News / Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Sustainable Food Summit Kicks off in San Francisco

Posted 22 January 2013 by Jacob Malthouse to Opinion | No Comments |

Organic Monitor’s third Sustainable Food Summit kicks off today in San Francisco, with ecolabel proliferation set to be a key topic of discussion.

Organic Monitor will present the results of a research project it announced on January 8 with a press release explaining that the mushrooming number of eco-labels could have adverse implications for the over $75 billion eco-labeled food and drink marke.

According to Organic Monitor the lack of harmonisation is leading to multiple certifications and logos. The old chestnut of the ‘one ecolabel to rule them all’ also makes a showing.

Industry buzz we are hearing is that ecolabels are working together more and more, with an emphasis on preserving identity and specialization while collaborating on common infrastructure. This network of networks approach certainly works well in the online world – it will be interesting to see if eco-labels, many of which pre-date the web, adopt this ‘network-based’ approach to scaling up.


Is the Green Economy B2B?

Posted 16 September 2011 by admin to Opinion | No Comments |

Our latest blog post announced the impressive gains made by the Marine Stewardship Council in raising the level of awareness for ecolabels worldwide. Consumers in the developed world are increasingly seeing green marketing, but will all this awareness and support lead to green products replacing their presumably less-sustainable counterparts?

Ethical Corporation thinks not. They cite a number of studies detailing explaining why. “Grail Research reports that although 85% of US consumers claim they buy green, fewer than 8% actually do.” They go on to note that the market share for organic and ethical foods, arguably the most robust segment of the green economy, makes up about 5% of the overall sector’s market.

Ethical Corporation sees this as a sign that the future of eco-marketing will be in the business-to-business space, rather than business-to-consumer. Green marketing stresses transparency, eco-innovation and sustainable production, all aspects that could lower long-term costs and risks to a firm’s supply chain.

Sustainable Marketing and Athletics

Posted 1 September 2011 by admin to Opinion | No Comments |

In the realm of green marketing, endorsements from celebrities can carry a lot of weight, especially with children and individuals unaware of such initiatives. From Al Gore to Richard Branson to Harrison Ford, there is a long list of celebrities who actively support sustainability campaigns, and have even started their own.

However, the number of athletes who go out of their way to support sustainability initiatives remains relatively minimal. Athletes are some of the most influential members of society and can drastically shift consumer preferences with endorsements for specific environmental causes.

There have been signs of change in recent months with Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon publicly supporting the ecolabel Animal Welfare Approved. Witherspoon’s family owns Shire Gate Farms in Missouri, and he promotes and encourages children to eat quality, organic food from certified farms.

Former Stanley Cup winner and Olympic Gold medalist Scott Niedermayer recently became Canada’s freshwater ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) where he will work to “elevate fresh water as a policy issue and public relations issue”. He is also a vocal supporter of PETA and has expressed his support for environmental movements and belief in global warming.

These individuals are setting a great example of how to give back to the environment and publicly show support. Another way to endorse sustainability is for athletic apparel companies to put visible ecolabels on the jerseys worn by athletes. Millions of jerseys are sold every year and though people will be less likely to pay a premium for ones with ecolabels, simply having the label will go a long way towards informing people about the value of sustainable purchasing.

One company that does put an ecolabel on its products is LookFly, a British ultimate frisbee apparel company, whose label is called NewLife. They sponsor a number of teams in the UK as well as Vancouver’s own, Furious George, who recently won the 2011 Canadian Ultimate Championships. All of LookFly’s clothes are made from recycled PET plastics. The yarn is made in Italy and then transported to England where it is knitted, manufactured and printed within a 20-mile radius of Lookfly headquarters.

Many athletic apparel companies still have a long way to go to be considered leaders in sustainability. If enough athletes apply pressure on their teams and leagues to not award sponsorship contracts to suspect apparel manufacturers, these companies would be forced to seriously reconsider their supply chain management or forgo substantial revenue streams.

But until this happens, the best way to encourage best practice may be to purchase products made by companies that make sustainability a priority. A quality ecolabel can be a good indicator of whether this is the case.

New Research Helping Define the “Sustainability Consumer”

Posted 2 June 2011 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Opinion | No Comments |

With raw data showing demand for greener products staying robust in spite of a major recession, researchers are working to question old assumptions about who sustainability consumers are and how they behave. Recently, we have learned about a number of innovative studies, including researching online auction behaviour, that are helping to get a more accurate read on this audience.

Perhaps the most comprehensive is a new primer by Dr. Remi Trudel of Boston U. and released by The Network for Business Sustainability that analysed 91 different studies to understand if consumers will pay more for sustainable products. Interestingly, the answer is yes, and the average premiums being paid are 10%. This is contrary to prevailing wisdom that consumers are not willing pay a premium for environmental and social goods.

Regardless, a gap continues to exist between the number of consumers with good intentions and the number who actually make greener purchases. What is behind that gap? According to this work, the main issues are:

  1. Confusion about the product’s sustainability benefits,
  2. Confusing packaging,
  3. Trade-offs required to buy the product (like a price premium), and
  4. Competition between brands.

One of the recommendations for future research is to investigate when and how much companies should communicate their sustainability performance given the risk of being called greenwashers due to over-promoting and the abundance of information now available at people’s fingertips.

We agree more research is needed, and are interested in what benefits consumers value most and whether those benefits match up with the sustainability needs further up the value chain.

