Hello fellow clean tech enthusiasts! I’m pleased to join David Swain this week as a guest contributor to Clean PR. To help us all wade through the mass of green news each week, I’ll be bringing you “Clean PR’s week in review” moving forward.
I think I picked the right week to kick off this segment. Following turkey day, some of the tech heavyweights must have been feeling especially thankful and generous. As Dave mentioned earlier in the week, Google and HP announced new sustainability initiatives. In other news:
- The Dept of Energy is investing $5.2 million to support the development of low-cost Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). DOE will also make available a Technology Commercialization Development Fund (TCDF) of up to $7.2 million to three of DOE’s National Laboratories to support commercialization of clean energy technologies.
- Greenpeace released its updated Guide to Greener Electronics. Newcomer Nintendo was singled out in a most unfortunate way as the first global brand to score zero across all criteria. Sony Erickson was recognized as the new leader due to improved takeback reporting and new phone models that are PVC free.
- Greentechmedia reports today that the World Economic Forum announced it has chosen 10 green tech companies for its annual Technology Pioneers. The companies (Cima NanoTech, FluXXion, Gridpoint, Hycrete, LS9, Nanostellar, Primafuel, Silver Spring Networks, SkySails and Unidym) were selected as part of a group of 38 winners that also came from biotech/health and IT categories.
- The National Venture Capital Association released data this week reporting U.S. venture firms invested $2.6 billion into 168 cleantech deals in the first nine months of the year. The year-to-date total is already 46% more by dollar volume than all of 2006 and the highest dollar volume ever. The three largest clean tech investments by US firms went to overseas companies. Specifically, a Netherlands based company with a focus on oilfield-production enhancement, a Brazilian Renewable Energy Co and China’s Yingli Green Energy Holding Company.
Of note for PR folks, a study released mid-month by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism reports the number of green business stories published in the U.S.’s ten largest newspapers this year has already doubled last year’s total: study (PDF). The report finds sustainability stories published in the business section still represent only a fraction of the green-themed stories found throughout the newspaper. On a positive note, editors surveyed don’t think interest has peaked yet.
For those interested in sustainability and CSR, the following reports are also worth checking out: from the Business for Social Responsibility, Beyond Neutrality: Moving Your Company Toward Climate Leadership and Assessing the impact of societal issues: A McKinsey Global Survey.
I think that will do it for this week. I’m sure next week will have plenty more green news for us to cover — Barbara DeConto
It’s a big day for green press releases in Silicon Valley. Check it out:
- Google’s Goal: Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal. A new initiative to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that will be cheaper than electricity produced from coal. The initiative, known as RE<C, will focus initially on advanced solar thermal power, wind power technologies, enhanced geothermal systems and other potential breakthrough technologies. RE<C is hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas. In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy. The company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns. It’s interesting to see who is covering this: everyone from social networking blogs like Mashables to tech visionaries like Tim O’Reilly. It’s not just the green business and environmental blogs.
- HP Expands Renewable Energy use in its Operations. HP announced relationships with two renewable energy providers, SunPower Corp. in the United States and Airtricity in Ireland, as part of the company’s strategy to reduce its global carbon footprint. Under a power purchase agreement with SunPower, HP will install its first-ever, large-scale solar power installation at its San Diego facility. The contract with Airtricity will ensure that nearly 90 percent of HP’s energy use in Ireland is renewable, exceeding the company’s 2007 target for carbon emission reductions.
As we come to the close of the year green technology and products moved forcefully in to the mass market, it’s a strong wake up call when almost 100 percent of companies failed a green test run by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing this month. A summary of the report:
In an effort to describe, understand, and quantify the growth of greenwashing, TerraChoice conducted a survey of six category-leading big box stores. Through these surveys, they identified 1,018 consumer products bearing 1,753 environmental claims. Of the 1,018 products examined, all but one made claims that are demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences.
Rather than go into too much detail here, check out Joel Makower’s observations on the results, methodology and what this says about the progress of the green marketplace.
Outside of ways Joel points out to hold green marketers more accountable, what isn’t discussed is a likely cause for the sad state of affairs highlighted throughout this report. I don’t personally represent any consumer brands pushing a green message, but I’d guess that consumer perception and buying behaviors have changed in favor of green faster that the companies building the products can keep up. The result: rather than lose to the competition and disappoint customers, partners and investors, these companies are doing whatever they can to meet consumers’ “green” demand. Because there is a massive lack of standards and green measurement best practices, they join the bandwagon and push out a misleading claim or message…moving the industry backwards.
Green products undoubtedly need to make some fast and significant progress catching up to the claims on their labels. That is our biggest hope because as long as consumers are asking for a green product and there aren’t reliable green industry measurements, companies are only going to ramp up their green marketing efforts. And I’d argue it’s as much the CFO/CEO evaluating the business consequences for not joining the green party as it is the “marketer” who is responsible for where the industry is at. As marketers, we need to get educated and do our part to not exaggerate or misrepresent our company’s product or service.
Check out the report for more detail but here are the Six Sins of Greenwashing listed by TerraChoice:
- Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off
- Sin of No Proof
- Sin of Vagueness
- Sin of Irrelevance
- Sin of Fibbing
- Sin of The Lesser of Two Evils
Whenever this much hype springs up around a topic like green business, technology and building, it’s rightfully inevitable that the media pays closer attention to claims being made, as Ben Elgin did with BusinessWeek’s Little Green Lies. The same scrutiny occurred in 2000-2001 before the software industry consolidated when PeopleSoft, Siebel, Oracle and others started announcing new product upgrades faster than reporters could keep up. Were they really upgrading products or were the marketing departments shuffling around features and re-branding them as new in an effort to capitalize on all the buzz?
Rather than let the media do all the questioning, dozens of green auditing businesses seem to be popping up that can help make sure a company’s “claims” are valid. In the case below, SCS, a company that brands itself as “an independent certifier of environmental, sustainability, and food safety, quality and purity claims” developed an ad campaign aimed at helping companies move from greenwashing to accountability.
Organizations, associations and other third-parties like SCS seem to be creating their own systems, which appear to be moving the industry forward by helping companies put processes in place and understand what to talk about and what to leave on the shelf. This should lead to more real news, better educated businesses and less greenwashing, but with very few industry standards or benchmarks, relying on third parties’ homegrown systems could make for a bumpy ride. At this point it seems like the best option we’ve got.
I caught this ad in a fancy online brochure for the upcoming Greenbuild Conference in Chicago.