The Ethical Business Guide: Adapting to a Low-Carbon Brand

BY DR NEIL BENTLEY

DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT AT THE CONFEDERATION OF BRITISH INDUSTRY (CBI)

A LOW-CARBON ECONOMY WILL OFFER SIGNIFICANT OPPORTUNITIES FOR BUSINESS. THOSE ORGNAISATIONS WHICH TAKE THE LEAD AND ADAPT TO A LOW-CARBON FUTURE, WILL REAP THE REWARDS.

Today’s economic conditions present a perfect storm for anyone trying to market a low-carbon economy. As cost pressures mount, companies may be looking at where they can make cut backs and often it is marketing and environment budgets that are first for the chop.

But equally others will fill the vacuum with messages that emphasise the importance of moving to a low-carbon economy and will reap the rewards of doing so.

Businesses which succeed in the twenty first century will be those that seize the opportunity to adapt to a low-carbon future, and that means changing the business model – not just the shop front.

PAINTING THE TOWN GREEN

Clearly this will require a lot of work and businesses need to be wary of thinking they can make shortcuts.

If the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) latest annual report is anything to go by, a lot of companies are potentially misleading in describing their ‘green’ efforts. Complaints to the ASA about environmental claims in advertising increased dramatically in 2007. They received 561 complaints about environmental claims in 410 ads, compared with just 117 complaints about 83 ads the year before.

Getting the message right is therefore key, but so is understanding the claims you are trying to make. Avoiding greenwash is simple – it comes down to one point and one point only and that is honesty.

If companies are to stand up to the charge of greenwash the rhetoric has to match the reality of what a company is doing. Companies need to be transparent about their environmental claims.

Organisations are rightly promoting their green credentials to set their products and services apart in today’s market, but they have to be backed up with supporting evidence. So that means not just talking the talk but walking the walk.

When I was first asked whether any company can adapt their brand to a low- carbon image, my answer was simple:

No. It is about adapting your business model. But no company can be expected to go from zero to hero within a day.

As consumer confusion and potential cynicism grows, companies will have to work harder to get the business model and messaging right. But we can learn from others. At the CBI we are encouraging members to share best practice.

ENGAGING CONSUMERS AND EMPLOYEES

Popular, well-trusted businesses have the potential to build on the relationship that they have with consumers and their employees, encouraging them to make adjustments towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

If both your workforce and customer base are aware of your sustainable goals this will also enhance your businesses reputation.

IT IS NOT MERELY DOWN TO ADAPTING YOUR BRAND TO CLIMATE CHANGE IT IS ABOUT ADAPTING YOUR BUSINESS MODEL TO CLIMATE CHANGE

CASE STUDY | INNOCENT DRINKS
Jessica Sansom from innocent drinks

BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE BRAND

From the very beginning sustainability has been completely embedded within innocent’s brand, and the company has become synonymous with the term ‘be green to grow’.

Jessica Sansom, Head of Sustainability at innocent explains why sustainability is integral to the organisation:

“Sustainability influences every single decision we make throughout the business from the electricity we use in our offices, the ingredients and packaging we choose for our drinks, the way we treat our employees, to the practices we encourage among our fruit growers.

“The responsibility for implementing our strategy is very much shared across the business. Every team is focused in delivering our sustainable goals, and is provided with role-specific training sessions to ensure that they are fully empowered to achieve the best possible results.

“It’s hard to know exactly what sustainability delivers to our turnover and profits – but we know that reducing our resource use reduces our costs, we have a higher level of employee engagement and motivation, better relationships with our suppliers, and in some cases our ethics wins us accounts and consumers. We are confident that our commitment to doing business a better way plays a significant role in ensuring customer loyalty to and trust in our brand.”

www.innocentdrinks.co.uk

LOW-CARBON PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

The business opportunity to develop new or enhance existing products and services for a low-carbon market is potentially huge. If businesses establish themselves as the front runners in designing energy efficient or low-carbon products they can potentially become global market leaders.

CARBON LABELING

More and more companies are thinking about sticking labels on their products which identify its carbon footprint. If we are to engage consumers in the debate and encourage them to make the right decisions, carbon labeling can be a useful tool.

However, it needs to be managed carefully and put into context. How can we equally measure the carbon footprint of a steak compared with a Black Forest gateau?

These are difficult questions and this why a clear and standard practice for carbon labeling needs to be addressed. A new product carbon footprinting standard was launched recently – PAS2050. DEFRA, the Carbon Trust, The Climate Group, the British Standards Institute and the CBI were all heavily involved in its creation.

CARBON REPORTING

As the old saying goes ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’. Whilst a substantial number of UK companies currently report their greenhouse gas emissions, there is a lack of comparability and consistency in what they report, which can lead to confusion and charges of greenwashing.

Without proper context how can we compare progress between companies and industries? It is vital that we get a clear method in place which will help to distinguish the companies who are really making positive changes and those who are not.

GREENWASH IS SIMPLE. IT COMES DOWN TO ONE POINT AND ONE POINT ONLY AND THAT IS HONESTY

PREPARING FOR A LOW-CARBON RECOVERY

We are clearly in difficult economic times, but we must not let the downturn become an excuse for inaction – what we need to start preparing for is a low-carbon recovery.

It is more important than ever that businesses focus on the opportunities ahead and begin to incorporate low carbon thinking and decisions into their corporate DNA.

Many businesses are getting ahead of that curve now and will reap the rewards – brushing greenwash aside – and preparing for a future when the only option available is a low carbon one.

The CBI is campaigning for a government framework, as well as developing practical solutions, to enable businesses and consumers to take action on climate change.
For more information visit www.cbi.org.uk/climatechange

© BLUE ROCKET AND THE GOOD FOLK 2009