Green marketing or greenwashing? Handle it with care.

SUV plant a tree cartoonI was extremely honored to be the featured speaker at this month’s meeting of the Stark County Green Business Roundtable held at the North Canton Chamber of Commerce. My topic was all about the effectiveness of green marketing. The Roundtable is in its second year with its overall membership and current players’ enthusiasm growing. I was impressed with all the efforts that each member of the group is putting forward in the name of increased sustainability measures for their representative companies and organizations.

To begin my presentation, I couldn’t help but share the findings of Joel Makower. A San Franciso-based entrepreneur, writer (about a dozen books on the green economy and online news with GreenBiz) and strategist on sustainable business, clean technology, and green marketing, Malkower is an overall skeptic when it comes to green marketing, but he also offers silver lining solutions to his “downer” points.

Here is the true-to-form “Bad News” that Malkower has to offer the green marketer: (1) Sales of green products represent well under 1% of any given category and (2) Consumers don’t want to change in the name of Mother Earth or the greater good.

But, Malkower does offer a couple bits of good news about green marketing: (1) Green services (reduce, re-use, co-op, sharing) is the only category working fairly okay as opposed to green products; and B2B (as opposed to B2C) green marketing is effective.

Here are the B2B benefits that companies tend to recognize:

  • Enhanced brand & increase competitive advantage
  • Increased productivity & reduced costs
  • Improved financial& investment opportunity
  • Minimized carbon risk & improve energy efficiency
  • Increased employee retention and recruitment

And finally, here are a few of  the most effective green marketing tactics used today:

1) Be genuine Do what you claim to be doing in your green marketing campaign and
 business policies; NEVER, EVER GREENWASH –as tempting as it may be; (2) Educate your customers: Let them know why it matters to support green products and services. Tell them what the benefit are beyond “saving the planet” (also known as ROE—Return on Environment); and finally, (3) Give your customers an opportunity to participate by personalizing the benefits of positive environmental action for themselves.

 Greenwashing cartoon

Rainy Days and Mondays…ain’t it swale?

yard fairy recycling-rain350It’s a March Monday in Akron and of course it’s soggy out there. Rain, hail, sleet, ice glaze, snow…a potpourri of delightful precipitation that never seems to end.  It’s only apropos that I launch into a discussion on stormwater runoff.
I was recently appointed by Turf magazine to write about bioswales and rain gardens for one of their upcoming issues.  Greenscaping (i.e. rain gardens, bioswales, permeable pavers, xeriscaping, composting, green roofs) is finally becoming a “hot, hot, hot” opportunity for landscapers.  It’s about time!
As I put together the research and interview of four experts in sustainable landscaping, I was in disbelief about the enormous problem of stormwater runoff throughout the country.  So glad I have a blog to share some of the amazing facts about the problem of stormwater runoff that I didn’t have room to include in the article, but needed to splash around as much as possible in other ways.
When it rains, it pours…here’s just a few factoids to soak in, many contributed by my new “swimming” buddy Tom Barrett of Greenwater Infrastructure, Indianapolis:
  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now considers pollution from all diffuse sources, including urban stormwater pollution, to be the most important source of contamination in our nation’s waters
  • The EPA ranks urban runoff and storm-sewer discharges as the second most prevalent source of water quality impairment in our nation’s estuaries, and the fourth most prevalent source of impairment of our lakes
  • As of May 1999, states and the EPA have issued more than 260 permits affecting some 850 operators, including larger cities operating separate storm sewer hickory rain gardensystems, which requires them to develop stormwater management plans.
  • To grasp the magnitude of the stormwater runoff problem, consider that there are 500 million surface parking lots in the U.S. alone. In some cities, parking lots take up one-third of all land area, “becoming the single most salient landscape feature of our built environment,” Ben-Joseph writes.
  • Fifty years ago, 90 percent of rainwater stayed locally, soaking into the ground. Today, 70 percent of the rainwater gets flushed into our sewer systems.
  •  Separating the overflow of the rainwater has become the largest infrastructure project in the history of all its cities
  • The single largest polluter is stormwater runoff. According to the EPA, its the number two source of pollution on their five year plan.
  •  In the last 40 years in the US, we have increased impermeable surfaces by 40 percent. The regulations to provide adequate parking spaces for big box retail establishments and the ever-increasing lanes of traffic are a few examples of just how we are experiencing the paving over of America.
Right here in Akron, one of the 180 communities fingered by the EPA for stormwater runoff ruination, it’s great to see a comprehensive clean-up plan and sewer separation plan from Summit County Countywide Storm Water Management Program (SWMP).
A wonderful county agency, Summit Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD)  is doing a great job promoting rain gardens and bioswales for Akron area businesses and residents.
Here’s a departing Trivia Question:
Q:  Who designed the first rain gardens?  A:  The Mayans on the Yucatan Peninsula…and they also did a better job of managing stormwater than us so far…
maya garden

ROI: The key to turning customers on to green

ImageIt doesn’t matter if my clients are steeped in green or stepping into green, the challenge of providing clear and concise Return on Investment (ROI) for their customers seems an exercise in “blood, sweat and tears.”

