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It’s Time to Re-Brand Green Branding: Lessons From Beyond Petroleum

The following is a post by Paul Hannam of Bright Green Leadership (a 3p sponsor) – offering internet marketing strategies for responsible businesses. This tips and observations in this series are aimed at green entrepreneurs looking to understand how internet technology can benefit them more.

For the last few weeks I have been writing about internet marketing and how green businesses should adopt best practices to sell more of their products online. In this post, I want to shift the focus to a broader and more topical subject. What does the Gulf Oil disaster mean for the practice of Green Branding and Green Marketing? What are the lessons for green businesses or corporations engaged in green marketing?

Even thinking about issues of green branding and green marketing might seem irrelevant, even trivial, considering the terrible human and environmental tragedy that we have watched unfold over the last three months.  Yet the oil spill has raised significant and unavoidable concerns about the credibility of green marketing, green branding and corporate social responsibility.

I used to teach a case study about how BP tried to change its brand from British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum.  At the time, this seemed like an excellent green marketing strategy and, as a Brit myself, I was quite proud to contrast BP’s green efforts with those of Exxon who has been the number one enemy of environmentalists in Europe. This week, however, Greenpeace is demonstrating in London against BP, not Exxon. Activists have shut down some of BP’s gas stations in a highly visible and popular protest against what they see as corporate negligence on an epic scale.

So how has it all gone so horribly wrong? Is it simply that BP had the misfortune to be the particular corporation associated with this tragedy, rather than any one of  its competitors? Quite possibly, as all the major oil corporations are vulnerable – especially those engaged in deep sea drilling. The outcome is the same irrespective of the cause.  The loss of life and appalling consequences to the economy and environment of the Gulf communities has dominated the news for the last three months, and destroyed BP’s carefully cultivated image in one terrible stroke.  All the beautiful ads and branding mean nothing now. Whatever progress in solar or wind energy the corporation might have made has been completely wiped out by the catastrophic consequences of its failure to prevent the oil spill.

If there was a standard for green marketing, or a certification process, how would we rate BP?  I am sure it would score highly for the quality of its advertising and PR. The question is whether there should be more to the practice of green marketing than just marketing on its own. If we were evaluating the marketing of a new cell phone we would assess the messaging, branding, impact and, ultimately, the resulting sales. With green marketing we expect more, indeed much more.  In addition to the traditional marketing criteria, we want to judge the following elements too

  • How environmentally friendly is the product?
  • Is the manufacturing, packaging and promotion of green products sustainable?
  • How green is the business overall?
  • Is the marketing credible or just “greenwash”?

In the UK, the Direct Marketing Association has recently issued a new code of practice that is intended to encourage green marketing. The code states that any environmental claim must be supported with “a high level of substantiation” and be based “on the full cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise.” The code also promotes the need for recycled materials, environmental management and an environmental policy.

This is a move in the right direction, and hopefully the American Marketing Association will develop an equivalent guide, and encourage standards that are relevant to all green marketing and green branding campaigns. We need a universal process for evaluating the substance and impact of so-called green products.

So maybe it is time for green marketing professionals to focus more of their attention on being authentic and honest, and spend less time on the “smoke and mirrors” that characterizes much of their work. Maybe it is time to get real, to act responsibly and redefine what green marketing is. We cannot continue with the illusion that green marketing is OK if its primary purpose is to sell more products for businesses that are doing so much damage to the environment in all their other activities.

Paul Hannam is president of Bright Green Leadership that provides internet marketing services to responsible organizations. Paul is also Chairman and co-founder of Bright Green Talent and taught environmental business at Oxford University. You can get Paul’s free Green Marketing online evaluation or contact him at Paul@brightgreenleadership.com


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