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The Challenges of Green Marketing in The Age of Persuasion

I am an unabashed Public Radio junkie. All of my Sony Ericsson Walkman phones back to 2006, have not only had integrated flashlights but also functioned as transistor radios, allowing me to be permanently hooked up to CBC Radio 1, or to BBC and NPR Podcasts.

This week's award-winning Age of Persuasion Episode is titled "It's Not Easy Being Green: Green Marketing" and is one of my three essential Podcast episodes of 2011*.

Rachel-Carson-Bridge-in-PittsburghTerry begins with Rachel Carson (that's her bridge in Pittsburgh) and then traces the history of environmentally conscious consumerism, linking it to how marketers and advertisers have shaped their campaigns for sustainable, green goods. In  2007, 300,000 green trademarks were registered with patent offices, which is more than the number of trademarks and patents sought at the height of the boom.

The three main take-home messages are:

1. "Beginning with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962... various environmental crises have provoked behavioural change and new behavioural changes created new demands from the public." Responding to these demands for new products (such as sun protection lotions following the discovery of the ozone hole) has required "very delicate, very careful marketing on behalf of advertisers".

In green marketing, the public wants to know the motives of companies immediately, and green marketing ignites scrutiny.

2. "One of the biggest problems for marketers is that sustainability is a moving target. And there haven't been any universally-accepted baselines or calculators." E.g. "Are paper products green and good or, do they flatten forests? Is glass eco-friendly or, does it take a lot more fuel to transport glass than it does plastic? Is cotton one of the most natural products in the world or, is cotton one of the world's biggest pesticide crops? It's a very complicated issue."

3. The fatal mistake when it comes to green marketing is that "virtue cannot be proclaimed in green marketing". Smart marketers stay humble in their green marketing, so that the customer and press spread the word about green and ethical companies. Accusations of "Greenwashing", the deceptive use of green marketing or PR (Jay Westerveld, 1986), are likely to be targeted at green marketing campaigns with over-the-top claims, and to have major consequences.

The most cited example of Greenwashing is the rebranding of British Petroleum (BP) as Beyond Petroleum. The campaign strategy was to rebrand BP as a progressive energy company, bp. The rebranding implied that wind and solar were being invested in heavily by BP, but the reality was that BP was investing more than ever in oil exploration. (And, was recently rebranded, and not by themselves, but the public, as Biggest Polluter).

This brilliant episode of The Age of Persuasion ended with the correct observation about the contradiction that lies at the heart of green marketing: that being sustainable means consuming less, while marketing is about encouraging people to consume more. Nevertheless, he goes on to conclude, that the main task of green marketing is to normalize those high quality, truly green products, that are sustainable across multiple social and environmental indicators.

And, from Bruce Philp's new book, The Consumer Republic: "Buy the change you wish to see in the world."

Congratulations, Terry!

Dawn Bazely

*My other two top Podcasts for 2011, so far...

July 26th  2011 Interview of David Altman by Jian Ghomeshi on Q, CBC, about the rise of narcissism in North America:

July 2nd  2011 interview of Lori Gottlieb by Jian Ghomeshi on Q, CBC, about how overparenting is creating brittle youth who lack resiliency because their parents have not allowed them to learn how to recover from failure.

The Green Marketing Manifesto by John Grant, was Terry's essential background reading.

Live Green Toronto Festival

With the sun shining and the mercury soaring (30+ degrees), I think we can breathe a collective sigh and say, "summer is here". The July long weekend is the official start of cottage weekends, summer concerts, and events and street festivals in the city. From Pride Week to Taste of the Danforth, the Honda Indy to Caribana, there is no shortage of action this summer.

One of the festivals I am most looking forward to is the Live Green Toronto Festival at Yonge and Dundas Square on July 16. This is Toronto's largest outdoor green festival with hundreds of green products and services, outdoor vendors, and live music throughout the day!

I can't wait to check out the vendors, munch on some local (and wheat free!) food, and take in some great live music. I'll also bring some of my duplicate, or less loved, DVDs for the SWAPZONE. I'm always looking to update my DVD collection at home and at the cottage (I need to at least entertain the possibility that there might be a rainy day) and this swap event is a totally free way to add some new titles to my collection -- plus, unlike other no cost options i.e. holding up your local blockbuster or downloading titles online, it is legal! 

Meaning, after it's all said and done, I'll have some new movies and music, and some extra coin in my wallet for some more tasty treats or perhaps a local microbrew on a patio that evening…

End of the Line – free screening of overfishing documentary

Join Greenpeace Canada's Executive Director Bruce Cox for a free screening of The End of the Line

Imagine an ocean without fish. Imagine the global consequences.

