WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) — No average American is going to build a wind turbine or go mine coal for clean-burning plants, but General Electric and a growing number of companies and industry groups are launching advertising campaigns promoting renewable energy.
Conservation, renewable resources and fuel-emissions standards have been the focus of environmentally conscious companies since the 1990s, but interest has grown over the last several years, especially after severe weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and consensus among many scientists on global climate change.
“Thousands of companies over the last few years have launched green programs based on this ground flow of interest among consumers,” said Ann Barlow, president of Peppercom West Coast, which has done work for Greenbag, Panasonic, Siemens and GE Energy. “Businesses are letting customers know that they’re responding to demands.”
There’s a growing recognition on the part of many companies, large and small, that both consumers and industrial markets want green products, said Robert Knott, executive vice president at Edelman, the global public relations firm. Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, or LOHAS, followers represent about a quarter of a trillion dollars in spending annually.
“Increasing concern for climate change and other environmental challenges is something to which particularly younger demographics are highly attentive,” Knott said. “So, where as green products as recently as five years ago once languished on store shelves, people are gobbling up many of these products, look at the Toyota Prius.
“In some instances, consumers willing to pay a premium for green products because it’s a reflection of who they are,” said Knott, who managed the global launch of GE Energy’s “Ecomagination” campaign.
“As long as the price of oil is about $50 or $60 dollars a barrel, it becomes imperative for businesses and consumers to conserve and find alternatives and as a result consumers are looking for green products and companies that are minimizing their environmental footprint,” said Jamie Moeller, global director of public affairs at Ogilvy, which represents BP.
The smart companies that are doing it well are seeing dividends in terms of overall reputation, he said.
Ford released an ad series promoting energy independence in June 2006 and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has put out ads, one done by the Alliance to Save Energy. YouTube and SmartPower recently announced the winner of a contest for viewers to make their own energy conservation ads.
“Waste Management has waste-to-energy technologies that turn trash into electricity,” Knott said. Waste Management is another Edelman client.
Wal-Mart has also, very publicly, made progressive moves to provide green products, like compact fluorescent light bulbs and organic food to consumers. Wal-Mart represented 11 percent of the world’s gross domestic production in 2003 and is now estimated to hold nearly one-third. By asking its suppliers to go “green,” it could have a huge impact.
GE and BP aren’t selling their products — wind turbines, water desalination plants or clean coal — the goal is to demonstrate they’re successful companies because of the good things they’re doing. The advertisements, which enhance the profile of the companies, are targeted not only at consumers, but opinion leaders and even lawmakers whose policies will likely affect the market; selling products is not always the intent.
While it’s difficult to quantify and no one could provide exact numbers, since ecomagination GE’s stock is one of the most widely held and first-quarter revenues increased from $39.7 billion in 2001 and $40.2 billion in 2007 with a $2 billion increase expected in the second quarter of 2007. Annual revenues are between $160 billion and $165 billion. GE spends $13 billion annually to maintain technical leadership in global infrastructure, ecomagination and early health sectors.
In Hollywood and on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Vogue, “green” has quickly become fashionable but talk among industry insiders is about the expectation the green industry will continue to expand.
“Globally, hunger is growing for green products,” Knott said.
“When money is involved that tends to dictate how things move,” Moeller said. “I think it’s a trend not a fad. When you see companies as diverse as BP, DuPont, Starbucks, Wal-Mart and GE investing serious dollars that says it’s a long term trend that’s good for business.”
“It’s not a fad because in the past when public has taken interest in environmental issues it’s because of a single factor,” Barlow said. “In the ’70s OPEC limited oil production or the Northeast in the ’80s and ’90s dealing with acid rain, but now there’s consensus on climate change and dramatic potential impacts.”
Consumers have higher and more stringent expectations for company and businesses are judged now more frequently on their environmental impact.
“There are varying levels of window dressing but I think green washing will do a business more harm than good,” Barlow said.
There are two sides of business being done in regards to “green” industry and public relations, Barlow said. There are brand new businesses springing up and there are the ones that are in business already that are looking to be more environmentally responsible and both are seeing a “real return on investment for companies investing in sustainable programs.”
“Both environmental NGOs and private businesses alike recognize that if you want to solve environmental challenges, you need to make the solution profitable,” Knott said.
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