Category Archives: Sustainable Energy

Sustaining Momentum

As I get ever so closer to vacation next week, my thoughts have started to migrate towards recharging and renewal.  In that spirit, I wanted to share some interesting pieces I’ve been reading this week that span across that spectrum.

* Martin LaMonica of CNet has a short but very in-depth series on the current state of electricity, the role technology is playing in changing our consumption and how we sustain our ever-growing electronic lifestyles.  He takes a look at both sides of the coin: home and generation.  Highly recommended and especially timely in Massachusetts where there is a growing debate on National Grid’s planned rate hikes.

* Working off of a piece by Matt Richtel in the New York Times that discusses how our brains are changing due to our (some would say over) exposure to computers, blogger Marc Gunther explores the idea further in his post earlier this week on Sustainability and Your Brain.  Marc makes an excellent point in conclusion:

“Being “always” on is ultimately unsustainable. More than that, the idea of resting and restoring (the earth, your workforce) are part of a sustainable business practice.”

As a society we are moving ever faster in the electronic/information revolution age.  It brings to the forefront a great deal of questions:

* How much is too much information?  And where will we get all the energy to sustain the information flow?

* How will we sort this information to make better and more sustainable business decisions?  There is a great recent TED conference session online about data visualization’s potential role here, fascinating and well spent 18 minutes with David McCandless.

* How can/will this information be used to avoid another BP-style disaster in the future?

We’re heading off to Cape Cod to enjoy some of the national seashore and reconnect.  I hope everyone has a chance to do something similar as we wind down the summer.

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Two Brand Marketing Approaches to Touting Green Cred

I’ve had the chance to experience how two very different brands approached touting their green credentials in the past month.  What I found most interesting is how different their marketing around their green efforts took shape, with the more B2B-focused company actually pushing the green angle more openly.

First up is Brother, the fax/printer company.  Unless you are an SMB/SOHO you likely interact with Brother products at the office.  I happen to have an individual printer in my office that recently needed a new toner cartridge.  After opening up the box, along with a new cartridge I was greeted with a leaflet describing how to help Brother keep the old cartridge out of landfills.  Here’s what struck me:

* Clear directions – they provided a 1-2-3 process that was easy and fast.

* No hassle – they provided me with the FedEx shipping label and instructions on how to return the package, providing contact info to help find a drop off or arrange a pickup.

* They answered the question of “why Brother?” – in their short summary (3 sentence, 5 bullets), I know quickly understood why Brother is asking me to participate and was given an appropriate level of detail on the program they have undertaken as an Energy Star partner.

Next up is Left Hand Brewing, the fine Colorado-based providers of a a close buddy of mine’s favorite Milk Stout.   A pure consumer brand, Left Hand interestingly doesn’t tout their green cred as clearly as I think they should on their packaging or their site.  They do have a note on the top label of their bottle describing how the beer was brewed with clean energy from SimpleSolar.com electric systems.  However it was only on one side in small print and I noticed it by accident.

Juxtapose this with another Colorado-based brewery New Belgium, the home of Fat Tire and other beers.  New Belgium talks more openly and in larger print/detail about their sustainable efforts on their site and packaging, with a link to a sustainable sub-page and a front page banner ad about a 1% for the planet initiative.  Pretty stark difference from what I would consider prime competitors.

With sustainable and green marketing still evolving, its interesting to see how these diverse companies approached the issue and how much emphasis they applied given their products and cultures.  It’s clear both B2B and B2C can gain positive customer impression from promoting their bona fides if done in a) a non-obtrusive way that b) supports the overall culture, bringing along with it competitive differentiation as well.

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The Power of Analytics for Green Marketing

Imagine being able to tap into undiscovered markets, getting first mover advantage and securing a beachhead on a potentially large revenue stream?  With some deft analysis you’re able to empower your sales team, unleashing them with very targeted areas of focus that turn into bottom line benefit

A marketer’s dream, right?  Being able to tie together distinct threads to create a new mosaic of opportunity is essential to discovering opportunities hidden in the light of day.  All you need is the data!

But where to find it?

We hear a great deal about the promise of clean / green energy for the economy, yet many statistics show that today we’re even more shackled to traditional energy sources than during the 70’s oil crisis.  We get bogged down in looking for the large, sweeping answers, when finding smaller, yet real opportunity is essential to the slog that energy independence will inevitably become.  And that’s where marketers can make a difference.

