Environment-friendly communication and climate strategy: consumers say they want your company’s profile and agenda to be green. The sense that the climate problem is a here-and-now problem is widespread, and is starting to affect how we organize our consumption. What does it mean for media selection and content, and will climate change be the best excuse for cutting back?
On 18 January 2007, former US Vice President Al Gore visited Denmark. He presented his project, An Inconvenient Truth, to a select audience of businessmen and journalist. Two months later, he returned to address a more open assembly of young people and students.
The events were landmarks in many ways, because, for the first time, Danish politicians and opinion leaders realized that Americans had joined the climate fight.
Until then, there was a widespread perception that the environment debate had bypassed the United States, particularly in light of the American failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the Bush administration’s general skepticism towards the issue of global warming.
Gore is no longer directly involved in politics, but his influence and his eight years in office makes him an important representative of the American establishment. But because his network and dealings with the most influential part of the American creative class within business and culture are so strong, we know he speaks on behalf of power. Later that year came the Nobel Prize and an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, which put the climate topic even more in the spotlight.
From a more scientific approach, however, it was the UN climate panel, IPCC, that put manmade global warming on the agenda. In 2007, IPCC released four reports on the Earth’s climate change and, once and for all, established that we have a climate crisis that we helped create.
Since then, the debate has flowed strongly, not least because the next UN Climate Summit will be held in Copenhagen, in November 2009.
Green full-page ads
In Denmark, the long economic boom has dominated media consumption, and we have witnessed an unprecedented consumer orgy, in which the realization of our wildest dreams has been in focus.
Recently, however, environment arguments have begun to fill the media, and we have seen the first full-page ads built up around climate branding that appeals to a greater cause than personal consumption and satisfaction.
According to senior managers of international companies, the climate question is at the top of the agenda in terms of importance, and demand for sustainable products is apparently on the rise.
Thus, the Danish dairy giant Arla, for example, chose to double its investment in its climate strategy from $10 million to $20 million, prompted in part by pressure from British consumers who want to know how much CO2 it costs to produce a liter of milk.
At the same time, several large Danish companies have announced that specific targets for reducing the effects of CO2 are on the way, with both climate balance sheets and sustainable products to follow.
From me to we
Several critical trends in the climate question are crossing. At the intersection is a kind of green tipping point that could significantly affect the Danish, or even entire Nordic, media market in coming years.
After nearly a decade of uninterrupted economic boom, most families and individuals have been able to realize themselves, from a consumption point of view, at a high level. The boom in housing prices, not least, which peaked in Denmark in 2006, has made the big dream possible, and certain satiety will be the natural result. This manifests itself in a greater interest in values and spirituality: volunteerism, for example, is on the rise as a supplement, or even replacement, for continued overconsumption.
At the same time, energy prices have risen quickly. In 2005, we worried about oil prices reaching $50/barrel. Today, we speak of $150 oil as not unlikely.
But not only energy is more expensive – so is food. Even though prices might be going down, anyone filling a shopping cart these days knows we get far less for our money, and that basic commodities such as milk, bread and meat are 30% more expensive.
In finance, the demand for money has exploded in the past year. In September, this demand triggered the worst financial crisis on Wall Street since the Thirties. Last, but not least, concern for the environment is accelerating, not least because of the rapidly increasing media coverage of the topic that was initiated by Al Gore. We also experience violent weather phenomena in our own back yard, and reports of the unusually sharp reduction in summer ice in Greenland have flowed like the melt-water itself.
The sense that the climate problem is a here-and-now problem is widespread, and is starting to affect how we organize our consumption.
The growing concern about climate can, in the minds of most, be compensated for by a change in consumption, which also heavily prompted by a certain material satiety, an uncertain economic future and rising energy and food prices.
Will it be sustainable to cut back?
In Denmark, there has been considerable growth in the number of paper media titles. The magazine sector, not least, has grown strongly, with a plethora of launches and increasingly niche-oriented titles.
This growth reached a climax in 2006, when the great Danish “free paper” war erupted with the entrance of Nyhedsavisen into the already hard-pressed newspaper market. At the height of the battle, Denmark had five daily free newspapers. The volume of paper was evident on the streets, where distributors and sanitation crews simply could not keep up with circulation. Each morning found large cities wrapped in newsprint.
At the same time, the special Danish hate/love relationship to the advertising circular has led to more and more paper being forced into the mailbox. About DKK 3.5 million are invested each year in the production of advertising circulars, which are by far the biggest medium in Denmark, moving more than DKK 10 billion of goods.
As a result, retailers have maintained their commitment to paper, despite a growing resentment expressed by “No advertising please” signs on many consumer mailboxes and political mutterings about the waste of resources and the postal service’s role.
Part of the problem is that paper, in the minds of many, is associated with trees, which in the climate debate have great symbolic importance as one of the levers we can grab when we want to do something about CO2 emissions.
Trees bind CO2 and are the “lungs” of Earth. So felling trees to make paper is not a good climate policy, even though things are not quite so simple when we come to the more scientific part of the explanation!
