Communicating In Green
Essay / 2,500 Words / 2017
A study of greenwashing, green marketing and green practice within major corporations using the three case studies of BP, Adidas and Patagonia.
As the modern environmental movement has come to the forefront of modern day politics, it has had an ever changing impact on the way in which brands have used green marketing and advertising techniques to alter public opinions. While sometimes the idea of a company being green is legitimate, the line is often blurred as some companies opt to use it as a marketing front in a scheme called ‘greenwashing’. Noted sustainability thought leader, Gil Friend, defines the tactic of greenwashing as the following; “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or its environmental benefits of a product or service – even with the best of intensions” (Friend, 2009). The effect gives the company a sense of morality and environmental stewardship in an attempt to gain better public opinions and ultimately, more sales and investment. The distinction between genuinely sustainable companies and companies that use greenwashing is vital knowledge for today’s consumer in order for one to make informed, sustainable buying decisions.
In the year 2000, one of the largest energy companies in the world, BP Amoco decided to undertake a global rebrand from its shield based logo that had remained relatively unchanged since the 1920s (Vlugt, 2012) in favour of the new Helios identity we now know today. The design agency behind the logo, Landor, states on their website that it is “a stylized sunflower symbolizes the sun’s energy, while the color [sic] green reflects the brand’s environmental sensitivity. With this simple shift in identity, BP staked its claim as a leading provider of energy solutions” (Landor, n.d.). Further to this, in 2004 BP changed its name from British Petroleum to take the slogan ‘Beyond Petroleum’ in which they launched a campaign promoting a green image for the company. However this has all been met with harsh criticism by environmental activists with the past Climate Campaign Manager, Rob Gueterbock, stating that “they spent more on the logo this year than they did on renewable energy last year. Given they spend $8bn a year on oil exploration, BP stands less for beyond petroleum and more for burning the planet” (Macalister, 2000). This criticism however is not startling, as when you look into how much BP invest in these renewable energies it does not correlate with how much they tout their green stance. Environmental journalist and writer Fred Pearce wrote an article posted on The Guardian website in 2008 concurs, stating that “BP likes to say that it is investing $1.5bn a year in "alternative energy”… it still only makes up 7% of the company's planned $21bn investment this year. The remaining 93% is oil, spiced up with some coal” (Pearce, 2008). Furthermore, in contrast to the green image they have been promoting, in 2013 an article on CNBC announced that BP were in fact retreating away from wind and solar energies in an attempt to “redeploy into [it’s] core businesses” (David, 2013). This raises a major question in the morality of their marketing as it becomes clear that they were sending green messages to the public with the Beyond Petroleum campaign as seen in the image to the left. The language the campaign uses as well as the emphasis and hierarchy that has been placed on alternative energies makes it seem like they are in fact the dominant focus over oil, which just simply isn't the case. It is, in many ways, false advertisement.
Regardless, greenwashing has been shown to have positive effects of public opinion for the company. An article in Environmental Leader brings this to light with the following two statements, “a Landor Associates survey of consumers found that 21% of them thought BP was the greenest of oil companies, followed by Shell at 15% and Chevron at 13%…BP said that from 2000-2007, its brand awareness went from 4 percent to 67 percent” (Nastu, 2008). This data shows that over the course of the Beyond Petroleum campaign there was a significant rise in both public perception and public opinion. This begs the question, is greenwashing a moral practice?
Greenwashing’s necessity is questioned by companies like Adidas, one of the most sustainable companies in the world, having been placed near the top of the ‘Global 100 Index’ for three consecutive years, as of 2016 (Adidas Group, 2015). What is even more interesting is that whilst sustainability is a large focus for the company, green marketing has not become their forefront identity, unlike BP. By studying various marketing from Adidas, this becomes clear, as “Adidas has positioned its brand as one for creators and helped to hone that message through campaigns” (Pasquarelli, 2017), which can be seen in the two adverts ‘Your future is not mine’ and ‘ORIGINAL is never finished’. This shows a direct comparison to BP who are a very unsustainable company which has been known to greenwash, whereas Adidas is the opposite. To push this theory further both the adverts ‘Futurecraft Tailored Fibre’ and ‘From Sea to Shoe’ are in many ways, almost identical in their content by showing the production process of the adverts respective shoe. The difference between the two is that the ‘From sea to shoe’ campaign is an advertisement for their green product the ‘Adidas x Parley shoe’, a shoe produced for the most part, by collected ocean plastic and recycled materials (McAlone, 2016). However, the ad for the so called ‘greener shoe’ does not differ by touting stereotypically green imagery. Looking at this advert closely, it starts out with footage provided by the Sea Shepherd Organisation, a direct-action activist and conservation organisation (Seashepherd.org, n.d.). Sea Shepard was founded by environmental activist Paul Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace who has since heavily criticised the organisation on many occasions for not being green enough. This is relevant as Watson has not only affiliated his company with Adidas, but also has defended Adidas in a Facebook post in which he highlighted how the company is not affiliated with footballers who participated in the Faroese Whale Slaughters (Watson, 2016). This connection provides Adidas with a fair amount of credibility in terms of their conservation actions, unlike BP who are often condemned by environmentalists and in one case Greenpeace awarded BP with an ‘Emerald Paintbrush’ award for greenwashing (Simms and Boyle, 2010). The reason for the credibility this provides is explained by Kolja Paetzold, who writes in his book about corporate social responsibility that “in the public eye, NGOs are more trustworthy than companies in regard of benefiting society…because the public believes initiatives taken by them are solely for the benefit of a good cause” (Paetzold, 2010).
