Category Archives: business

The great green marketing add-on!

Flip flops by CinOk, so let’s talk about flip flops. With companies falling over each other in their efforts to position their products to consumers as green (any product it feels), it is worth considering exactly what kind of green marketing we can expect to hit the tube, billboards and magazines in the years ahead across Southeast Asia. Let me illustrate.

Say that you are Irfan Damial, head of Marketing at Crazy Shoes, and that your CEO asks you to pitch your latest flip-flops as eco-friendly (“Yo Irfan, slap some green on that will you? That colour just sells!”). Yes, the same flip-flops you have been churning out at a rate of 1,700 sets per day for the past 16 years.

Well, Irfan, you don’t have that many options–either you come up with ludicrous claims (rubber is a natural element, hence our shoes are environment-friendly!) or you suggest to your boss that Crazy Shoes invests in serious R&D to reduce raw material use, packaging etc. Neither is going to take you very far (although an illuminated CEO should give you a raise for suggesting the second one.)

(Incidentally, this story may be partly true. I recently saw a pair of $1.5 ‘ecological friendly footwear’  at Carrefour on Sunset Road in Bali. If that’s not a sign that green marketing is entering mainstream I don’t know what is.)

Stories like this are likely to become increasingly more frequent. A survey released earlier this year of more than 370 marketing and advertising executives provides evidence that green marketing is increasingly popular–82% of survey respondents said they planned to use more green messaging in their marketing.

The big question here is, of that 82% how many will resort to giving their products the ‘green marketing add-on’ treatment (sic the flip-flop anecdote)? According to Terrachoice, more than 90% of products with green claims are greenwashing in the U.S. market. In less developed markets, there are reasons to think that this may be worse.

But the simple fact here is that if you don’t get the product right—in the way that only a good quality product with a small environmental footprint can—then no amount of green marketing is going to make your product ‘eco’. As green marketing guru Jacquelyn Ottman says, green marketers must take an extra step of managing the product’s life cycle impacts.

If you thought that marketing was tough, then selling environment-friendly goods just made the game a whole lot more complicated—but definitely more worthwhile.

3 is a winner: Indonesian waste law, product responsibility & green marketing

Every day, with a ching and a smile, tens of thousands of laptops, light bulbs, juicers and electric fans change hands from retailers to consumers across Indonesia. Now fast forward to a few years later, when these electric appliances burn out, and end up decorating landfills, polluting rivers or torn apart by street kids to recycle components and sell them back. So if you’re the manufacturer, what do you do?

Option 1: You look the other way. I mean come on–things are hard enough trying to stay profitable in these tough times, making sure your products adhere to safety standards, and trying to reduce waste at your production site. How on earth are you going to keep track of your products after they have been sold and used? (That’s when you start grumbling about environmentalists and how they’re never satisfied with efforts made by businesses to reduce their environmental impact.)

Option 2: You come to terms with the fact that you have a liability on your hands. If you’re producing batteries, how badly do you want to see them scooped up by school kids during a clean up operation in a natural reserve (say Muara Angke in Jakarta for example)? Or photographed in the hands of a woman in rags trying to pry them open to salvage their components?

(If you are manufacturing and selling products in Indonesia, just consider the legal implications of having your products littering the country. Law 18/2008 on waste management could not be clearer; producers are required to manage their packaging and/or products that do not degrade naturally (source here). For those of you who like fancy terms, this is called Extended Producer Responsibility. According to The Economist, 31 of America’s 50 states have product-specific EPR laws. The European Union requires manufacturers to dispose of packaging, electronics and vehicles. Canada and Japan also have EPR laws.)

Option 2+: You do something about it. While some companies will squirm and stick to option 1, enlightened companies  will see here an opportunity to build customer loyalty. Look at US firm Staples for example, which sells office supplies–the company has rolled out a take-back programme for used items such as computer monitors, compact fluorescent light bulbs and batteries.

Is it a cost? You bet it is. But consider how Donny comes back to your store with a used item he wants recycled, and he gets to exchange it with one of your newer products at a discounted price. In one neat move, you have showed the world that you are taking responsibility for your products, you have offered your customer a service to rid him of a now useless device so that you can dispose of it safely, and now you have sold him a new one while making him feel good about it.

If none of this sounds convincing to you, consider this. In Java, the heart of Indonesia’s manufacturing sector, environmental capacity is already at critical level. That means the island cannot accommodate any more environmental abuse, whether pollution or infrastructure development (with more than 60 million people, this is hardly surprising).

Time to start thinking about how your business operation can avoid contributing to this disaster in the making.

Free ‘green bag’! (with bonus plastic wrapping)

What do you get when you buy two packs of detergent? No less than a free cloth ‘green bag’ (the brand’s term, not mine).  Such was the deal on offer at a Sanur supermarket today, strategically placed next to the cash register for those impulsive last second purchases.

Two things struck me.

First, you have to appreciate the irony of getting a free ‘green bag’ which—get this— is wrapped in its own plastic bag, and then bundled again in more transparent plastic wrapping for the 2 packs of detergent. Whereas the original reason for the so called ‘green bags’ was to reduce disposable plastic bags, this detergent promotion essentially tramples over the whole idea and hands you a cloth bag with green motifs (of course emblazoned with the brand name) while still using adding plastic to the waste stream.

Second, the ‘green bag’ label has officially lost its true significance. It now essentially boils down to this: design a bag from any non-plastic material (or even polypropylene (yes, its plastic)), slap on it some green leafy motifs, mix in a slogan with the words green or eco, brand it, and hey presto—green bag! Will your customers use it? Probably. Will they reduce their use of plastic bags because of it? Probably not.

And here is the problem. A ‘green bag’ is never really a green bag unless its owner turns it into one. And that doesn’t require magic—only bringing it along for a shopping trip on a recurrent basis. Until this happens, businesses are stalling on their sustainability work.

In 2010, so-called ‘green bags’ are no longer a market differentiator to burnish a company’s sustainability credentials. Its time to move on. To stand out from the competition and implement a business sustainability policy that catalyzes a demonstrable positive change, don’t just give your customers a free cloth bag. Show them how to use it in a green way, and then reward them for it. Freebies. Discounts. Anything that reinforces the behaviour and loyalty to your brand.

And perhaps a good start would be to give away the detergent IN the green bag, rather than packaged in plastic.