Yesterday I attended a business lunch where the keynote speaker was the gentleman responsible for organizing the upcoming 2008 Olympic Track and Field Trials here in Eugene, OR.  (A huge deal for our small town that produced Steve Prefontaine!) 

The last part of his talk provided for a Q & A session.  There were the obvious questions:  “Does Eugene have enough hotel rooms?  How many volunteers will be needed?”  But one question in particular stood out to me:  “What is your sustainability plan?”   What was even more interesting was the detailed answer the speaker had readily available: “…concessions will use biodegradable utensils, recycling depots will be placed around the grounds, and repurposed building materials are being used.”

It is amazing in the past 5 years how much environmental consideration has come in to the business world as it relates to consumers.  Where once waste ran abundant in production and construction, now stands increased sensitivity to all things green.  In fact, going green has become one of the hottest trends in marketing.  This month’s cover feature of Marketing News is titled “Going Green: Why “Green” is the new “Low Fat.”   According to a recent BBMG marketing firm survey, nearly 90% of consumers would choose an environmentally friendly company if the cost is the same at the alternative. That’s a big bandwagon to jump on.

A new entrant into this green scene is Clorox.  Not always categorized in the minds of consumers as a traditionally environmentally-friendly product, bleach is getting a make-over.  And they will start selling their products on…..wait for it…..Earth Day.  This April, Clorox will unveil Green Works, a line of “natural” green cleaners.  Interestingly, Clorox happily lists the ingredients on the label – something it doesn’t do for its conventional cleaners.  They are further capitalizing on green power by co-marketing this new product line with the Sierra Club.  Not a bad move and one that is sure to resonate with tree-huggers everywhere.  “We’ll definitely have some folks who are surprised by this decision, but also people who are pretty excited about it,” said Sierra Club spokeswoman Orli Cotel. “We are supporting Green Works in hopes that more people will have access to these kinds of products, some of which aren’t even available in the middle of the country.”

But beware. Where going green can lead to a healthy bump in revenue, there are also pit falls if there is no substance behind the campaign.  To the average green customer, environmental issues are serious business. Not practicing what you preach can be an invitation for negative PR and lead to the loss of some of this precious customer base.  British Airlines was recently called out by CBS news for flying empty flights across the US.  BA claims these flights were canceled due to flight attendant scheduling, yet BA flew them anyway and denied a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that said the airline also was operating the “ghost” flights to avoid losing its valuable takeoff and landing slots at Heathrow airport.  BA must use these slots 80% of the time or they loose them. “A 747 flying from London to New York will burn almost 100,000 gallons of fuel, which produces a considerable amount of pollution and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” A CBS news source reports.  Environmental groups have sharply criticized these “phantom” flights….especially given that BA’s Web site boasts the airline’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, indicating that the carrier has improved its fuel efficiency by 28 percent since 1990.

Let’s face it: The decision made in the boardroom to go green most often is more about dollars than saving trees, but at the end of the day, if it increases sustainability and makes the world a better place for our kids – then I say go for it.

One last note: If you are a business thinking about throwing your hat into the green ring, experts say you only have about 2 -3 years to capitalize on this kind of message.  Predictions are that soon the buzz will die down and green products and services will become just an expected standard in how companies do business.

Beth Anne Whalen
Director of Business Development
Palo Alto Software, Inc.

Beth Anne WhalenBeth Anne Whalen

Beth Anne Whalen has 13 years of sales, sales management, and marketing experience. She has worked for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, First Advantage Corporation, and Raymond James.