Building upon their sustainable agenda is the fact that they have shown that they are actively working on innovating their products in many ways to both challenge and show the fashion industry what is possible as well as gain further understanding for their own product design and production. For example, in 2011 Adidas declared a goal to reach 100% better cotton use in their products, an initiative by which they improve water consumption and the use of pesticides in the cotton farming process (Adidas-group.com, 2011). In 2015, the company states in their sustainability report that they were currently sourcing 43% of their cotton through this initiative (Adidas Group, 2015), by 2016 this had improved to 68% (Adidas Group, 2016). This shows that the goals and targets in which they are setting and actively marketing with on the Adidas Group website, are not just empty promises. It is something in which they are actively pursuing. These sustainability reports have all been made accessible online with one for every year since 1998 (Adidas Group, 2016). This offers a degree of transparency to the pubic, which is only enhanced by the fact that they offer a list of their supply chain on their website, offering an honest sentiment to their customers.
However, sustainable outdoor clothing company Patagonia takes transparency to another level through their project called the ‘Footprint Chronicles’. This project maps out the textile mills farms and factories, and offers information such as what products/materials do they produce, a short description and even how many people work there with a percentage between how many are male and how many female. Taking this idea further, for every product on their website, they have a section which displays the supply chain influencing that individual product, and in some cases even have short videos explaining the production process and descriptions of certain materials such as recycled polyester (Patagonia, 2015). However, they do not only show how sustainable they are, but in conjuncture with the ‘Footprint Chronicles’ they write blog posts both about their own supply chains, analysis of certain materials and processes as well as other critical posts about their company as a whole (for example where they can improve their sustainability) in order to offer information to their customers in an effort to strive for even further transparency. Beyond transparency, Patagonia has in some sense of the word, an anti-consumerism stance on consumerism. This can be seen through their famous Black Friday ad campaign, ‘Don’t buy this jacket’. Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Patagonia Rick Ridgeway explains that the campaign was not about telling people to simply not by the jacket but “don’t buy the jacket if you don’t need it…and thats what we are asking people to think about, of buying just what you need, of taking care of it, fixing it, re-selling it if you’re not using it, recycling it when it is completely worn out” (AEG, 2014) which is a strong sentiment echoed throughout the brand as a whole as well as the mission sentiment they put forward to their customers, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” (Patagonia, n.d.). Following this black Friday campaign, the company released their worn wear campaign based around reusing and recycling old garments. This campaign has since grown from an idea to a practical element of the company with “40,000 repairs per year handled by a full-time staff of 45 repair technicians, including a team that tours the country in an RV repairing and recycling clothing on location” (Jones and Gettinger, 2016). Further to the idea of implementing solutions for the environment “since 1985 Patagonia has committed to donate 1 percent of its sales to environmental organizations around the world that work to conserve and restore the natural environment. Since it started to support 1% for the Planet, Patagonia has contributed more than $46 million in donations” (Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative, 2012) and has since gone on to raise $74 million (Patagonia, n.d.). Whilst Patagonia’s campaigns could potentially be seen as a marketing ploy, through the companies strong history of environmental initiatives, recycling and the ethics that the company was founded on, they can be seen as an honest, authentic and trusted company (Doorley and Garcia, 2015).
When studying green marketing it is often hard to differentiate between the companies who are genuinely practicing green business methods and those which are greenwashing in order to gain wider public approval with the emerging trend of being eco friendly. In the long term, the practice of greenwashing can have detrimental effects on consumer awareness as with the example of BP, where many people view them as the most environmentally friendly oil company, as well as seeing heightened awareness for the brand. As mentioned earlier the increase in ecofriendly businesses brings to question, do companies even need to flaunt their positive impact on the environment? From the study of Adidas, some may say no to this. Whilst they do on some levels market their green impact, they do not use it as a key selling point or as an identity. However, they have been recognised on many levels for how green they are without the need to tout their environmental capabilities. However, regardless of this, it has been shown that through a green business model and honest marketing, successful companies can flourish. Patagonia is a testament to this fact, and a shining example of how transparency can push businesses forward to allow the public to learn and make informed decisions about what it is they are consuming.
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Matthew Ryan Cooke
23rd April 2017