It Ain't Easy Being Green
This past Wednesday, Canada celebrated the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. As consumers marked the occasion by turning off their lights, brands see events like this as an opportunity to promote their environmental efforts. The environment is an issue near and dear to many Canadians. However, green marketing is also a delicate process that can be easily dismissed by consumers if it is not viewed as authentic.
With cause marketing, there is often a gap between what organizations say and what they actually do. The gap occurs when brands overemphasize “storytelling” (communicating impact for a social cause via PR and media initiatives) and “story doing” — the tangible support of a cause through financial investment or programming. This all-too-prevalent “say-do” gap commonly comes to life within “green marketing” through the practice of greenwashing.
Brands that want to capitalize on going green must go deeper than a green logo or a few opportunistic tweets on Earth Day. Sponsorship is a tool that marketers can use to authenticate their message and prove their involvement in supporting green efforts.
By engaging in sponsorship of a green initiative brands can drive strategic impact through three key ways:
1. Connect with consumers over a shared passion: Nearly 50% of Canadians consider the environment to be a “very important” issue. Support for this cause creates a connection with consumers and make brands seem more relatable.
2. Differentiation from competitors: Like any sponsorship territory in cause, sport, arts, etc., support for the environment is a way for brands to set themselves apart from their competitors.
3. Be seen as a solution providers: Particularly in Canada, the environment is a hotbed issue. The environment can cause political bickering making many Canadians view it as a pain point. By activating against this pain point, brands are able to position themselves as problem solvers.
Within the green sponsorship landscape, MKTG has studied three cases where brands found a successful fit and were able to communicate their message authentically.
Case 1: Direct Sponsorship of an Environmental Property - Coca-Cola and the WWF
In 2007 Coca Cola launched a unique green partnership with the WWF. The partnership brings together the world’s most recognizable brand (Coca Cola) and the world’s most recognizable conservation brand (WWF) to raise awareness about the importance of water resource management. The partnership inlcuded Coca Cola making a $20 million donation to the organization as well as matching any online donation up to $1 million
Partnering with the WWF creates credibility among consumers that Coca Cola is proactively working to not only raise awareness about the issue, but also working to solve the problem. The WWF has the expertise, knowledge and the resources to ensure an impact is being made, while Coca-Cola has the marketing power to ensure the WWF’s mandate is communicated to a broad audience.
Case 2: Cross Pollination of Cause and Sport – Sprint and the NBA Green Week Initiatives
Sponsors often look to the world of Sport to help educate their customers about their organizations cause marketing efforts, and this certainly applies to green marketing as well. Sprint has been a long-time telecom sponsor of the NBA and took the role of presenting partner of the NBA Cares Green Week program. The program focuses on three environmentally friendly initiatives.
1. Sprint Buy Back Program: Sprint encourages fans to recycle their phones properly with Sprint. As an added incentive to recycle, fans will receive a credit on their next statement for recycling their phones.
2. Threes for Trees: For every three pointer that is made during NBA Green Week the NBA promises to plant three trees.
3. Raising Awareness: Through the Green Sports Alliance, fans are educated about the importance of the three R’s Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Sport is often viewed in society as a driver for change. Over the past few years with social issues becoming more prevalent, the sports world is expected to take a stance. Since fans having such strong attachments with their favourite leagues they can be expected to follow where they lead. The NBA Green Week is a great opportunity for Sprint to capture the built in audience of the NBA and help drive change.
Case 3: Creation of a Proprietary Program – Sony and the Road to Zero Program
Sony is an organization that strives to impact the environment by eliminating their environmental footprint. Through a company wide initiative, their Road to Zero program has set a series of specific goals based on six product life cycle stages and four environmental perspectives.
Life Cycle: By studying their products at each stage of its life cycle, Sony is looking for ways to become more efficient and environmentally friendly. Through this program they hope to achieve their goal of a zero environmental footprint by 2050.
Environmental Perspectives: Sony is focused on curbing climate change, conserving resources, controlling chemical substances and promoting biodiversity. Each perspective targets specific goals the organization has put forth in eliminating the carbon footprint. The changes made to their product life cycle looks to impact each of the four perspectives.
This comprehensive effort allows Sony the ability to communicate its message in a non-diluted form as no other brands can piggy back on their efforts. Sony has been a leader all over the globe in regards to their eco-friendly efforts. They have been a member of the WWF Climate Savers Program since 2007, in Europe they are a founding member of the European Recycling Program and in the US they were the first electronics manufacturer to create a free of charge recycling program in 2007. By participating and spearheading a variety of environmental initiatives Sony has gained the reputation of being a leader in the green category.
Green sponsorship is a unique space that allows organizations to communicate their environmentally friendly efforts while adding credibility and authenticity to their organization. They are a natural fit with brands who feel their message is best communicated though green sponsorship. While there is no formula for how to show a brand's eco-friendliness, MKTG found there are common best practices that will drive success.
1. Create realistic expectations of what your brand hopes to achieve.
2. Communicate the impact that your brand is having and how you are helping solve the problem.
3. Be authentic in your efforts. Make sure that what you are trying to achieve is beneficial not only to the environment but your brand as well.
By using these general rules as a guideline, companies that find a natural fit within green sponsorship can communicate their values while promoting change.