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To appeal to today's increasingly responsible consumer, brands must find a way to integrate ethical practices into every step of production. Several companies are finding that with a bit of thought, green NPD can deliver real results.
Renault is one brand seeking to build a credible environmental message through its 'eco2' green initiative. The focus has been on credible communication in what is a hostile environment for the gas-guzzling car industry.
A major part of the car marque's initiative is the use of the leaf symbol, depicting its 'eco2' proposition, which denotes vehicles that are 'economical and ecological'. A vehicle is given the Renault 'eco2' symbol if it emits less than 140g/km of CO2; is manufactured in a plant that has been certified ISO 14001; can be 95% recyclable, and uses at least 5% recycled plastics.
'You have to have a credible brand,' explains Louise O'Sullivan, brand manager at Renault. 'We didn't want to say we're environmentally friendly. We wanted to say we are a car maker and this is how we compare with the rest of the market. We've tried to be honest.'
As the Department for Transport has conceded, it will be impossible getting everyone out of their cars. Business can help modify their behaviour, but products and services can sometimes be limited by external forces. 'We've been impeded by the fact that the government hasn't installed bio-fuel pumps,' says O'Sullivan. 'We could market those products, but we know we can't sell them because we would have customer dissatisfaction.'
Her advice to marketers is to keep on top of legislation. If, for example, Gordon Brown decides to add a tax on high-emission vehicles, a measure currently being discussed, a product line could go from hero to zero over night.
Unilever's Dove brand has identified sustainability as a major action point. Part of this is to stimulate the team and ensure that sustainability is at the front of everyone's minds. Dr John Hines, Dove's global R&D operations manager, says that Unilever examined the brand's long-term strategy, asking questions such as what it wanted Dove to stand for and what the brand currently means to consumers.
'From that emerged a number of aspects including sustainability,' he says. 'Consumers are concerned about wasting resources and climate change. Dove is a brand that talks a lot about honesty. It has a clear social position and social mission, with the "Campaign for Real Beauty". So it feels like Dove is a brand that people will look to for a point of view on many of these emerging issues. We don't want to disappoint people.'
Hines admits that Dove is not a green brand in the way ecover is, for example, and its not about to become one. 'But when we look at our holistic personality, Dove is certainly a brand that people associate with sharing points of view on similar issues, such as body image and the impact of advertising and media on young girls,' he adds.
For brands that want to adopt a similar stance, Hines suggests approaches such as having a clear product philosophy and embedding sustainability at the heart of the brand and innovation strategy. 'We've got a vision of what we want Dove to be like in seven years, and we're applying that vision as a template to generating new products,' he explains.
In addition, every new product idea is put through the sustainability filter. 'There might be a great idea with value for consumers, but if the only way to deliver is to increase packaging, then we would realise that idea was not for us, and we'd see if it could be developed with reduced packaging,' says Hines.
The question of packaging is close to many product development strategies, as are the ways that brand quality can be maintained, while waste is reduced.
Toiletries brand Lush was created on the proposition of using natural ingredients, minimal packaging and no animal testing. It sells solid products, such as 'shampoo bars', that cut the need for packing, and incentivises consumers to opt for them through promotions, such giving shoppers a free storage tin when they by two items.
A big part of its business is gift boxes. For these, Lush products are packaged in bigger presentational packs that use popcorn, recycled paper and paper ribbons. Ruth Andrade, environmental officer at Lush, says that in today's climate, sometimes it is not always feasible to simply give the consumer what they ask for when it comes to packaging.
'Is it really ethical to offer something wrapped in layer upon layer of packaging, even if all the consumer research says that is what the customer wants?' she asks. 'If something isn't right, you shouldn't be offered that as an option.'
For Lush, consumer education on the subject is easier - it offers a personal customer service in the shops, and staff can explain the reasons behind the packaging. 'We highlight the environmental impact - it's not just something that helps the product look beautiful,' says Andrade. 'This is the packaging we offer, and we hope consumers will understand and use those concepts in other areas of their lives.'
DATA FILE - CONFERENCE
Date: 27 November 2007
Venue: Le Meridien Piccadilly, London
Speakers include: Allison Murray, head of corporate responsibility, T-Mobile; Andrew Jenkins, sustainable development manager - products, Boots; Dinah McLeod, head of sustainability practice, BT; Dr James Hagan, vice-president, corporate environment, health and safety, GlaxoSmithKline; Dr John Hines, Dove global R&D operations manager, Unilever UK; Emma Gotch, packaging manager, clothing department, Tesco; Louise O'Sullivan, brand manager, Renault; Robbie McIntosh, development director, News Group Newspapers; Robert Harper, product manager, environment and renewables, RWE Npower; Rowland Hill, corporate responsibility/sustainability manager, Marks & Spencer; Sarah McCartney, editor, Lush; Ruth Andrade, environmental officer, Lush; Stephen Cheliotis, chairman, Superbrands Council; Steve Shore, product executive, Abbey.
Contact: Telephone Haymarket Conferences on 020 8267 4011; email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.greennpd.com.