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Brands get the green light

It was approaching Spring, that time of year when the covers of popular women's magazines are groaning with promises of diets to “get your body bikini ready” and workout tips guaranteed to give you back the body you had at 25. One particular cover had me doing a double-take - “lose half a ton a month” it promised. Intrigued, I read further and found that the diet in question was, of course, a carbon diet. That's when it hit me, “greening” has finally gone mainstream! Eco-friendly consumerism is certainly nothing new but, whereas green issues were once strictly the preserve of a bunny-hugging, granola-eating niche, all indications are that environmental concerns now shape consumer decisions in a far broader market. Greening has graduated from passing trend to long-term shift in how consumers are living and shopping.
Practices that fall under the environmentally friendly umbrella are diverse and include the use of organic and natural ingredients, recyclable packaging, energy-efficient manufacturing processes and the reduction of carbon emissions.

What will happen then when green meets the consumers' most powerful navigator - the brand? Marketers are increasingly realising that questions regarding who makes the product, with what and how are becoming top of mind for savvy consumers.

International examples of companies who are successfully leveraging the feel-good factor of buying green abound: UK supermarket giant, Tesco, and French retailer, Casino, are experimenting with ‘carbon labels” on their own-brand products. These labels give the carbon count of the product and take into consideration factors such as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the manufacture of the product's packaging, the extent to which the packaging is recyclable and the CO2 emitted during transportation. Carbon labels enable consumers to compare the carbon content of products in the same way as we are currently able to discern the kilojoule or fat content and thereby make informed choices.

The service industry is also rising to meet the green challenge; in the USA BeGreen, the carbon offset division of a major energy company, has partnered with Global Executive, a conference and events logistics management company, to create conference travel packages which enable delegates and organisers to reduce the carbon emissions generated by their travel and hotel stays.

On the local front evidence of socially-conscious branding is on the increase. South African legend Nando's recently launched Peri Deli, a premium fast-food store which has impressive green credentials; the chicken is all free-range and the packaging is 100% compostable and biodegradable. Even the shirts worn by Peri Deli staff are made from recycled PET bottles. Various major retail food stores offer an extensive organic range and Woolworths is a pioneer of eco-friendly choices, bringing consumers South Africa's first organic merino wool, their own-brand cosmetics which are endorsed by Beauty Without Cruelty and a range of green household cleaners. However when one considers that a major tenet of a low carbon diet is to eat food grown locally and seasonally, it is somewhat anomalous that one can buy figs imported from Spain at the same store! As customers we've become so used to being spoilt for choice and undoubtedly what is needed is better customer education on the rationale and benefits of eco-friendly practices to counteract potential resistance.

There is definite potential for the combination of brands and greening to result in a win-win situation, as evidenced by the Toyota Prius. This is a good example of a brand that leverages the trust and heritage of its motherbrand, Toyota, to lend it credibility whilst simultaneously boosting the Toyota brand image by portraying it as environmentally conscious and responsible. Had the Prius been branded as a separate entity it may not have had credibility in the auto world and, even if it had been successful, none of this positive equity would have accrued to Toyota who are now seen as leaders in green motoring.

What then is the future for brands going green? The benefits are undeniable - a green brand can serve as a unique selling point for a product or service and can significantly impact the overall brand value while simultaneously boosting the corporate image. And with the positive impact on the environment, this is an instance where the grass truly is greener on the other side!

6 May 2009 12:14

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About the author

Katherine is a brand strategist at The Brand Union. An attorney by qualification, Katherine spent a number of years specialising in property law.



Her career then took a drastic change when she moved into marketing and brand management. She spent four years working exclusively in the cosmetics field and gained experience in skincare, makeup, fragrance and personal care. Her move to strategy is a result of wanting to focus less on operations and more on the thinking behind the brand.



Katherine qualified with a BA LLB and an IMM Diploma in Marketing.




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