The green industry does a fine job in spouting the “Save the Planet!” message for customers, which is a good thing, but when it comes to the message of “How Does Green Save Me Money?” — it’s often muddy or missing.

Take home remodeling.  According to the latest Professional Remodeler green research, energy-efficient products continue to grow in popularity while other green improvements are lagging.  In Housingzone.com’s recent special report on green remodeling, 45 percent of remodelers believe that green features help them sell remodeling projects. While up 33 percent from 2007, it remains flat from a year ago.  Take energy retrofits.  For some time, homeowners have been sold on the fact that they are good for the environment and save them money on utility bills; however, a recent article in CNNMoney.com points out that appraisers don’t recognize these features one iota when conducting their home appraisals.

Years back, Cleveland-based Buildings magazine stated that “thanks to programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s landmark LEED rating system for buildings, green facilities have crept into the mainstream.” I have to also mention a new  up-and-coming program, Green Globes, a viable alternative to LEED.  But, the article went on to say that “despite the growing recognition of sustainable practices, green products, and high-performance technologies in building design and construction, concern within the facilities industry continues due to lack of accurate, thorough, and quantifiable information about the financial and economic impacts of high-performance buildings.”

These indicators tell me that this industry, among many others, is not doing its job in conveying the green ROI to its customers.

How can we develop this key green ROI message for customers?  It takes time and an investment. Here are some of the ways:

  • Be persistent with your suppliers and manufacturers to pull ROI information out of them any way you can.
  • Set up a monitoring system with your past customers who have invested in your green products to get ROI stats first-hand.
  • Invest in a third party—university research department, local marketing firm—to assist in getting the information for you.
  • Comb the Internet for helpful product ROI information such as greenandsave.com and thedailygreen.com.
  • Develop your own ROI formulas and tables by using compound interest calculators.

It can be done. It’s well worth the time and investment to develop the ROI formula for your customers.  This will put the “green”  in your pocket as well as help save the planet.

Winter Bicycle Commuting in Akron…No Sweat!

cycling-winter

Actually, the good news is that you do generate a lot of sweat bicycle commuting on hills…and that’s what keeps your body temperature just about right, even in single digit temps!

Now, if it’s Tuesday, it must be bicycle commuting to Tallmadge in snow, sleet, wind, rain and/or hail. The reason you can count on every Tuesday in Akron to be the worst weather day of the week is because it’s my consistent day without a car. I’m in a carshare.

Dress right and smart…and bicycle commuting in winter is a pleasure. Full wool mask under the helmet, fingertip open/close gloves, long underwear, wool socks–you are never cold, just invigorated. Hey, if I can survive bicycle commuting in frigid temps on icy roads and feel great–anyone can!

Here’s my ROI on hoppin’ on the bike 3 days per week instead of getting behind the wheel November- March, auto and bicycle purchase costs not included:

BICYCLE: Down vest, fleece shirt, rainsport coat, Platos Closet, $24; wool face mask,Goodwill, $3; fingertip open/close gloves,Gabriel Bros., $6; Long underwear, Gabriel Bros., $6; wool socks, Gabriel Bros., $5; rubber overalls, Village Outlet, $6; used Nature Conservancy backpack, Goodwill, $4; used bicycle helmet, Salvation Army, $4; Schwinn combination bike lock on sale, Falls Wheel & Wrench, $15; bicycle rack on sale  (to deflect water and hold change of clothes), Century Cycles, $15; TOTAL: $88

CAR: Gas, $1000: oil change, $40; car washes, $120; avg. repairs, $450; license $75, insurance $400, parking fees/tolls, $90. TOTAL: $2175

TOTAL SAVINGS: $2087

FACTS ABOUT BICYCLING AS A COMMUTE OPTION

  • More than half of all American s live less than five miles from where they work according to Bicycling magazine.
  • Only 1.67% of Americans commute by bicycle.
  •  In Japan, 15% commute by bicycle; In China, bicycles outnumber cars 250 to 1.
  •  About 12 bicycles can be parked in the space required for one automobile.
  •  Traffic jams in the 29 major cities cost commuters an estimated $24.3 billion each year.
  •  100 bicycles can be produced for the same energy/resources it takes to build a medium   automobile.
  •  The average cost of a new car in the U.S. is $13,532; average cost of a new bicycle in the U.S. is $385.
  • Commuting by bicycle produces zero pollution a.k.a. no carbon footprint.
  • The majority of U.S. cities have seen a jump in the number of bicycle  commuters–Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis lead–Tulsa, Kansas City, Cleveland are ranked for most improved and having best future.

winter bikeThe City of Akron is making great strides in encouraging bicycle commuting–seeing a lot more designated bike lanes popping up all the time. I am still waiting for bicycle rental kiosks downtown and at the U of Akron, more companies providing bicycle commuting incentives to their employees, more paved shoulders with white lane striping and more bike racks in key locales.

