The Energy and Resources Institute’s, or Teri’s, ongoing Lighting A Billion Lives initiative to distribute 200 million solar lanterns in rural India recently saw overwhelming participation from unexpected quarters. Companies across sectors such as beverages, technology, textiles, automobiles, marketing and advertising and legal services participated in the New Delhi-based not-for-profit organization’s initiative and also made donations—despite the economic slowdown.
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“We have been doing shows and (undertaking) other initiatives to address environment issues, but for the first time we have done a big and sustained event like Greenathon,” says Smeeta Chakrabarti, executive producer, NDTV.
To gain more credibility and register greater impact, many firms are now associating with independent organizationsNDTV and Toyota aren’t the only companies riding the green bandwagon. As green marketing catches up with Indian industry, companies across sectors are adding a dash of green to their product packaging, advertising and marketing strategies. Whether it’s a small move in the form of weaving in words such as green, natural or fresh in the brand name or tag line, or emails asking you not to take a printout unless essential, or a big move towards greater social responsibility—as in the case of Reva Electric Car Co. developing a market for electric cars and thereby a sustainable business—firms are gearing up to bring about a change in the way their businesses and products are perceived.
“In the last couple of years, corporate houses have started coming forward in a big way and (are) taking eco-friendly initiatives,” says Annapurna Vancheswaran, director, sustainable development outreach, Teri. It isn’t just companies that one would associate with environmental degradation, such as those in the auto sector or chemical industry, that are spearheading the “go green” campaign, but also those in the consumer durables and electronics space.
“Internationally, companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc., British Petroleum Plc. and many car companies come out with campaigns, but there are many companies in the consumer goods space and other industries which have started to take up environment issues,” says Hari Krishnan, vice-president, JWT India.
For instance, electronics maker Panasonic Corp. is working out a go-to-schools interactive campaign to spread awareness among students on global warming and other environmental issues, to begin with. Later on, it’s planning a media campaign to target adults. “For the first time this year, we have decided to earmark 2% of our total revenues in India for CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities, which include these upcoming campaigns. In the long term, we have a plan to go to (the) rural markets,” says Sabiha Kidwai, marketing manager, Panasonic India Pvt. Ltd.
Nokia India Pvt. Ltd has launched a campaign to recycle electronic waste. Consumers are encouraged to dump old mobile phones and accessories, irrespective of brand, at any of the 1,300 green recycling bins at Nokia priority dealers and Nokia care centres. According to the company, the initiative is part of Nokia Oyj’s global programme, which covers 85 countries worldwide.
“During the campaign period of one and a half months, we have collected around 3 tonnes of e-waste, which includes a combined total of over 60,000 handsets, chargers, batteries and other accessories. We will now be extending the take-back awareness campaign across the country in the coming months,” says Ambrish Bakaya, director, corporate affairs, Nokia India.
Experts say consumers across the world are increasingly concerned about the environment and are aware of issues such as global warming. This is forcing companies to respond to these concerns with environment-friendly products and packaging and take steps to try and establish themselves as responsible corporate citizens.
Budgeting it: LG Electronics India’s V. Ramachandran says they spent more money on marketing energy-efficient products in 2008 than they did in 2007. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
A large number of companies, however, tend to prefer the easier route, merely tweaking their marketing communications with the use of the word or the colour green in their commercial slogans and logos to project an environment-friendly image. Green marketing can help companies build a positive brand image, especially those operating in environmentally harmful sectors such as petrochemicals or automobiles, say experts.
Mere tokenism, however, could boomerang. Experts say company claims need to be backed by tangible operating practices. “Eventually, such campaigns are seen through (by) people. If you (a company) pretend to show concern towards the environment and do nothing, then it could have a negative impact on the brand,” says Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO, Future Brands.
In an effort to make campaigns more credible, many companies are now associating with independent organizations for greater impact. Reva Electric partnered with Indian Youth Climate Network, a network of young people dedicated to climate change and other environmental issues, for a nationwide road tour from 3 January to 5 February to promote the cause.
The tour covered 3,500 km through 15 cities across India. “Reva has once again proved its technology leadership and highlighted the role of electric vehicles as one of the viable transport options to battle environmental issues,” says Chetan Maini, founder and chief technical officer, Reva Electric.
This is becoming important. “Projecting an eco-friendly image provides protection to the business which continuously comes under the scanner of a lot of people not directly associated with the business, such as social activists,” says Desai. “It also helps in bringing a brand closer to (a) consumer’s heart.”
In January, detergent and household cleaning products maker Henkel India Ltd launched “eco-learn”—a learning initiative to inculcate environmental concern and sustainability. The initiative is targeting business schools in the country in the first stage; engineering colleges will be targeted later. “Such campaigns are usually launched by companies which are symbols of depleting resources. It is basically out of the guilt of not being empowered to take care of the environment,” says JWT’s Krishnan.
Making a start: Panasonic India’s Sabiha Kidwai says the company has decided to earmark 2% of total revenues in India for corporate social responsibility activities. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
A recent ad for Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s, or HUL’s, Surf Excel Quick Wash talked about how housewives could save two buckets of water while using premium detergent powder to wash clothes. “Our approach is to address sustainability right across our value chain—from the sourcing of raw materials through to consumer use. We are working to reduce our own carbon footprint and helping our consumers reduce theirs. Surf Excel Quick Wash and water purifier Pureit are good examples of how we are doing this through product innovation and communication,” says an HUL spokesperson.
Besides consumer preferences, regulations are also forcing companies to go green. The UN-mandated Montreal Protocol of 1987, for instance, required the phasing out of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, by 2010. CFCs were used by the refrigeration industry and the regulation prompted companies to come out with new models that were marketed on the “no CFC” plank. “We switched to complete green refrigerators in 2002, which means that there are no ozone-depleting refrigerants. Now we are in the process of making even our air conditioners completely green,” says Kamal Nandi, vice-president, sales and marketing, appliance division, Godrej and Boyce Mfg Co. Ltd.
Companies have spotted a marketing opportunity in the government’s thrust on energy-efficient electronic products. Many consumer electronics companies have labelled their products accordingly to project themselves as responsible and aware entities. “Last year, most of the advertisements were targeted at energy-efficient products,” says Nandi.
Agrees V. Ramachandran, director, sales and marketing, LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd, “As compared to 2007, in 2008 we spent more money on marketing and advertising of energy-efficient products within our budgets. Even consumers are becoming aware and the proportion of revenues coming from eco-friendly products is going up considerably.” Globally, many companies have announced initiatives to protect the environment despite the current slowdown.
While the Wal-Mart Foundation announced a donation of $5.7 million (about Rs29 crore) in February to support the creation of green jobs or jobs in renewable energy and other environment-friendly sectors in the US, consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc. has launched a global campaign Our Home Our Planet to help consumers save money and minimize their carbon footprint as part of its Carbon 20 programme. The programme aims to reduce by 20% the total carbon footprint of all Reckitt Benckiser’s products by 2020.