Posts Tagged ‘global warming’
2010 tied 2005 as the hottest year on record, according to reports last week. The news came as flood waters overwhelmed Queensland, Australia and mudslides killed hundreds in southeast Brazil. The natural disasters were made worse by global warming, scientists told ABC News.
Meanwhile, a new poll shows only 40% of Americans believe global warming is caused by human activity. And New York Times environmental blogger Andy Revkin said in 2010 “global warming, the greatest story rarely told, had reverted to its near perpetual position on the far back shelf of the public consciousness — if not back in the freezer.”
Is that how it is for you? Is climate change even on your radar screen as a business? And if it is, are you doing something about it? Or are you treating it like some harmless object along the distant horizon?
What your brand can do
I won’t make an argument for why you or your business should care about climate change. I’ll leave that to authors like Bill McKibben, whose 2010 book “Eaarth” is an unsparing description of a world already scarred by global warming and a guide to how we must now live in it.
What I would offer are five ways your business brand can engage stakeholders on climate change. After all, a large minority of Americans believes humans are causing global warming and increasing numbers of customers are holding business accountable. On the opportunity side, brand differentiation around climate change is there for the taking in many markets.
- Brand as promise: You can’t waffle on climate change. Choose to believe the scientific evidence and climate scientists like this one who states unequivocally, ”We’re observing the climate changing – it’s happening, it’s real, it’s a fact.” Take a stand. Let your stakeholders know your business cares deeply about the trajectory of the world’s climate. Then show them what you’re doing about it through your products, services, operations and culture.
- Brand as meaning: Customers, employees and, indeed, all stakeholders are in constant search for meaning. That’s life. Connect what you’re doing on climate change to what matters to your stakeholders. And what matters to most of us is that we and those we care about achieve happiness and avoid suffering. The climate is now on a very unhappy path. Be an example for a different way forward.
- Brand as emotion: We all experience basic emotions such as joy, love, anger, sadness, surprise and fear. For many of us, the thought of climate change overwhelms us and triggers undesirable emotions. How much more desirable is a brand that taps into the joy and satisfaction in caring for our planet and its current and future inhabitants?
- Brand as story: Humans connect through stories. It’s how we entertain, educate, preserve our cultures and instill values. Your brand is a story. Place it within the Mother of All 21st Century Stories — climate change — and watch as new, meaningful and emotional connections get made.
- Brand as experience: No matter what we tell others about our brands, what determines their fates are the experiences others have of them. When someone interacts with your business or product, they experience your brand as a promise kept or a promise broken. Promise to be on the right side of climate change and then give others the experience of standing with you — and you with them — in creating a world hospitable to all.
Apologies to the duck, but if it looks like an oil company, drills like an oil company, and speaks like an oil company, then it’s probably an oil company. And no amount of green costuming can disguise its true brown nature, especially when the promise of its “product” is now a potential ecological and economic disaster.
In the past decade, BP has positioned itself as a progressive global corporation — beyond petroleum, it would have us believe. In reality, it’s a gigantic oil company that, despite its energy diversifications, is determined to keep feeding our insatiable carbon appetite and making billions for it and its shareholders along the way.
If only BP would be so honest. Instead it continues to lead with a brand — symbolized by a logo inspired by the Greek god of the sun and bathed in pastoral green — that implies its core value is sustaining life for the planet and all its inhabitants.
Branding consultant Lisa Merriam tells it like is:
“The much-admired green sun BP brand died this week. This is a brand that never left the marketing department. No matter what they said the company stood for, they never lived it. Despite all those smug ads about wind farms and being ‘Beyond Petroleum,’ this shows they are just like any other oil company — their green brand is as dead as all of the wildlife washing up on Louisiana shores.”
While I side with Merriam on this one, the reality is BP’s green reputation hasn’t been warranted for some time, if ever. In April 2008, Sustainable Industries magazine, citing an anonymous source, reported:
(A) top-down decision has been made to pull away from touting any “green” initiatives in the media, and in fact major “green” advertising buys have been canceled. Recent press releases focus not on alternative energy successes as they did in (former CEO Lord) Browne’s time, but on BP’s ability to keep pumping oil, maintain its oil reserves and safely conduct deep-water oil drilling.
A look at the advertising BP features on its website seems to bear this out. Beyond petroleum isn’t an environmental message; it’s an energy security message, as copy in this current BP ad illustrates:
To enhance America’s energy and economic security, we must secure more of the energy we consume. That means expanding the use of wind, solar and biofuels, as well as opening new offshore areas to oil and gas production.
BP doesn’t tout alternative energy sources to help reduce global warming — an environmental message. In fact, it clearly is trying to sway public opinion in favor of allowing more offshore drilling — a decidedly non-green initiative.
While BP isn’t hiding its desire to extract and sell lots more oil, it wants to have its cake and eat it, too: lead with energy security and have us believe it also cares about the environment. Consider this BP advertising headline, “Hydrocarbons and low carbons living in harmony.” Right. And Monsanto has some genetically modified seeds to sell you organic farmers.
BP’s website has the obligatory environmental and society sections, giving the impression of their planetary concern. But look closely at BP’s statement on sustainability:
At BP we define sustainability as the capacity to endure as a group, by:
- Renewing assets
- Creating and delivering better products and services that meet the evolving needs of society
- Attracting successive generations of employees
- Contributing to a sustainable environment
- Retaining the trust and support of our customers, shareholders and the communities in which we operate.
