Climate marketing: trend or leadership?

Have you ever had that experience where after carefully choosing your new car’s make, model and colour as a reflection of your unique personality, you see hundreds of them driving around minutes after leaving the showroom?

I feel a bit like that after achieving Fuller’s carbon neutral accreditation back in December, purchasing our first Tesla and moving to renewable energy.

Now it seems everyone’s on the bandwagon. But that’s a good thing.

While our Prime Minister is picking his way through back bench climate scepticism like an Indian faith healer walking on hot coals, business is under no illusions that the future has arrived.

Globally, there has been a huge shift by corporations who are now paying attention to what customers want, and responding to the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions by 2030.

But is this a trend-driven marketing movement, or an authentic acceptance of responsibility by corporates and long overdue leadership to look after the planet?

A lightning-fast move from Ford

When it comes to turning a deeper shade of green than their competitors, the Ford Motor Company’s release of ‘Lightning’, the company’s first electric F-150 truck, just about takes the carbon cake.

The F-150 is as much a part of middle America as red check lumberjack shirts, tractor caps, goatee beards and bloody big guns. In fact, most F-150s come with customised gun racks capable of holding a small arsenal…just in case a deer or moose attacks you on the way home from Carl’s Jr.

The other ubiquitous component of the F-150 is a 395hp 5.0-Litre Ti-VCT V-8 engine. When a good ole boy starts one up in the backwoods of Vermont, fashion princesses on Fifth Avenue drop their soy mocha lattes.

But there was President Joe Biden last week doing noiseless wheelies around the test lot and giving himself whiplash, as Ford execs patted themselves on their green backs.

The decision cannot have been taken lightly by this conservative 117 year old motor company. While this is certainly no Tesla — the body shape and basic cabin arrangement remain familiarly 1960s Detroit — there are a lot of nods to technology with big screens, hands-free driving capability and Android/Apple media connections…and no more under-bonnet growl from that big V8.

So will electric power shift the traditional F-150 audience? It is a $42 billion question for Ford — that’s the revenue from sales of 900,000 F-150s in 2019.

Tech reviewer The Verge, referencing a study by Car Gurus in 2019 found that over a quarter of vehicle owners polled said they would consider an F-150 EV, 45 per cent said they would not consider one, and 27 per cent were undecided.

By comparison, 31 per cent said they were interested in a Tesla Cybertruck and 16 per cent would consider a Hummer EV. Among Ford truck owners in particular, 39 percent say they will probably or definitely own an electric truck in the next ten years.

So if these rusted-on internal combustion lovers can shift into carbon-neutral gear, what’s next?

The big move

Palmolive is a bit like Ford — a household name for consumer products for most of the last century. But they too have moved, with Palmolive’s Eco Dishwashing Liquid’s biodegradable formula and 100 per cent recycled bottle, the most radical thing the corporate giant has done since Madge dangled her cuticles in it 30 years ago.

Disney is now a leader in environmental custodianship, reducing emissions at its sites through solar energy, cutting plastic packaging and pursuing a zero-waste policy. Since the 1970s, 30 per cent of their properties have been dedicated nature reserves and now the company is also building solar farms to power its parks. Who knew?

Hewlett-Packard, one of the first companies to report its greenhouse gas emissions, claims that its global recycling program has kept 875 million HP cartridges, 114 million apparel hangers and 4.69 billion post-consumer plastic bottles out of landfills…and they are reusing plastics from bottles and bags in their cartridges.

Nike, still bruised from its reputation-damaging forays into sweat-shop labour, is now promoting its ‘Move to Zero’, advertising a more sustainable range of products using 20 to 50 per cent recycled polyester.

Starbucks is also embracing environmental sustainability across the board, with Fair Trade Certified and Certified organic coffee, recyclable coffee cups and cutlery and a new chain of low energy stores that use LED lighting and less air conditioning.

Google, which has always been an innovator, has been carbon neutral since 2007 and now plans to be carbon-free by 2030. As the largest purchaser of renewable energy in the world, it is well ahead of other corporations in sustainably powering its massive processing facilities.

Planet-friendly alliances

Back home in Oz, more than 50 retailers and manufacturers got together earlier this month in the new Boomerang Alliance to reduce plastic use in Australia. Their goal is to eliminate unnecessary plastic and aim for 100 per cent recyclable or compostable packaging. Signatories include Coles, Wooloworths and Aldi, plus manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, Nestle, Pepsico and Arnotts.

Backing up the industry announcements, Woolworths went one-better with a double-page “ultra-green” advertisement in weekend newspapers proclaiming its earth-friendly range of cleaning products, paper tissues, and toilet paper as well as, bizarrely, the lifecycle of a Woolworths carrot.

Australia’s greatest wine company Penfolds — still reeling from the Chinese left-hook in January to cut wine imports — announced at the weekend that it is pursuing net-zero emissions by 2030. Impressively, this will be achieved by finding renewable ways to reduce electricity – their major contributor to emissions — without taking the convenient path of purchasing carbon offsets. This could be the signal for Australian winemakers and grape growers to join in the carbon-neutral push, given that future consumers will be coming from climate-aware countries such as Australia, Europe, the UK and the US, rather than China.

Meat and Livestock Australia are on the same journey – not an easy mission when they represent a lot of methane-generating Poll Herefords and Black Angas owners. But again they are determined to find ways to sequester carbon rather than write an offset cheque.

Market function

So to return to the original premise — is climate a marketing trend? Or is it a true business leadership shift?

Telstra’s Head of Energy Ben Burge summed up this ‘rush to green’ at an Australian Institute forum recently which was reported in the Saturday Advertiser.

“The company’s carbon-neutral certification is much more than a compliance tick,” he said. “It is now a market function for us.”

Most enlightened companies now believe that climate and sustainability are an essential part of their business strategy, just the same as human resources, finance and information technology.

Businesses are seeing a real benefit in connecting with their customers and clients by doing things that are good for the planet.

But authenticity is the key. Customers will soon detect greenwashing that makes you look good but provides no worthwhile contribution to emission reduction.

So how can you be authentic? Achieving carbon-neutral certification through the national Climate Active initiative takes a year of mainly administrative record checking. It’s not onerous and like all third-party accreditation processes, it enables you to understand more about your business and organisation and improve your systems and processes.

Measuring your emissions means finding a roadmap to reduce them to zero through a mix of practical steps that will resonate with your customers and also make you an employer of choice when hiring and retaining staff.

These include banning non-recyclable takeaway coffee cups and plastic water bottles, composting kitchen scraps, installing LED lighting to reduce electricity use and reducing photocopying and paper waste. One of our staff initiatives is even to use pencils (made from recycled cardboard) instead of biros in the bid to take hard plastics out of the recycle chain!

But measuring and managing emissions alone is not enough. If indeed climate is a marketing function as much as a risk management function, businesses need to tell their customers what they are doing, advocate for the future, be brave and yes, show leadership.

Don’t worry — they won’t label you as a “greenie” the way they would have ten years ago. Climate action is the new public expectation of businesses.

And if you’re still in doubt, ask yourself, what is the risk of climate inaction?

You can learn more about Fuller’s journey to becoming carbon neutral and other Fuller ‘For Good’ initiatives here. If you’re interested in starting your own journey – or are already like us on the track – we’d love to talk about this new and exciting future.

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