The media is the message
The question is whether the unambiguous fixation on consumption and offers in the form of push-marketing from large advertising and media buyers will now be affected in a different direction.
It is outrageously expensive to print produce advertising circulars, but there is outrageously good business in doing so, at least for that part of the retail sector that thrives on price as the primary marketing argument.
But even if it never goes out of fashion in Denmark to talk about bargains and low prices, it is a problem that the focus on price as a selling point is no longer as credible, especially when we look at the price increases of these retail goods.
The advertising circular helps maintain the concept of price promotion and nobody really dares try something else. But the climate debate and growing consumer concerns about resource use may lead to new patterns of media choices and arguments among the big advertising buyers.
Wal-mart, the world’s largest retailer with sales of $375 billion, announced in August that it had begun collaboration with Novozymes, a Danish bioindustrial enzymes maker, in which Novozymes would advise Wal-Mart on sustainability. This is hardly likely to be through resource-heavy media and a continued stream of more products at the cheapest prices!
Maybe the Americans will surprise us again – like Al Gore did, two years ago.
The Scandinavian consumers are going green
Global warming has moved to the forefront of public consciousness. Most Scandinavian consumers have a greater interest in the environmental effects of what they buy, and their growing environmental concerns will challenge businesses and governments about the way products are produced and services are provided over the next several years.
Facts about the climate consumers in Scandinavia
# Consumers believe big businesses – the biggest polluter – have the primary responsibility for environmental protection. Scandinavians also believe individuals have a role to play in protecting their local environments. According to a global survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, 51% of executives – up from just 31% in 2006 – now believe that climate change will be among the top three socio-political issues that will garner the most attention over then next five years.
# Danes were the most likely to think (91%) that individuals could play a bigger role in environmental protection, against 86% who said business and industry should be held principally responsible for environmental protection. Finns were the least likely to feel individuals could play a role in protecting the environment (77%) and that companies should be held primarily responsible for environmental protection (89%). (Eurobarometer report March 2008).
# Swedes and Danes are the most likely to turn good intentions into purchasing decisions. While only 17% of Europeans made “green” purchases in the last month, of the 86% of Danish consumers who intended to make environmental purchases, 41% actually did so. In Sweden, almost half of the 88% of consumers who intended to make a green purchase did so. In Finland, where the figures are lower, only 23% of consumers made environmental purchases (Eurobarometer report March 2008).
# 33% of Swedes claimed that they purchase ecologically friendly products for their daily needs – compared to 26% of Danes and 25% of Finns. Swedes are more likely to purchase locally produced goods than the Finns (40% to 22%), and Danes are least likely (12%) (Eurobarometer report March 2008).
# According to the Eurobarometer, a slight majority of European consumers believe that they can identify a genuinely environment-friendly product. However, only one in ten believe they can with absolute certainty. Even a significant portion of those who consciously purchase environment-friendly products admitted that they have difficulty identifying these goods and products by labels.
# While the Scandinavian consumer appears to be more willing to make more environment-friendly purchases, half of those who have good intentions do not act on them. Why? Recent studies by both AccountAbility and McKinsey suggest that consumers lack information, do not want to compromise either quality or convenience, and believe that environment-friendly products are too expensive.
Source: Jeffrey Scott Saunders, Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies.
Electronic paper is the most environment-friendly – if you read fast!
The Swedish Royal Technical College conducted a study last year about how media choice affects CO2 emissions from a life-cycle view. It compared the reading of a paper newspaper with reading the same material online and reading on electronic paper, a thin, flexible display that is still fairly new on the market. The two electronic alternatives to paper are the most climate-friendly if the reading is brief. But if you sit too long in front of the screen, as much energy is consumed as if you read the paper version.
According to the survey, daily newspaper reading costs 28 kilograms of CO2 per year. Reading the news on the Net, via your computer, costs 14 kilograms of CO2 per year if, please note, you spend only 10 minutes. If you spend a half-hour per day, you expend up to 35 kilograms a year, thus polluting more than if you read the paper version. However, if you use the electronic paper, and keep your reading to a half hour, you expend only 12 kgs a year – a clear winner.
The study looks at energy consumption across the entire life-cycle, from editorial to production, printing, distribution and reading. For printed media, paper production causes the most CO2 expense, while on-screen reading is the most expensive part of the web-based media. For electronic paper, it is the production of the electronic paper that accounts for the bulk of the CO2 release.
Source: Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, TRITA-SUS Report 2007:1
Danish retail chain Irma aims to abolish printed advertising circulars
Irma is one of Denmark’s oldest and best-known supermarket chains, though primarily in the Copenhagen area. As the first retail chain, it recently announced it would move away from paper advertising circulars. Instead, it will focus on an Internet version of its advertising circular, and extend the concept opportunities through faster updates and broader descriptions of offers.
It is too early to draw conclusions, according to Irma marketing director Gitte Matzen, but the phasing out of paper is an attempt to meet Copenhageners’ widespread antipathy to printed circulars. Copenhagen is the most populous area of Denmark, and the area where the most official “No advertising, please” stickers have been placed on private mailboxes.