Hardly the rhetoric of a company committed to advancing social and environmental health through its company operations. What it tells me is BP cares most about staying in business — “to endure as a group.” The closest it comes to an environmental promise — “contributing to a sustainable environment” — is so vague as to be laughable.
BP’s two-faced approach should not be dismissed as just another instance of greenwashing. It feels more insidious, a cleverly disguised deceit on a global scale. Its incessant search for oil — even in 5,000-foot waters in the Gulf of Mexico — puts BP anywhere but “beyond petroleum.” In the name of “energy security,” BP is willing to risk the kind of ecological calamity now threatening the Gulf region. That is not a risk a sustainable company takes.
The day BP stops drilling is the day I’ll start listening. Until then, let’s make no mistake about the kind of company BP is.
Consumer spending is falling fast. While that’s bad for the economy, it’s good for the environment. Excessive consumption produces waste and pollution streams that are destroying our planet. The question now is how are we going to respond to the economic crisis at hand. If our elected officials and business leaders seize the moment, the consumption downturn will ignite a movement that saves our economy and our environment for generations to come.
And maybe, just maybe we marketers will heed the call to help lead the way.
In the near term, an environmental benefit will be of little solace to those whose jobs depend on consumer spending, which is to say most of us since consumer spending comprises nearly two-thirds of our economy. It’s all-but certain the current financial crisis will slip into an economic recession, perhaps as rough as any we’ve experienced in decades.
As painful as the near future may become, the glass half-full view reveals the opportunity ahead. Financier George Soros explains:
You see, for the last 25 years the world economy, the motor of the world economy that has been driving it was consumption by the American consumer who has been spending more than he has been saving, all right? Than he’s been producing. So that motor is now switched off. It’s finished…You need a new motor. And we have a big problem. Global warming. It requires big investment. And that could be the motor of the world economy in the years to come.
Over consumption, made possible by easy access to debt, explains much of the financial mess we’re in today. And a consumer economy, stoked by cheap, abundant fossil fuels, is a principle cause of global warming. In the end, reliance on consumer spending is both bad for the economy and bad for the environment. Other than that, it’s great.
What makes the coming elections so critical is the next president and Congress will decide whether we as a nation will fundamentally change the underpinnings of our economy. If we simply find new ways to prop up our consumption-based economy, we will hasten the day of reckoning that climate change requires. If we embrace the environmental and social challenges of climate change as the economic opportunity of our times, we can all look toward the future with hope.
For marketers, the opportunity is to finally begin leading the world in the right direction. If “the motor of the world economy” has been consumption, the fuel has been marketing. Marketers create awareness and demand for goods, services and ideas. The problem is we’ve used our talents overwhelmingly in support of unsustainable economies, employers and clients.
But that can change. Imagine if we were to unleash our creativity and persuasive abilities in service to freeing our economy from dependence on fossil fuels and mindless consumption. I’m convinced the impact would be both enormous and swift for our climate, environment and economy.
I don’t know whether the collective parts of the marketing industry — branding, advertising, PR, direct marketing etc. — are up to the task. The industry is so deeply enmeshed in the profitable, but dead-end ways of consumerism. So be it. The train is leaving with or without us. In the words of Thomas Paine, our choice is simple: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
Here’s a silver lining in the existing or pending US recession: Chances are consumption and production will slow, meaning less fossil fuel expended and fewer greenhouse gases emitted. Feel better? I didn’t think so. None of us wants to see the inevitable wrenching loss of jobs, income and personal security that comes during a major economic slowdown.
The attention of government and business leaders, as well as the public, is increasingly fixed on the economy. And while that’s understandable, every other public concern will likely take a back seat to the economy. Including climate change. America, the largest source of CO2 emissions in the world, will be telling the world that we can only afford to focus on climate change as long as our economy is growing (and spewing growing amounts of CO2).
The effects of a recession are painfully real. I started my career in the early 1980s when Oregon was in the midst of a miserable recession — depression, really. I was fortunate to find a job. Some of my friends, meanwhile, lost their homes. Earlier this decade, I felt the tech implosion in a very personal way. The marketing business I co-founded lost half of our revenue in just a couple months in 2001. Within a year we had laid off nearly half our staff. It doesn’t get much worse than that as an employer.
For those of us who believe global warming is real and human-caused, this recession — if that’s what we’re in — poses a vexing question: Can we or how do we keep the very real concerns of recession from overwhelming the equally real threats of climate change?
We may be entering a very nasty period of job and income loss for millions of Americans — and perhaps for many others around the globe dependent upon our economy. A recession is one of those clear and present dangers experienced at the personal level. It’s difficult to think about much else when you’re faced with the prospect of losing your livelihood or your home.
And yet, climate change is no less urgent of a matter than the health of the US economy. The UN Human Development Report 2007/2008 calls climate change “the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.” Its authors warn:
(Climate change) is still a preventable crisis — but only just. The world has less than a decade to change course. No issue merits more urgent attention — or more immediate action.
Try telling that to someone who’s lost his or her job or home. Or to the political candidate who can’t get the words “It’s the economy, stupid” out of his or her head. To them, global warming is a faraway worry. Unfortunately, it’s not. When we get through this recession — and we will, as history shows — the issue of climate change will still be with us. Every year our political leaders back burner the issue draws us that much closer to irreversible harm. As the UN report makes clear, “The world’s poor will suffer the earliest and most damaging impacts.” They have no political voice in America. And neither do future generations.
If the world is going to avoid the worst of global warming, America and Americans must be completely engaged and leading the way. We’re about to find out whether we’re up to the challenge.