Posts Tagged ‘going green’
After years on the business fringe, life cycle assessments are moving closer to the mainstream as sustainable practices spread. The trend signals a growing customer desire to see and compare the numbers behind marketers’ claims of sustainability.
Last week Deloitte Consulting, a decidedly mainstream business, released a new whitepaper, “Lifecycle Assessment: Where is it on your sustainability agenda?” Joel Makower refers to the paper in an excellent article on the “renaissance of lifecyle thinking.” An LCA, Deloitte says, “charts the course of all inputs and outputs, and their resulting environmental impacts for a given product system throughout its lifecycle.” The paper’s authors write:
Sustainability is now widely accepted as a core business issue rather than a passing fad. However, particularly in light of the current downturn, many stakeholder groups are no longer satisfied with vague assertions that green is really ‘gold,’ or that green products are in fact better for the environment. Customers (both businesses and consumers), investors, environmental interest groups, and governments are pressuring companies for enhanced quantification of environmental impacts.
This increased external demand is fueling the use of LCAs. Clearly, Deloitte sees a business opportunity in helping its clients produce them. Nevertheless, Deloitte’s paper echos the themes of author Daniel Goleman in his new book, “Ecological Intelligence,” which I wrote about in a previous post. Goleman cites LCAs as the data backbone for emerging online services that enable businesses and consumers to make purchase decisions based on hard numbers for the environmental (and in some cases, social) impacts of a product.
Although the early LCAs date back to the 1960s, Goleman describes how far they have come in sophistication and detail:
Never before have we had the methodology at hand to track, organize, and display the complex interrelationships among all the steps from extraction to manufacture of goods through their use to their disposal—and summarize how each step matters for ecosystems, whether in the environment or in our body.
Deloitte cites several marketing and communications benefits for companies employing LCAs. Besides supporting marketing claims about a product’s “environmental friendliness,” it can enhance a company’s reputation:
LCA can demonstrate that a company has moved beyond surface-level sustainability window-dressing to a deeper commitment to improved environmental impact…However, as LCA becomes more common, it will no longer serve as a differentiator in itself; it is the actual results—and what they say about a company’s environmental progress—that will matter to stakeholders.
LCAs can be complex and costly to produce. This puts them out of reach of most smaller producers and manufacturers. Deloitte says these and other firms may want to consider an LCA “lite” approach that is less data intensive.
LCAs are not appropriate for every business, but there’s an underlying message for marketers in their widening use. “Becoming sustainable” and “going green” are well past the sloganeering stage. More customers and other stakeholders are asking for quantifiable progress. So before you make that next sustainability claim, you’d do well to have the numbers to back it up. Only your competitors will be unhappy to see them.
There’s going green. And then there’s saving green. We’re seeing the difference now as gasoline prices climb over $4 per gallon.
In the post-”Inconvenient Truth” era, many Americans are finding ways to drive less or volunteering to trade in their gas guzzlers for gas sippers to do their part for the environment. That’s going green. Lately, people are selling gas hogs and driving less for a different reason. To save green. Whether the motivation is to save the environment or to save money, the results are the same: fewer gallons of gas consumed and fewer greenhouse gases emitted.
But the environmental benefit rarely gets mentioned when reporters cover the broader economic and personal financial costs of expensive gasoline. As much as it pains me to say it, an economist quoted in the New York Times is probably right when he says:
“Al Gore came out with a movie called ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in 2006, when Hummer sales were still good. The inconvenient truth, in fact, is that prices are what matter. With gas prices soaring, Gore is going to get his collapse in Hummer sales, not because people went green, but because they wouldn’t spend the extra green to buy the gas.”
My hunch is a lot of Americans have wanted to do the right thing for our warming climate by downsizing their automobiles, but have waited for financial incentives. When gas was closer to $3, the incentive wasn’t great enough. At $4 and climbing, it is.
Sustainability marketers should take note. There are a certain number of eco-minded customers who choose the environment over saving money. But most customers are guided by their pocketbooks and probably always will be. In the case of gasoline, they find ways to consume less, so they can save money. Period. The environmental benefit is unintentional or, at best, icing on the cake.
Not that enviros should be complaining that Americans drove 4.3 percent fewer miles in March 2008 than March 2007. We’d just all feel a lot better if we knew environmental values, more than economic reactions, explained the drop. Maybe then, we’d trust that Americans are serious about fighting climate change.