for what it’s worth

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John Grant explains his Green Marketing Manifesto

the green marketing manifestoI was lucky enough to get given an early copy of the lovely John Grant’s new book The Green Marketing Manifesto thanks to PSFK. The book is an insightful understanding for marketers and brands into meaningful green marketing, and, as well as being hugely thought-provoking, offers a practical and ingenious ‘roadmap’ guide to help marketing do good and deliver on it’s green objectives, or rather: ‘it’s not about making normal stuff seem green, it’s about making green stuff seem normal’. John very kindly took time out of his super-busy schedule to answer a couple of questions for me (well for PSFK!) and explain his book, his beliefs and his future plans:

Can you briefly explain the ‘roadmap’ that underpins your book?

I wrote the book (originally it started as a paper for a potential client project) to try to make sense of the torrent of recent green marketing initiatives. I wanted to sift out what was greenwash and what had substance – and also try to get to what was actually working, and why; and to map out the terrain a bit.

The structure that emerged from this research into the main types of approach turned out to be a 3×3 grid.

One axis simply describes what is being marketed; is it a public/corporate task, a brand/social identity/community sort of thing, or is it about products, practicalities, inconspicuous consumption and everyday habits? It becomes much simpler to talk about green marketing when you don’t mix up these different levels. Corporate, brand and product marketing are always different. The only thing Du Pont, the Toyota Prius and lagging your loft have in common is the aim to reduce carbon emissions; but in different contexts, and obviously with very different types of marketing, in different media, to different audiences.

The other axis discriminates between three broad types of objectives:

– Green: a company or brand or product, which is setting new standards. It might be a corporate programme like M&S Plan A; a brand conforming to an eco-labeling scheme; or a product which is simply made in a better way. The marketing in this category tends to be quite straightforward and factual. With Green & Blacks for instance, a lot of their marketing has consisted of giving away sample bars (on places like the cover of Good Housekeeping Magazine), so that people who wouldn’t necessarily have considered Fairtrade/organic chocolate can taste for themselves just how good it is.

– Greener. In many markets the main impact comes from how the product or service is used. Hence the potential to work with customers to achieve a bigger result together. The most prominent example in the UK has been Ariel asking people to ‘turn to 30’. That’s a very simple, common sense request. But in other cases, getting people to cut or switch can require education. Did you know that 1/3 of food bought in the UK is wasted. Apart from all the resources that went into production and transportation, food waste produces methane (a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Wasted food is reckoned to be equivalent to 1/5 of all car use. There’s a big education campaign called WRAP that launched in the last few weeks to tackle this, and retailers and manufacturers are getting involved too. It’s a really interesting cultural issue and incidentally points out how limited the ‘leave it all to us’ attitude taken by some brands is.

– Greenest. That’s all very well, but gradual improvements and efficiencies are not going to get us to the 90% reductions in carbon emissions that many are now saying are needed. There are going to have to be much bigger changes.

Some will involve giving stuff up. Low cost flights for one. People will still fly, for sure, but not at the level described by in their “Take5aYear” advertising (which incredibly just picked up an award as ‘the best’ travel industry poster campaign of 2007!) Some recent research found that 80% feel guilty every time they fly. And also that 41% are already using their car less. The message is getting through, and splurging carbon is becoming about as socially acceptable as a fur coat, just look at all the stuff levelled at celebrities.

There will also be instances where people’s needs can be met just as well or better, while doing dramatically less damage. Home grocery delivery is a much greener option, if it becomes widespread enough to drive out-of-town shopping out of business. Tough stuff for Tesco, but when it can save a lot of money, time and also a huge amount of carbon wasted in car trips, heating, lighting, open refrigeration and so on…? Home delivery is becoming quite well established, but what about sharing clubs, libraries, rental and so on, for most consumer durables. How about making it normal to go back to the launderette? (which could reclaim nearly all water and soap, and use expensive low energy machines). This is where we need bold ‘trojan horse’ ideas to help us all over our greenophobia. What if every gym had a launderette, and the treadmills generated some of the electricity?

The bulk of green marketing campaigns have been in the first category so far. Ecoblahblah slogans and all that. In future we need to see more collaboration (beyond ‘pledges’ which so few take, and fewer stick to) and a LOT more innovation. There is a barely a market that couldn’t be reinvented if you started again, thinking about planet, people and profit together. We don’t need sustainability communications, so much as an avalanche of inventions.

How far behind this understanding do you think the advertising industry is?

It varies, there are some very switched on agencies and individuals and then there are the other sort. Also it simply depends on the brief. Advertising is great when you have something scarily new to mythologize and bring to the mainstream. It’s also good at simple collaborative actions. It’s often a disaster waiting to happen when you are ‘communicating your green credentials’. There’s also the question of advertising’s place in any media mix, its credibility, authenticity. The utility companies (some of them) have a good story around their green energy tariffs. But I need to read about this on Treehugger, not see it in an ad break, surely?

We know the title of the book was under debate and you got lots of input from your blog readers, but what made you decide on the Green Marketing Manifesto?

The Green Marketing Manifesto was the original title for the project, and my publisher liked it because it was straightforward and also connected with my previous books called The _ _ Manifesto. I just wasn’t totally sure about it. Was ‘green’ too narrow? I quite liked the idea of something less ‘trade book’ for instance The Beautiful Coincidence (ie when breakthrough ideas were equally good for people, planet and profit). In the end I ran a poll on my blog – PSFK were very helpful by the way in directing people to this – and over 300 people voted. The Green Marketing Manifesto came first. So that stuck as the title.

What would you like to see as an outcome from your book / for the industry moving forwards?

I’d like to see much less greenwash and much more innovation. I’ve spent more time in the last year talking to people in agencies and public forums 2 or 3 times a week, than on writing the book. Lots of people have said it all now makes a bit more sense. That’s what I’d hope for anyway. Radical common sense.

What is next for you??

Myself and several friends are getting together a forum where people in the creative industries can meet green entrepreneurs and hopefully help them by donating ideas, support, advice.

I am also working on a report and event on the big green opportunities – beyond cleantech – for investors and entrepreneurs (with Glasshouse, in December).

I have some big plans for next year, mainly working with sustainability experts on innovation programmes, and with some exciting g-commerce start-ups. Less writing and talking, and a lot more doing hopefully!

Thanks John!

Green Marketing Manifesto

Read John’s blog, and definitely go buy the book

Filed under: evironmental insights, worth buying

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