The looming collapse of fisheries threatens the most important source of food for 250 million people.

This Wednesday, Greenpeace Canada's Executive Director Bruce Cox will speak at a free screening of The End of the Line, a powerful film about one of the world's most disturbing problems – over-fishing.

The screening is sponsored by Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow. To reserve a ticket, please contact her office by email at or by telephone at 416-533-2710. Seats are going fast!

When: 6:00pm, Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Where: Bloor Cinema, 506 Bloor St W, Toronto (View a map)

Sustainability and exhaustion – don’t let it get you down

[photopress:Messy_desktop1.jpg,thumb,pp_image][photopress:Messy_desk2.jpg,thumb,pp_image][photopress:messy_study_3.jpg,thumb,pp_image]Being a director of a sustainability institute and an academic is very tiring - even for a hyper Type A personality who can still put in a 16 hour field day. Not only am I always having to think about my ecological and carbon footprints, and where to buy good offsets, but in a world of greenwashing, scrutinizing everything for its authenticity is also de rigeur.  Uggh - AND THEN THERE'S THE BLOGGING. I have always had two settings - on and off. I like to jump out of bed and hit the ground running, but these days, I often feel like a car engine that's starting on a cold winter's morning. So, it's time for a mechanical overhaul. Here's what I have used  in the past, and will again, to fix the stalled engine:

These may also be helpful for those of you out there who feel overwhelmed by your life, the state of the world and the fact that Terence Corcoran in the National Post is still insisting that the science of climate change is suspect:

1. A life coach (I wrote about this in the article, Coaching for My Life, University Affairs, 2005) (I don't have time for this, these days, but you might).

2. Some great organizational and behavioural modification (often, from business) books. My ipod is filled with audiobooks such as Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy, The Golden Rule of Schmoozing by Aye Jaye, Ready for Anything by Dave Allen, The 60 Second Procrastinator by Jeff Davidson (may be out of print, so borrow it from the library), Your Management Sucks by Mark Stevens, Women and Money by Suze Orman, Crucial Confrontations and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson and colleagues, Making Work Work by Julie Morgernstern (Oprah's organizing guru - and my favourite organization person to read, including her other book, Never Read Email in the Morning), What got you here, won't get you there! by Marshall Goldsmith (and, of course, The Art of War).

3. Podcasts. If you are a poor student and can't afford to pay for a life coach or audiobooks, then download some podcasts, such as Motivation to Move's Daily Boost, The Suze Orman podcast (on itunes), Marcus Buckingham (big time life coach) and Oprah's Take Control of Your Career and Your Life (itunes), and while you are at it, grab some Yoga lessons from Yogamazing (itunes), plus the Manager Tools podcast (itunes) will give you all kinds of sound advice on organizing things.

4. Other people who are more swamped than me: and, you can see the incredible mess on my computer screen and in my home office (above), and feel a sense of superiority. I find that it's always comforting to know that someone else is worse off. Here's what I will be using today, in my surroundings to give me motivation and energy:

The 2006 farewell Globe and Mail article by Ken Wiwa about his decision to return with his family to the UK and to work with the Nigerian government,  pinned to the wall in front of me. The dried edelweiss flower that my former student, and current research collaborator, Andrew Tanentzap gave me as a gift, from a trip to Europe. The photos of past and present grad students and family that are part of the clutter: they make me smile and feel guilty at the same time - a great carrot and stick, combined into one item!


Dawn Bazely


"Every one of us does things in the course of a day that adversely affect the health of the planet. We don't decide to, we just don't give it a thought." It's true, I see people doing it mindlessly every single day. Sometimes even I still do, out of habit or lack of other options. Most people don't notice because there are no immediate noticeable consequences of our actions. Patagonia Inc.'s dedication to awareness has launched an interactive mini-site, called ‘The Footprint Chronicles' which allows you to track the impact of ten specific Patagonia products (yes they're a store too) from design through delivery. They also have a ‘Footprint Library' of PDF files which describe their efforts and policies.

Their mission statement is to "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." This almost seems like a bit of an understatement when you visit their website and see that the shop is only a very small part of what they do. They are a big organization, and their sole profits do not come from their store alone which is what makes it a good place to shop. They're not JUST in it for the money.

Their ‘What we do' list is quite impressive, and includes an environmental grant program, internships, and creating a national park!

