing the philosophy that promotion of green initiatives should be muted, he said, "In today's media world, this wisdom is quickly eroding." Zeven gave advice to attendees looking to get off on the right foot in highlighting green initiatives.

"You must make sure your own house is in order, base [claims] on proof, admit mistakes, and correct them," he said. "You must believe sustainability is right for your company, as well as your personal life."

More than 200 people came to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco to listen to and participate in panels on green food, clean tech, and sustainable corporate reputation, as well as hearing case studies from Siemens, GE, and Dow.

During the green food panel, Ted Smyth, chief administrative officer and SVP of corporate and government affairs for Heinz, underscored how complicated and vital it is to highlight positive initiatives.

Smyth said that analysts typically ranked Heinz high with regard to CSR, but customer knowledge of its efforts was low.

Bryant Hilton, Dell's PR manager for sustainability, talked about how the company's campaign to get customers to contribute for tree planting would have been a failure if Dell wasn¹t doing its own sustainability work.

"If we weren't looking at our carbon effect and just had the planting tree [campaign], it would be [seen as] greenwashing," he said.

Hollender opened the event by talking frankly about the current affordability of green products.

"We know we sell expensive green products to well-educated, [well-off] people," he said.

But Hollender added that the company is concerned about those who can't afford the products. One initiative aims to help push for cleaning services companies to use the products so its cleaning personnel are able to use non-toxic, healthier supplies on the houses they clean.

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