Don't let tough times kill your green story.
Canadian consumers continue to care about the environment - but, if they're having trouble making ends meet, they may not be able to spend that little bit extra to purchase green products. For marketers, the challenge is to balance their bottom line with practical 'green' actions that keep their sustainability vision alive.
There are leaders in the market who are in a position to lead by example. For example, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games will not only showcase the best in athletic achievement but also the best in 'green' thinking. Government and other organizations have come together to develop a model for sustainability, creating a carbon-neutral event that is intended to offer lasting inspiration to others.
The planning for all of this took place long before the recession hit - but despite hard times, the commitment to sustainability continues. Government initiatives such as the B.C. Pacific Carbon Trust also continue to lay the groundwork for a better future.
However, not everyone can afford to invest in taking a leadership position. So what can the average business do about sustainability when it's essential to focus on the bottom line? Following are a few suggestions if you don't have an Olympic-scale budget:
LOOK AT COST CUTTING THROUGH A 'GREEN' LENS
In tough times, organizations cut budgets. One of the items often viewed as discretionary is corporate travel. This may not be good news for everyone but it is good news for your environmental story. Give yourself credit for reducing your carbon footprint, and think ahead about ways to continue the momentum when operating budgets loosen up.
WORK WITH COMPANIES THAT ARE COMMITTED TO 'GREEN'
You can continue to contribute without taking money out of your pocket by giving your business to other organizations that are committed to sustainability. For example, WestJet donates a portion of their ticket price toward carbon offsets at the guest's request - so you can feel better about the environmental impact of any travel plans that you need to make.
BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR VALUE PROPOSITION
Are consumers still willing to spend a bit more for environmentally friendly products? The answer probably depends on individual household budgets. But everyone is more likely to purchase a product when the value is obvious. Often environmentally friendly products can be viewed as better value when product life-cycle costs are taken into consideration (e.g. normally the real cost of product disposal doesn't factor into a purchase decision). Be clear about your product's advantages and offer tips on ways to make your product last longer or work harder.
LOOK FOR VALUE IN YOUR OFFSETS
Organizations that are committed to becoming carbon neutral typically do everything they can to reduce their waste and emissions, and then counteract any additional negative impacts by purchasing carbon offsets. Companies like Vancouver-based Offsetters help clients understand their carbon footprint and reduce their climate impact. The company also helps its clients invest in next-generation low-carbon energy systems, projects that would not exist except for the sale of carbon credits.
In the agricultural sector, Calgary-based Preferred Carbon helps clients deal with methane and other harmful gases. By helping farmers capture methane, environmental impact is substantially reduced and farmers gain a new income stream from their operation from selling carbon credits.
When you're considering purchasing offsets, be certain that the projects you invest in will make a real difference to the environment. Look for 'high quality' offsets that create new and lasting value.
ENJOY THE REWARDS
As North America's first carbon-neutral airline, Harbour Air has reaped the rewards, with a 12-per-cent increase in ridership. Sustainability isn't merely a question of altruism. According to Bob Willard, author of The Sustainability Advantage, integrating sustainability strategies can result in up to a 38-per-cent profit increase for large companies and a 66-per-cent increase for small companies, over a five-year period.
Canadian consumers are among the most environmentally conscious in the world, so it makes sense that customers would patronize environmentally responsible businesses.
In tough times, this may not be as visible as we'd like. But be patient. There is mounting evidence that sustainability makes excellent business sense and will be a critical success factor in the 21st century.
Andrea Southcott is president of ad agency TBWA\Vancouver