Friday, June 19, 2009

Everything you wanted to know about green branding: An interview with Orly Zeewy, a branding consultant

The added value of going green is constantly growing. According to a survey conducted lately, 46% of consumers say they would shop at a retailer more if it was environmentally friendly. Another study of Mintel shows 62% of customers choose a restaurant based on their commitment to the environment.

Even if these numbers are a littl
e exaggerated, the message is clear: going green equals more customers and more business.

Respectively we see how the importance of the green branding is growing, as businesses understand that to generate the most value out of their efforts to go green, it's not enough today to do the right thing, but you also need to know how to "sell" it to your customers.

Green branding is a difficult challenge (maybe with the exception of Mir Hussein Moussavi..), with growing demands of consumers for information and clarity on one hand and a reality where every day you have dozens of companies releasing new green initiatives, making it harder to differentiate yourself from others on the other hand. So how do you do it right? I decided it's time to get an expert opinion, so I went straight to Orly Zeewy, a brand identity consultant and a fellow SBN member, who is an expert on green branding, to share some of insights on the issue.

Orly has 25 years of experience in design, marketing communication and brand strategy and development. Prior to starting a brand consulting practice in 2002, she was Senior Design Manager for The Vanguard Group. In addition to her consulting work, Orly is a teacher and speaker on brand related topics. She is and adjunct professor at Philadelphia University and a guest speaker for the Wharton International Communications Program. Orly is a visiting lecturer for the Masters program in Sustainable Design at The Engineering and Design Institute at Philadelphia University.

Orly was born in Israel, grew up in Tel Aviv, Paris and Lausanne, Switzerland and now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Hello Orly. Firstly what is a green brand?
A brand that makes an authentic connection between its “green
” products and its sustainable business practices and policies. It’s not only about the green products/services it sells but also about how it runs its business.

What does a green branding consultant do?
Help create messaging and positioning for sustainable companies that will resonate with their target audience and increase awareness around green issues.

Is it more difficult to build a green brand comparing to a regular brand?
I think it’s actually easier since a green brand is working hard to make a positive impact on the environment, the community and in the world. So from a public relation perspective, it is easier to promote
“doing good.“

Do you think retailers really benefit from a green image?
Absolutely. As the number of “green-conscious” consumers increases, expectations around sustainable issues will become more commonplace
and brands will be expected to flex their “green” muscles. Since Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, committed itself to “green”, a lot of other household brands have followed suit and started to incorporate green practices into their business.

I believe this trend will only grow as demand for green products increases. And it’s good to remember that retailers have been losing ground with consumers in recent years and with profit margins slipping further because of the economic downturn, they are all looking for a way to stay relevant. I believe that “green” is the way they will do this.

If I'm a company, have a good and solid brand, and I want to green it up —where do I start? What do I do? Can you please share with us some of the insights on how it's done?

The first thing you’ll need to do is have a green product! Then be sure to communicate about the ways you are changing your business and business practices—for instance one of my green clients is a large construction management company and they have committed to recycling 98% of all of the waste that they generate on a construction site.

Letting their clients know about this commitment and showing how they are doing it has had a tremendous impact on building their “green” brand awareness and increasing customer retention and loyalty.

Many companies who already have sustainable business practices need to make those practices more transparent to their customers. Target is a great example of “greening” an existing power brand. They have a link devoted exclusively to the environment and where their recycling efforts are catalogued. One such example is the 385 million garment hangers that are reused each year (instead of being put into landfills). These kinds of numbers help bring home the idea that a major brand can have a huge impact on the environment and by extension, reinforces that we as consumers, by shopping at Target, are a part of a global effort to reduce waste.

How can the Internet and social media be used to enhance green brand identity?
The Internet is a great tool because it’s so immediate and can motivate us in a way that print cannot. And as consumers worldwide begin to expect and demand green practices from their favorite brands, social media will play an increasingly larger role.

Bloggers already keep tabs on household brands to make sure they are providing what they say they will and alerting consumers when they do not. In the sustainable community, green washing is a big concern so having a truly green brand identity is going to be an important way for brands to distinguish themselves.

With a growing number of companies that try to position themselves as “green companies” what would be the best way to differentiate their brand?
Show me, the consumer, what you, as a green company, is doing that directly effects positive change and makes it easier for me to do my part in creating a sustainable environment. A key to successfully positioning a green brand is to be the brand that’s not only doing good and using sustainable business practices, but helps consumers take an active part while still offering value at a price they can afford.

A great example of this is Method, a company that makes it fun to clean with biodegradable products while being in the same price point as toxic products. Method has been hugely successful while at the same time, has changed what big cleaning brands (who before Method, would never have considered green) are now doing. One such example is Clorox—a brand that made its reputation on toxic bleach products—launched GreenWorks, a line of “eco friendly” cleaning products about a year ago. Because of its power brand status GreenWorks has already captured 42% of the natural cleaning industry—something that would be impossible to achieve if they were a new company.

What's the best strategy to avoid greenwashing accusations?
Make your business operations transparent to consumers so they can see what you are doing that is “green.” Many people have a negative impression of public relations but if done properly it can be a great tool to spread your green message. For instance, getting on the calendar of a sustainable publication and talking about what your company is doing to help reduce its carbon footprint will go a long way to show that you “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.”

What do you think about big companies, like Frito Lay, that try to adopt successful green images, such as "local"? Can it work for them? Is it worthwhile to get into it at all?
Eat local is a movement that has taken hold in recent years. It’s not only about eating what grows in your area and supporting your local farmers but about reducing a company’s carbon footprint. It’s something that energy conscious consumers are beginning to pay closer attention to and a brand like
Frito-Lay can have a large impact there. So to answer your question, I think it’s a very good idea. And economically, it makes sense since lower energy costs benefit the company’s bottom line and keep costs to consumers from going up.

What do you think about the efforts to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the U.S. by 2015? Do you have any branding advice to Mayor Nutter?
I’ve been a member of the Philadelphia Sustainable Business Network (SBN) for five years so I’m happy to see Philadelphia take such an active and positive role in the sustainable movement. I credit people like Leanne Krueger-Braneky, the executive director of SBN a key person in “green,” in being a motivator in forwarding a green platform in this city.

I believe that Phila
delphia is positioned to be a leader in how aging eastern cities can transform themselves into profitable centers of green jobs and green initiatives. It’s an exciting time to be a Philadelphian. The one piece of advice I would offer Mayor Nutter is to be clear and consistent in his green messages. Don’t assume that Philadelphians know that what you are doing. From a branding perspective, this is critical. I would advise him to focus on 2-3 key messages such as: how is green helping me—a resident of Philadelphia—live better, work smarter, be part of a proud legacy, etc.

These are the kinds of messages that we as citizens need to hear. People don’t respond well to scare tactics. We want to do good but not if it’s going to be cost-prohibitive or impossible to carry out. Most people are happy to recycle but until a comprehensive recycling program was put into place, how many people drove to a recycling center every week?

Do you think the recession is good or bad for green branding?
I think the recession is one of the best things that could have happened for green branding. With every company looking to cut costs and consumers scrambling to keep energy bills manageable, green is emerging as a way to live that is not only responsible from a global standpoint but helps us live more economically. I believe that within a short period of time, green will no longer be a catchphrase, but simply the way every company operates and the way our children will view the world.

Thanks Orly!

To read more about Orly Zeewy:

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: promoting green printing