In the short term the sector can take action to more clearly communicate to sustainability consumers:

  1. List a product’s specific sustainability benefits (what makes it better?)
  2. State the amount that benefit costs (how much more am I paying for that? 5%? 15%?)

Two simple steps that could help grow a market.

Marc Stoiber on the New Foundations of Good Branding

Posted 11 March 2011 by admin to Opinion | No Comments |

A guest post by Fast Company Expert Marc Stoiber

Google ‘why brands fail’ and you’ll be rewarded with upwards of 85 million matches.

Given this abundance of expertise on the subject, you’d think creating bulletproof brands would be as easy as tying your laces. And yet, brands are crashing and burning as much as they always have. Probably more so.

Why? Well, the 5 or 6 articles I read on the subject (I didn’t manage the full 85 million) certainly don’t help. Almost all focused on predicting what had already happened–why brands had succumbed in the past. A bit like predicting someone’s death after they’d died.

Truth is, it’s much more difficult to point out predictors of future success. Especially in a world rocked by massive cultural migration, climate change, economic upheaval and revolutionary new forms of communication.

Having spent some time building brands at the intersection of sustainability, innovation, insight and design, I believe I’ve gathered some useful battle wisdom. I’d like to share it by describing five pillars I believe will help brands survive, and thrive in our brave new world.

1. Sustainability
I founded a green brand agency in the heady Al Gore days. At that time, I believed sustainability would become the brand megatrend of the 21st century. I was right. And very wrong. Sustainability does make business sense. In a world of diminishing resources, heightened environmental legislation and vigilant NGO’s, it is a smart brand insurance policy. But sustainability is also a political wedge. Mention green, and 50% of Americans run away, while the other 50% cringe and wonder how much more it will cost.

Smart brands like Nike believe the solution is to incorporate sustainability into their brands, but not use sustainability as a selling feature. If brands were an onion, you’d have to peel back a few layers to discover the green technology in Nike shoes. This is smart for two reasons. First, it prevents sustainability from upstaging the brand’s key attributes. Nike’s is about technology that enables athletic performance. Period.

Second, sustainability becomes a hidden reward for brand mavens to discover. They can unearth the sustainability story with a few clicks, then spread the news themselves. On the other hand, those wanting to lambast Nike for environmental omissions will be pleasantly surprised to peel back layer after layer of sustainability initiatives, culminating in the company’s comprehensive Corporate Responsibility report.

2. Innovation
My green brand agency was acquired by one of North America’s premier innovation agencies, which allowed me to work in a field that defines progress for business.

What I learned was that far too many companies are ill-equipped to produce a steady stream of innovation. Most approached it haphazardly … there were a few pet projects in the pipeline, and little to no methodology for producing a steady stream of new products, services and business models.

Today, companies that methodically generate both evolutionary and revolutionary innovation are leading in their fields. Tomorrow, factors like reverse innovation and rapid idea realization through new technology will wipe out companies that aren’t passionate about innovation.

3. Perennial insights
I was greatly encouraged to hear about BMW’s new iProject. Not because it was set to deliver new electric BMW’s to the market, but because it had broadened the BMW brief from ‘ultimate driving machine’ to ‘mobility’. Think about it. More than half the world’s population has moved to cities. Megacities are becoming the new norm. Gas prices are not going down. The ultimate driving machine insight may fast be approaching its best before date.

On the other hand, people will never stop moving. By adopting the broader ‘mobility’ insight, BMW is opening up an entirely new avenue for innovation. And guaranteeing brand relevance far into the future.

It pays to hold up your key insights to scrutiny, and brainstorm on their relevance in the future. At worst, this exercise might provide you with the alarming news that people won’t need your product in the future. At best, it will get you thinking with broader scope, and answering briefs that allow far greater innovation.

4. Design
More than ever before, cultures are mixing and ethnic groups intermingling. The relatively homogeneous culture our parents knew is gone. In its place, we see a world where English is not a first language, America is not the sole generator of popular culture, and ideas do not flow in one direction from developed to developing markets.In this cultural cacophony, what do all of us understand? Design.

Good design creates a visceral reaction in people. It conveys beauty while aiding function. It generates feelings of wonder and drives desire.

One need only look at the international passion for all things Apple to understand that people can instantly appreciate products that convey a strong design sense. Good design sells product, and helps new users make the most of that product.

Is your product well designed? Give it to a child or to someone who doesn’t speak your language, and see if they can understand how to use it. Even better, see if using it puts a smile on their face.

5. Sociability
I cut my teeth in an advertising world where brands were displayed in metaphoric show windows–consumers were only allowed to see them in their best light, and there was no interaction allowed. Today, brands are like fishbowls. Consumers can look at them from every angle, even stick their hand in and slosh around the water. There are no boundaries.

Established brands (and their agencies) have had a difficult time with the transition. There’s still a yearning for control, for proper presentation, for giving consumers only the good news. Complete transparency is a frightening thing. But transparency and honesty is long overdue. If brands have been harming the planet or people, it’s time to come clean. Unsettling changes may be needed to make brands more virtuous. Is that a bad thing?

And Your Brand?

These five pillars are just a few of the keystones of resilient future brands. Spend some time with them, and doubtless you’ll discover other issues that are equally important.

The most important thing to do, however, is pay attention. Think about how your brand would fare under the lenses of sustainability, perennial insights, design, innovation and sociability.