Akron, you’ve got a little more work to do to become a leading community for commuter and recreational bicycling–but you’re getting there.

CHECK OUT AKRON’S BEST EFFORT YET: The Switching Gears website run by AMATS (Akron Metro Area Transportation Study) for a comprehensive look at bicycle planning and promotion for the region–very encouraging.

See what merry old England says about: 5 Reasons to Cycle to Work

Charonne: Car Sharing Can Do!

car sharingEver thought about sharing a car?

It’s quite an alternative thought in our independent mobile society ruled by the all-powerful encroaching auto industry.

But, it can be done.

For the past three years since moving to Akron, I have been trying to keep driving expenses to a minimum all in vain by buying beater cars on Craigslist, refusing to negotiate with “specialty” wolfish auto dealers (the kind that preys on you when your credit is less than satisfactory), and footing the bill for repairs, parts, gas and insurance all on my own. Its been a struggle.

I had a few life factors working in my favor to consider car sharing.

  1. I only needed the car weekends and one or two evenings per week
  2. I had a desire and a do-able route for bicycle commuting to work and doing errands
  3. I view driving the automobile as a necessary evil over my life that I wanted to diminish.

The main hurdles that held me back:

First, an astronomical jump in insurance costs for placing one or more drivers on my policy.

WRONG! I was amazed to find out that there was a mere 3% jump in auto insurance when placing two more drivers on my policy. This may not be true of all auto insurance carriers, but it was true with e-surance. Driving records may also impact the sharing surcharge (in our case, we all had reasonable records).

Second, impossible to find someone who was on opposite driving schedule, lived in close proximity and flexible.

WRONG AGAIN! I found a myriad of drivers out there who thought the same as me and who were flexible in working out a schedule as soon as I put the word out.

So far, in the second month of operation, it’s working out okay with one other person—soon to add a third. I must admit, though, it is still a bit difficult to give up the car (as I have the lion’s share with it) when my spontaneous desire to run errands crops up and difficult weather confronts my bicycle commute.

But, hey, you can get through it…and its a great feeling!

Just remember the benefits:

  1. Feeling less helpless with less dependence on the automobile
  2. Helping the environment by using alternative transit more often
  3. Enhancing your personal community by sharing with others
  4. Planning better my consolidating errands and working out commuting schedule ahead of time.

…and, just in case you are wondering what “Charonne” means?

That’s the name of our beautiful, well-preserved trusty reliable ‘shared ’95 Toyota Camry. It’s a sexy French spin on “Sharon” (nice American female name closest to “sharing.”)

For great tips on informal car-sharing, check out this article published by Cornell Cooperative Extension:

Do-It-Yourself Carsharing

Urban Ecovillages: Future Trends Give Thumbs Up

earthsong ecovillageThe timing is right for the Akron community to step up and embrace an urban ecovillage. Sustainable elements include:  (1) Greenbuilding and rehabs, (2) urban farming, (3) Co-op retail businesses, (4) shared transit, and (5) ecoliving events, training and education.

Here are the TOP TEN reasons why the launch of an urban ecovillage in 2013 is sure to rock:

  1. The drive toward sustainable urban development: a greater focus on neighborhood efforts to integrate environmental, economic, and social responses to our current crises.   Urban Current:  A Project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States Urban & Regional Policy Program.
  2. Urban agricultural efforts have made common cause with groups concerned with healthy non-processed food.  The Nation
  3. The sustainability movement will stay on track to become the norm, rather than the exception, with greater efforts in the works to develop greener urban districts and more sustainable, low-tech urban design.  Greenbuilding Services
  4. Collaborative Consumption describes the rapid explosion in traditional sharing, bartering, lending, renting and swapping—including shared landscapes, transportation and meals.–TIME names Collaborative Consumption as one of the “10 Ideas That Will Change The World.” 
  5. With the uptick of sustainable building mandates and consumer demand for  sustainability, funding and incentives for sustainable structures are becoming more readily available.  Greenbuilding Services
  6. We are becoming a nation of overachievers.  Just saving energy is now not enough. The trend is to go all the way and make homes net-zero.  Most net-zero homes achieve this designation by combining a variety of passive and active design strategies.  Buildapedia
  7. Hundreds of “social enterprises” that use profits for environmental, social or community-serving goals are expanding rapidly. New Economics Institute
  8. At the cutting edge of experimentation are the growing number of egalitarian, and often green, worker-owned cooperatives.  New Economics Institute
  9. The number of bike commuters in the USA rose by 64 percent from 1990 to 2009. University Transportation Research Center   
  10. Companies are lining up to register as B Corporations (the “B” stands for “benefit”) allowing companies to subordinate profits to social and environmental goals.  The Nation