Take a look at Heather Clancy at Green Tech Pastures piece on solar and more northern cities (think cold & snow) actually present a great opportunity vs. hot climates like Arizona due to the statistical realities of how solar works in hot vs. cold climates.  Who knew it could be “too hot” for solar?  It’s right there in Nature Materials for all to see.

Now take a look at the moves by larger IT vendors like IBM into the analytics space, well documented by ZDNet’s Larry Dignan here.   The “smarter planet” is going to be owned by those that mine data and put it to use.

That data can come from anywhere – scholastic journals, trade blogs, DOE statements.  It’s a marketers challenge and opportunity to find those disparate nuggets, distill the essence and set the direction in both external and internal programs to move sales opportunities forward before the competition.

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The Power of Sustainable Choices – Making Marketing Local?

The media brings to light sustainability stories in a variety of ways.  Most times it is national stories like BP that highlight larger issues of the  environmental impact of business, the cost of our dependence on oil, national regulations and standards, etc.  These are all worthy of debate and discussion, however it reminds me that the good stories, the positive stories many times are left on the sidelines.

This isn’t just an issue regarding sustainability and environmental issues – this is a complaint I hear regularly regarding the nightly news.  It’s a sad reality that the public does tend to gravitate towards that which is dramatic.

Which is why I was drawn to a recent video post from Yahoo in their Second Act series.  The particular piece focused on Jay Shafer, who made a lifestyle choice to downsize to an 89 square foot house of his own design and handiwork.  You can check out the video here.

Trathen Heckman, a sustainability educator, is quoted stating that Jay’s house is less than a 10th of the size of a “traditional” US home.  I found it interesting that by turning away from the standard approach to happiness and success (aka home ownership, status, etc.) that Jay has enriched his life while:

* Reducing his utilities to less than $100 per year

* Carrying no mortgage

Although not for everyone, those are powerful motivators that could lead many people to explore their own version of Jay’s lifestyle choice.

The US economy is based largely on services, the consumer index and individuals making the choice over and over again to buy new items, be it clothing, homes or the latest gadget from Apple.  As the economy continues to struggle, I wonder if more people will make similar choices as Jay, and how will the market respond?  Jay grew a business of creating small buildings out of his own experience.  Local farmers are seeing the continued growth of CSAs across the nation.  More and more individuals are making lifestyle choices that don’t blend with traditional purchase patterns.

This is heady stuff for marketers.  A mass media national approach won’t reach these folks.  Marketing is going to have to adjust to being more targeted, more local.  To me, this means social media will increase its importance as more businesses look to connect to those buyers right in their own backyards.

They say all politics are local.  The combination of economy and choice may mean business needs to returns to those roots as well, and marketers need to take notice.

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BP – What’s Next?

With BP taking a well deserved hit on the Gulf oil situation, I won’t recount all of the missteps that have them facing a long-term PR nightmare.  For that you can read here the NYT’s summary here and PR social media pundit Todd Defren here.   (disclaimer: Todd’s my boss, but don’t hold that against him…he’s a savvy guy)

My initial take away is caveat emptor on green marketing – especially for big brands.  This is a clarion call for GE, Cisco, Intel – any multi-national that has been pushing a “green” agenda these past few years is on notice.  I experienced something similar in years working in the IT security space – don’t call anyone out, and be careful what you claim since its more than likely something will happen that shines an unfavorable light on YOU in the future.

So, where does BP go from here, and what can other brands learn from this?

* Be prepared – BP has committed over $125 million annually the past few years on its beyond petroleum branding effort.  All that effort is now wasted since they were left

* Get online and stay online – Like it or not, brand reputation has moved from mass media to online.  BP has been discussing and taking responsibility for issues like the Alabama lawsuit payouts on TV, however why aren’t they responding online to stories like this?  BP needs to expand their communication channels to include all media, not just broadcast and their own web site.

* Don’t deflect – There’s some evidence to suggest oil spills “naturally” into the gulf on a regular basis.  Nobody will care.  BP can’t become defensive in the least.  They put themselves out in the public as a sustainable company, and they need to own their role in this situation and any future situations.

* Continue what they started – BP’s main page is almost fully dedicated to the spill recovery effort, as it should be.  BP has to own that this is now part of their legacy and culture, and can’t move this from their public efforts any time soon.  Establishing a commission on underwater drilling safety with community engagement before any future projects, funneling some of their billions of profit into a foundation for local wildlife – just a few thoughts on long-term commitments BP now needs to consider and execute upon.  It can’t be a quick-fix program that runs out of funding or sunsets in a few years.  This is part of their culture now and they need to embrace it.