All this is mainly the reason why I decided to post this in Shopping the Talk, because its' an eco-store that leads you to bigger action. It looks like a good site to mine for information, and to shop at. It's a nice alternative to just sitting there and moaning. 🙂

As for the clothes, they're really cute, with more fabric patterns than most other e-shops. The swimwear looks particularly awesome.

Earth Day: Five Minutes After Midnight

I must admit, it's been years since I celebrated Earth Day (pictured to the right laying out an endangered species graveyard on the Cornell University Arts Quad in 1994). Back in the early nineties, I participated in Earth Day preparations throughout high school and college. Those were the heady days of the Rio Summit, the Brundtland Report, and TV specials such as After the Warming that highlighted the potential impact of global warming through the next few decades. Environmental concerns were going to be the next big thing as the Berlin Wall crumbled, or so we thought.

Amazingly, it's After the Warming that starkly reminds me how much time has been wasted on the climate change front. From its broadcast to the Kyoto Treaty, eight years elapsed. Four more years would pass for Canada to officially ratify the treaty, and four more for Canada to all but pull out of the deal, leaving the entire regime in shambles. Despite the increasing sophistication and dire nature of the warnings emanating from the scientific community, we have seen political stagnation and regression as economic growth and globalization dominated the 1990s, followed by war and terrorism in the 2000s. Environmental concerns largely fell by the wayside, and even now, anything besides climate change and energy is all but ignored in the media.

As such, I cannot but feel wary of the recent resurgence of green issues in the body politic. I am also wary of the increasingly corporate and commercial edge of this new environmentalism as it substitutes individual consumer choices for the broader transformational change necessary to harmonize human civilization with the urgency of biosphere survival. My fear is that this upsurge of interest may quickly dissipate, leaving us next time to muddle through an upcoming planetary crisis, a dark authoritarian period veteran journalist Ross Gelbspan termed the Permanent State of Emergency.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it this way in March:

"It's not five minutes to midnight. It's five minutes after midnight."

We were perhaps five minutes to midnight in 1990. Not so anymore. We can't afford any more wasted time.

The Carbon Con?

Up until a decade ago, the concepts of carbon offsetting and carbon trading were deeply controversial. They were largely seen within the environmental community as a dangerous free market hijacking of the greenhouse gas problem that would allow rich countries and polluters to escape from the consequences of their actions while buying credits of dubious worth from less industrialized and thus less polluting regions of the world.

Unfortunately, this criticism has grown silent as Al Gore, who disappointed environmentalists in his eight years as Vice-President, has successfully rehabilitated his image in recent years. There is much to commend with his resurrection, as he has taken principled stands against the Iraq War, in defense of the US Constitution and science-based reasoning, and of course, his tireless advocacy on climate change. He has become the Oscar and Nobel-prize winning hero he never could during his tragic run for the presidency in 2000. However, one thing has not changed -- he remains a steadfast advocate of the emissions trading or "cap and trade" system, which he played a large role in introducing to Kyoto before the US abandoned the treaty in 1997.

Recently, the UK-based Independent, one outstanding newspaper that has covered climate change extensively, reiterated these critiques as voiced by mainline environmental and indigenous rights groups. Here's a sample of what they said:

"Taking a dodgy accounting proposition, which is that you can somehow identify the amount of carbon that any given new bit of forest picks up out of the atmosphere and sequesters, and make that correspond somehow to emissions elsewhere," is how Greenpeace sees carbon offsetting, according to its senior climate adviser Charlie Kronick. "It can't be done. The methodology is poor, and the logic isn't very good either. Once the carbon you've put in from fossil fuels is up there, nothing is going to make it go away."

Friends of the Earth's Marie Reynolds points out that not only is offsetting no substitute for real emissions cuts, but there is no guarantee, when you plant a tree, what the future of that tree will be. Robin Oakley, Greenpeace's climate and energy campaigner, agrees: "The issue with offsetting is that, fundamentally, it doesn't undo the damage done by carbon pollution. The vast number of players in the offsetting market are not reducing emissions in any accountable or measurable way."

In some cases, local people, far from benefiting, suffer when huge new plantations spring up. Survival International campaigner David Hill says: "Numerous reports show how indigenous peoples have suffered as a result of carbon projects: invasion of their land, evictions, the destruction of villages and crops, reduced access to or destruction of traditional resources, and violent conflict."

For a more detailed look at the history and record of the carbon trading concept, it would be worthwhile to check out the book, Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power, which through numerous case studies and economic analysis finds the entire regime to be both "ineffective and unjust." Sobering reading indeed.