Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Goleman’

As sustainability spreads, customers want numbers

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.


Marketing in a world of eco-intelligent consumers

Many marketers don’t feel obligated to know or otherwise take responsibility for the entire environmental and social story of the products they help develop, promote and sell. If they’re not careful, their customers may know the full story before they do, leaving them with a potential sales and reputation mess to clean up.

Daniel Goleman, author of the popular book “Emotional Intelligence,” explains the growing empowerment of eco- or social-minded shoppers in his new book “Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Impact of What We Buy Can Change Everything.” Goleman says consumers face an information gap that prevents them from easily knowing and comparing the personal, social and environmental health impacts of individual products they are considering for purchase. That gap, however, is closing, thanks to the emergence of new mobile and point-of-purchase information technology that makes it easier to access the accumulating ecological and social data and ratings of individual products.

The hope and the promise Goleman sees for these new forms of IT is “radical transparency.”

Ecological transparency becomes radical when its analysis encompasses the entire life cycle of a product and the full range of its consequences at every stage, and presents that information to a buyer in ways that demand little effort…Radical transparency means tracking every substantial impact of an item from manufacturing to disposal—not just its carbon footprint and other environmental costs but its biological risks, as well as its consequences for those who labored to make it—and summarizing those impacts for shoppers as they are deciding what to purchase.

Goleman credits the company GoodGuide for its pioneering efforts to equip the shopping public with “comprehensive and rigorous information at the point of purchase.” GoodGuide’s technology platform is still in beta form, but it shows potential for dramatically tilting the information playing field in the direction of the consumer. According to Goleman:

GoodGuide surfaces a product’s backstory. It can calculate the specific environmental impacts during manufacture, transport, use, and disposal. It can perform this calculation down to a single chemical among a batch of ingredients. On a macro level, it can rate how well a given company stacks up against others in its field on environmental, health, or social performance, as well as determine which brand or company has been getting better over time. GoodGuide can evaluate a company’s policies, its disclosure of key information on products, and ultimately a company’s impacts on consumers, workers, communities, and the environment.

And now GoodGuide offers a free iPhone app that provides mobile access to data on more than 70,000 products, according to its website. Goleman says GoodGuide has harnessed decades of industrial ecology research to provide precise metrics of various processes and products. Perhaps most significantly from a marketing standpoint, “GoodGuide cuts through greenwashing to the underlying facts,” Goleman says.

Although GoodGuide remains at beta stage, Goleman says the tool is nonetheless “a concrete example of how radical transparency might work” in the aisles of shoppers’ favorite stores. It may be a Microsoft or a Google that ultimately provides the transparency system that is most widely accepted. In any case, Goleman sounds confident it won’t be long before consumers have fast, convenient access to information that helps them align their purchases with their values at the place and time they’re ready to buy. I share his confidence.

For marketers, the takeaway is this: Your customers will eventually have all the credible facts they need to decide whether your company or product satisfies their health and sustainability values and how you compare to your competitors. At that point, you’ll have little choice but to ensure the stories you tell about your company and products square with the facts your customers will have at their fingertips. Do you know your products’ “environmental impacts during manufacture, transport, use, and disposal” down to a single chemical used in its ingredients? And how about the labor and trade conditions up and down your supply chain? It’s only a matter of time before not knowing or not caring to know that information will come back to bite the offending company either in lost sales or in damaged image.

The “radical transparency” Goleman describes won’t appear overnight and it may never be fully realized in the market nor embraced by the consumer, but the information trends are clearly working in favor of the customer, whether a business or an individual. One of the trend drivers is demographics. In an interview last month with public television’s Bill Moyers, Goleman said he believes the younger generations have the greatest motivation to preserve the world and their ever-expanding use of social media will accelerate the sharing of consumer knowledge. This, he says, will create a shift “that will make it not only feasible for companies, but actually essential for companies to do the right thing.”

Smart marketers will get ahead of the trend and make radical transparency their competitive advantage.

Update: As I was about to publish this post I came across Joel Makower’s review on June 17 of Goleman’s book. He isn’t nearly as optimistic as Goleman about the transformative potential of radical transparency, for either consumers or producers. “I can’t argue with the premise, but my 20 years of watching the green marketplace leaves me, well, unsold,” Makower writes. Goleman responds to Makower here. He says, “I don’t believe the last 20 years offer apt data points for projecting the next 20. It’s the future I’m talking about, not the past.” I’d suggest you read the book and decide for yourself.

Update: Daniel Goleman references my post in a piece he wrote for Harvard Business here.