As the culture moves to becoming more conscious regarding sustainable living, brands should absolutely embrace this as part of their culture.  The trick is having a plan, understanding your exposure and backing up what you claim.  BP is facing an uphill climb in large part because they had no clear plan…is your brand set up for the same fate?

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Water – The Next Electricity?

Timing is everything.  I was talking about different sustainable markets last Wednesday, and a colleague said this eerily prescient statement:

“Water is the next electricity”

Fast forward to this past Saturday, and the Massachusetts water main break that left 31 cities and towns without clean water.  Immediate boil water requests from the governor.  Runs on water at all local grocery stores, including a rumored fight at the CVS in Charlestown over a few Fiji bottles only minutes after I lucked into one of the last cases of water available there.

It’s been interesting to see how social media  has given a voice to this issue locally.  On Twitter the hash tag #aquapocalypse has sprung up, even being picked up by local radio station WBUR. (see below)

A very unscientific review of Twitter for 10 minutes had everything from praise for local stores like Viga Eatery reducing its price to accommodate thirsty patrons to a flood of customers at the Fresh Pond area Dunkin’ Donuts since Cambridge has its own water supply and was the only local area people knew available to get their morning caffeine fix. 

WBUR centered its whole mid-day lineup around the news:

WBUR What if you drank the water? Your questions answered, live at 1: http://bit.ly/9Ukaim #waterchat #aquapocalypse about 1 hour ago via Tweetie

WBUR Today at 1: Live Web chat with BU toxicologist & water expert. We take your questions (tag: #waterchat) http://bit.ly/9Ukaim #aquapocalypse about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck

WBUR Is the water boil order a major disruption to your business operation? WBUR’s @CurtNickisch would like to hear from you. about 3 hours ago via TweetDeck

Just as we need electricity for day-to-day connected living, this situation has reminded us that water is vital and underappreciated.  It will be interesting to see what effect this has on local and national legislative efforts to support water conservation.

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Green Marketing – Entering the Wonder Years

In my day job I’m a VP at SHIFT Communications, and we’re diligently working to build a sustainable/green practice in our Boston office.  Through networking and good fortune we’ve had a string of interesting conversations with various prospects across the spectrum – wind, solar, electric and even sustainable research.  What’s stood out without fail in these meetings is:

* Boston is one of the hubs for green and sustainable innovation.

* Everyone is early stage, either in their development or their marketing.

This week was a big one with the Bloom debut and ARPA-E.  ARPA-E was especially interesting since it focused on market momentum and funding,  and you can find great write-ups by Rob Day here, Earth2Tech here and the NY Times here.  Many of the stories out of the conference focused on the call for “home runs” and what John Doerr called the “Netscape” moment where green goes mainstream through a very successful public company in energy.

All of this got me thinking – where exactly is green and sustainability in its marketing life cycle? Early?  Mid?

I entered high-tech PR 10 years ago, right before the apex of the tech bubble where napkin business plans and VC cash flowed into PR and marketing firms like wine.  Frankly, that experience was very disorienting.  Many times I had no idea what the companies we were working with stood for – their business plans made no sense to me.  However, it did  give me some good perspective on the evolution in markets.

Take for instance ASPs.  I had 5 different ones on my roster at various points in my first year+ in PR.  They all died off, but gave rise to the hosted model about 3-4 years later, which was fraught with security and management issues.  Fast forward and cloud computing is all the rage, and rightfully so.

Given this prism, I feel green technology is actually in its wonder years.  We’ve moved pass the cutting edge start-up phase.  (Bloom came out after 10+ years of development)  Now we’re on the ground floor of phase II, where companies are starting to make market moves.   Land grabs will emerge as companies start to establish themselves amongst a host of slightly differentiated competitors.   One of the biggest companies in the Boston are is EnerNOC, which I heard has 400 or so employees – that’s the top end of the S bucket of SMB.

Although it feels early since many of these technologies aren’t household names yet, the energy, excitement and funding are all coming.  But this time the business plans are tighter and the expectations are more grounded, while the visions are still large and inspiring.  Leaders will be the ones who start their marketing now.  We’re out of the gate and the race is on…..

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