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How to communicate your Sustainability efforts?

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Over the past few weeks, we have been conducting an informal poll on our website, on the challenges of Eco friendly product promotion. A common theme we hear from our clients is that there is still resistance from their customers on paying premium prices for green products. We wanted to find out the reasons behind that resistance.

The conclusions were fascinating. Although responses to the options “it’s our first Eco product” and “our products are still behind on Eco credentials” were common, the leading response was “our company/ brand is not perceived as “Eco business”  which reflects on our product promotion”.

This reinforces our core belief, that a company’s products cannot be seen as separate from its brand and CSR activities. End users will not believe the green claims of a company that is not backing those claims up with a total, transparent commitment to eco-effectiveness efforts, employees, environment and communities.

We’re following with great interest the green efforts of a number of car companies. Chevrolet have just announced that they will be attaching Ecologic labels to each of their cars, starting with certain brands in 2012. This label will contain information on environmental aspects related to vehicle manufacturing and assembly, fuel-saving features such as advanced engine technologies, aerodynamics, lighter weight components or low-rolling resistance tires, and how 85 percent by weight of the vehicle can be recycled at the end of its lifespan. We wonder how much this label will factor into end users’ decision-making process, or whether it’s simply a PR stunt? Chevrolet’s brand is not associated with environmental efforts, and they don’t seem to be integrating their green efforts into their overall brand.

Compare that approach to Tesla’s. Tesla is, of course, a higher-end brand. But they built their company from the ground up 100% focused on alternative fuel sources. The car has become a symbol for celebrities and wealthy individuals to strut their “green cred” while driving a top sports car. And business is booming for the company, despite car sales being down across the board. Not coincidentally, in 2011, Rolls Royce announced the prototype of its first electric car. However, they have not (yet) incorporated this into their overall brand.

We recommend that any sustainable development efforts, even pilot programs, should positively affect the overall company brand and their efforts to lead sustainability in that industry. Even if the message is “we’re trying something new!”, sustainable communication and transparency on a corporate level can have great impact, and support premium product sales.

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