Each year we at Wendel Rosen look forward to the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum in San Francisco.  This year’s theme “The Access Economy” will take a closer look at the relationships between brands and consumers.  The San Francisco event takes place on October 20, 2011 and is sure to inspire, as well as provide great opportunities for networking.

Event program:  

Alex Bogusky, iconoclastic ad man, who made Crispin Porter + Bogusky the world’s most awarded agency, then turned heads with the launch of the FearLess Revolution, shares his inspiring story and introduces Common, a collaborative brand for social entrepreneurs. 

Bonnie Nixon of The Sustainability Consortium

Bonnie Nixon, who redefined supply chain ethics and stakeholder engagement as Director of Environmental Sustainability at HP, talks about scaling sustainability in the world’s most impactful corporations from her new role as Executive Director of The Sustainability Consortium.

BBMG unveils a new branding campaign and the lessons learned from a case study with the founders of Getaround, a fast-growing, San Francisco-based Access Economy icon, winner of the 2010 BBMG Collective Prize presented by Sustainable Industries.

The featured presentations will be followed by interactive Q&A with the experts moderated by Triple Pundit founder Nick Aster (a prior Wendel Forum guest).

In preparation for the event, show host Bill Acevedo managed to get a few minutes with Bonnie and Alex for Episode 35 of The Wendel Forum(originally aired on October 8, 2011 on Green 960 AM radio).  These interviews give a brief preview of some of the themes to be explored on the 20th. 

In the first segment, Bill talks with Bonnie about The Sustainability Consortium, a diverse group of stakeholders who have come together to drive a new generation of sustainable products and services.  A number of private retail and consumer product companies are engaged in the Consortium, along with representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academics.  All of these stakeholders are exploring ways to advance science to drive a new generation of innovative products and supply networks that tackle the environmental, social and economic imperatives we face today.

Bonnie explains how the future of The Sustainability Consortium is working to enhance science to better inform decision makers on the sustainability of products.  This research will generate new indicators and methodologies for understanding and evaluating the environmental attributes and impacts of products.  This transparency could empower companies, investors, consumers and other stakeholders to match business initiatives, investment decisions and purchasing choices related to specific companies and products to their own set of values and priorities. Imagine a world where you could use your phone app to scan a product and get a window into its entire lifecycle through the bar code!

In the second half of the show, Bill talks with FearLess Cottage’s Chief Creative Insurgent Alex Bogusky, who spent the first part of his career building great brands for companies.  At some point he became disillusioned with what he calls the one-sidedness of the brand/consumer relationship.  He took that frustration and founded The FearLess Cottage, described on its website as “an informal clubhouse for insurgents in a new consumer revolution.”

Alex explains that there is a current window of power in the hands of consumers to help shape companies and

Photo of Alex Bogusky

Alex Bogusky of FearLess Cottage

products to better match their values through consumption and buying habits. By asserting this “voting choice” the consumer/citizen can influence even the large corporations, which have considerable sway over government — and, in turn, over us.  He suggests that, while there is a potential for more transparency, consumers don’t always choose to look as closely as we should, saying that “democracy hasn’t permeated capitalism yet.” He challenges the listener to use resources like Good Guide and to vote with purchasing dollars as a way to combat corporate special interests. It is a challenge we should all take.

For those who are in the Bay Area and have an interest in a deeper discussion of these topics, we’ll see you on the 20th at The St. Regis for the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum.  
Post Links:

Listen to the interviews with Bonnie and Alex: Episode 35 of The Wendel Forum

The Sustainability Consortium website: http://www.sustainabilityconsortium.org/

The Good Guide website: www.goodguide.com

The FearLess Cottage website: http://fearlessrevolution.com/

Sustainable Industries Economic Forum event registration: http://sustainableindustries.com/events/economic-forums/sustainable-industries-economic-forum 

BBMG website: http://bbmg.com/

Triple Pundit website: http://www.triplepundit.com/ 

Bill Acevedo online bio: www.wendel.com/wacevedo

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

Advertisements

Walking to work the other day, I saw a Toyota Prius festooned with advertisements for a local auto body shop.  While I certainly noticed the Prius as I stood waiting to crossing to the street, what really caught my attention was the prominent representation that this auto body shop was “environmentally friendly.” 

What, I wondered, could that mean?  While the Bay Area Green Business Program has worked with auto body shops to help them become certified as a green business, this program doesn’t focus on the marketing message of any particular business.

Since I had no idea what the auto body shop’s marketing message meant, I jumped on the internet to see if I could find an explanation.  What I found was that there were a lot of apparently “environmentally friendly” auto body shops.  As I perused their various web pages and/or advertisements, I became convinced that these auto body shops (and/or their attorneys) had probably never heard of the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides

Fresh off of a revision, the new and improved Green Guides attempt to offer understandable guidance for often incomprehensible environmental marketing claims.  The main points of the Green Guides are: 1) advertisers need to be able to substantiate their claims – i.e., they have to have a reasonable basis for making the claim; and 2) the more specific a claim is, the more likely that it will not run afoul of the FTC’s guidelines.  You see, the FTC looks at all advertising from the consumer’s perspective: what message does the advertising actually convey to consumers?  The Green Guides view environmental claims by the meaning that consumers give them, not necessarily the technical or scientific points that the advertiser is trying to make.   In other words, if a consumer could be mislead by the message, the message is misleading.

So, what do you do to ensure compliance?

First, read the guidelines.  They are written in easy to understand prose.  There are a lot of guidance examples, and the categories are broken down by specific types of claims.  The Green Guides and other useful information about the Guides can be found at http://business.ftc.gov/advertising-and-marketing.

Second, common sense should be your guide.  If you do not have competent and reliable scientific evidence, which the FTC views as “tests, analyses, research, studies or other evidence based on the expertise of professionals in the relevant area conducted and evaluated in an objective way by qualified people using procedures generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results,” you should think twice about your claim.  It doesn’t matter what you hoped to achieve with your ad, it only matters what the consumer would be able to understand from your ad.

Third, err on the side of caution.  Specific points are advisable over general claims.  An unqualified general claim of environmental benefit may convey that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits, which may not be true (or, at least, understood by the consumer).  So, in the case of those auto body shops, their claims of being “environmentally-friendly” would not be deceptive if that representation were followed by clear and prominent language limiting the “friendly” representation to the product attribute for which it could be substantiated, and if the context didn’t create any other deceptive implications.

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to educate yourself on useful (and not-so-useful) marketing concepts.  A survey released this week of nearly 300 members of Sustainable Industries’ audience, conducted by the Sustainable Branding Collaborative, a Portland-based firm, shows that what most consumers and businesses want is transparency.  Don’t make claims that you can’t support.  A link to the report can be found on the Sustainable Industries website.  Or, you can check out our friends over at BBMG.  They released a 2009 Conscious Consumer Report, which explores the consumer’s confusion and limited reliance on trust marks – labels that attempt to “certify” a product’s environmental attributes.  BBMG has found that consumers cannot readily understand the clutter of the hundreds of trust marks that are in the marketplace today.

So what’s my message on environmental marketing claims?  Say what you mean, mean what you say, and above else, you better be able to prove it.