Brands looking to use the green agenda in their marketing are being forced to reconsider, as consumers increasingly look carefully at anything that purports to be environmental or ethical.
Marketers are being forced to ask some searching questions. How is green marketing affecting consumers' pockets, and, crucially, how can brands present themselves as environmentally active without seeming to be jumping on a tired-looking bandwagon?
These are some of the questions a bevy of leading marketers will seek to answer at the Green Marketing Conference, to be held jointly by Marketing and Campaign in London on 14 October.
Environmental impact, waste, recycling and fair play are all issues companies emphasise to sell their green credentials, but the biggest discussion points at the conference could be the credit crunch and the prospect of recession. Green aspirations are bound to be compromised in this climate.
Rules of engagement
'The credit crunch has separated those who don't have genuine intentions from those who do,' says Greg Nugent, UK marketing director at Eurostar, which is positioning itself as a green alternative to air travel. 'In the past two years, there has been a stampede by businesses, but it is a long-term game in which they are going to become more socially accountable for their actions.'
Another, often overlooked, area of green marketing is regulation regarding what can be said in campaigns. Mike Hughes, director general of ISBA, says there is a grey shade of green in play. 'It would be helpful if the rules were in line with EU thinking, so appropriate guidance to advertisers can be given,' he says. 'Advertisers don't set out to be misleading, but an unequivocal definition of terms, and the justification for using them, is key.'
Jenny Alexander, investigations executive at the Advertising Standards Authority, will also be in attendance at the Green Marketing Conference to discuss the rules of engagement when using green messages in campaigns.
Marks & Spencer's Plan A initiative is one of the higher-profile corporate green schemes to have been launched, with the aim of tackling the challenges surrounding sustainability.
Rowland Hill, corporate social responsibility/sustainability manager at M&S, says that improving the sustainability of supply chains is vital, but requires significant investment.
'However, there are examples where lean production and eco-efficiency can work side-by-side to reduce both costs and environmental impact,' he adds. 'Improving environmental efficiency will become more important.'
Waste disposal and recycling show up clearly on the public's 'green radar', especially with overflowing landfills and 'rubbish boats' heading to China.
Toward the end of last year, Keep Britain Tidy launched a campaign to tackle the rubbish-dropping habits of some consumers. 'Fast-food litter, in particular, continues to be an issue in a world of eating-on-the-go, with fast-paced lifestyles and 24-hour societies,' says Ginette Unsworth, senior marketing and communications manager at Encams.
Working in partnership with businesses including McDonald's, Keep Britain Tidy's 'dirty pig' campaign (below) made a link between dropping litter and being unattractive, with the aim of getting the culprits to think more about how they dispose of waste.
The consensus is that consumers still care about sustainability, but in the present climate are less likely to pay the resulting premium and would expect retailers and brands to deliver on their behalf, according to Hill.
'Providing customers with information and making it easier for them to reduce their environmental impact will become even more important,' he adds.
Examples of this include M&S' 'Think climate, wash at 30 degsC' and Oxfam clothes-exchange initiatives.
Green issues remain high on the consumer agenda, but rolling out the same old green-isms doesn't wash anymore. You have to back it up, and do it within the rules.
Green Marketing Conference
Date: 14 October 2008
Venue: Grange City Hotel, London
Speakers include: Greg Nugent, UK marketing director, Eurostar; Reed Paget, founder and chief executive, Belu Water; Will Watt, publisher, BBC Green; Martine Ainsworth-Wells, marketing director, Visit London; Dan Welch, writer researcher, Ethical Consumer Research Association; Jo Fox, head of environment, accessibility and corporate responsibility, BSkyB; Justin Basini, vice-president, head of brand marketing, Capital One, Europe; Mike Hughes, director general, ISBA; Rowland Hill, sustainability manager, Marks & Spencer; James Turner, copy advice executive, CAP; Paul Hemingway, head of operational marketing, Co-operative Financial Services; Zoe Arden, director of communications and social responsibility, BT Retail; Chris Hawken, brand communications manager, Audi; Louise McCormack, manager, product development, Barclaycard; Jenny Alexander, investigations executive, ASA; Solitaire Townsend, chief executive, Futerra; Ginette Unsworth, senior marketing manager, Encams (Environmental Campaigns).
To book a place, call Haymarket Events on 020 8267 4011 or visit www.haymarketevents.com.