Clean PR

Clean Tech. PR. Sustainable Business.

Progress butts heads with progress

This picture of Brazil cutting rain forest for fuel is too powerful to not share. It’s from this week’s cover story in TIME, The Clean Energy Scam. Check out the story. It reinforces the extra due diligence that needs to be paid to anything relating to green business, the environment and politics. Perceived short-term progress can turn backwards quickly (although the article makes it seem like questions about ethanol are just starting which leaves out the major year of debate in 2007). With any “green” progress will be tradeoffs and articles like this bring them to light. When progress starts looking like the opposite, it gets scary.

Brazil Cutting Trees for Fuel

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March 29, 2008 Posted by | clean energy, environment, global warming, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

State of Green Business 2008

State of Green Business 2008Joel Makower and his editorial team at GreenBiz.com launched a 64-page report, “State of Green Business 2008,” this morning. Aside from analysis on green business activities in the United States, it features the debut of the GreenBiz Index. And handy for anyone building out their green communications initiatives, it includes dozens of “Editors’ Picks,” lists they’ve compiled of the best books, websites, reports, business initiatives, and other resources.

The GreenBiz Index is a set of 20 indicators of green business progress that Joel and his team will update annually. It measures the following:

• Alt-Fuel Vehicles
• Building Energy Efficiency
• Carbon Intensity
• Carbon Trading
• Carbon Transparency
• Clean-Technology Investments
• Clean-Technology Patents
• Corporate Reporting
• Employee Commuting
• Employee Telecommuting
• Energy Efficiency
• Environmental Management Systems
• E-Waste
• Green Office Space
• Green Power Use
• Packaging Intensity
• Paper Use and Recycling
• Pesticide Use
• Quality of Management
• Toxic Emissions

We’ve been tracking business media coverage for the past two years and one thing that has always surprised me is the lack of coverage in these publications about “how to” green your business. These same business publications have published dozens of articles on how to be a greener consumer, and have reported on green news coming out of businesses… but they’re business publications and CEOs, CSOs, CFOs are all struggling with what they should and shouldn’t be doing. That’s their readership, and business executives want to know more than just the news from other companies, or the sporadic bashing of a few companies for “greenwashing.” For their part, McKinsey, The Economist and the Economist Intelligence Unit have done a good job of addressing the executive audience directly, with real ideas and best practices.

Congrats to Joel, his editorial team and his publisher Pete May for keeping us moving in the right direction.

UPDATE: Check out Joel on CNBC’s Closing Bell.

January 30, 2008 Posted by | clean tech, CSR, green marketing, green tech, media, renewable energy, sustainable business, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It’s getting hotter

Anyone who grew up near my childhood home of tropical Rochester, NY can likely relate to the stories my parents would tell about walking to school with 20 foot snow drifts reaching the telephone wires. Well, according to this image I just saw on BusinessWeek’s green blog, they might have been telling the truth. The surface temperature change in the Great Lakes region is profound.  The poles are another story. Not news to most of us, 2007 was the second hottest year on record. Maybe the tropics and Rochester really will meet.
2007 second hottest year on record

January 28, 2008 Posted by | clean tech, global warming | Leave a comment

Chevy College Challenge goes green

Chevy LogoChevy’s PR team just sent me a note about an interesting youth engagement initiative they’ve run as part of their latest College Challenge. In 2006 they showed what students are capable of with the Super Bowl Ad Challenge; this year they took a green approach and invited students to design a communications campaign that educates consumers about Chevy’s current and future fuel saving technologies. Five finalist teams were chosen and flown to Detroit last week to present to Chevy’s marketing executives. They’ve prepared the following video with a few highlights.

Props to Chevy for a great idea. College students are probably the most active and passionate green demographic – what better way to learn how to market to them (and position Chevy as innovative) than having your target market try to write a communications plan targeted at themselves. One question: do we get to see the strategies the winning team came up with?

Engaging youth in activities like this is something that has been around forever. It makes sense. Bring them in, give them a challenge and hopefully turn them into advocates for your brand or cause. This has really taken hold recently in areas relating to politics or the environment where passionate individuals are given a forum to join video contests or social networking groups and move their cause forward through ingenuity and creativity. Check out the winning video from the Current & The Alliance Ecospot Contest.

December 20, 2007 Posted by | environment, green marketing, green tech, public relations, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Google and HP make some green noise

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.

Google logoHP Logo

November 27, 2007 Posted by | clean energy, clean tech, environment, green tech, public relations, renewable energy, solar, sustainable business | Leave a comment

Inside Greenwashing’s “Six Sins”

sixsinsgreenwashing.jpg

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

November 19, 2007 Posted by | environment, green marketing, public relations, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Little Green Claims

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.

SCS Greenwashing Campaign

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.

November 1, 2007 Posted by | environment, green marketing, green tech, media, public relations, sustainable business, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Green Q&A: Greentech Media’s Jennifer Kho

Greentech Media Logo

I think there’s some dust collecting on this blog. I set it aside to tour the country with my seven-month old son for six weeks. My first post since returning is with Jennifer Kho of the recently launched Greentech Media. I first met Jennifer last year when Text 100 was introducing its clean tech group. At the time, she was at still at Red Herring and was one of the few people reporting daily on green business topics. She was nice enough to sit down with us then to share her thoughts on the emerging clean tech industry. A year later, she has a great thing going at Greentech Media, which dubs itself as an “integrated online-media company comprised of cutting-edge news, in-depth market research, and focused industry events.”

Swain: I subscribe to a lot of green newsletters and RSS feeds and more seem to be popping up every day. Is there enough news to support all of the people writing about it?

Kho: Yes, I still think there is plenty of news left to cover (and uncover) in this area. The players are so diverse, involving energy, transportation, energy efficiency, energy management, water and air and so on, that I think a number of reporters are needed to cover the industry thoroughly.

Before you left Red Herring, was the number of pitches in your inbox still increasing or did it start to level off?

The number of pitches in my inbox was growing and is still growing, but many of the pitches I get are not really matched to what we cover at Greentech Media. For instance, I’ll get pitches about new hiking trails, attempts to save endangered species or regional environmental efforts not involving technology. Also, we’re noticing more “greenwashing” from companies that aren’t really focused in green technologies.

You were covering clean tech long before it hit today’s level of mainstream attention – how have things changed?

There’s certainly more mainstream interest. Now, cleantech comes up in the mainstream press every day. Politicians talk about it, we see new fundings almost daily and I no longer have to explain what solar power or ethanol is when I write about it – at least not every time. The public is getting more savvy, as are the companies. When I first started, few of the companies I talked to each day had public relations representatives. That has changed.

The news is coming from the tech, VC and energy industries, and when you add in verticals like building, auto and consumer products, things can get complicated. Are there specific sectors or areas you’re paying closer attention to than others?

Yes, we definitely see more of our news coming from the energy area right now – although we also are doing our best to add more coverage in other areas, like water and green IT – and readers also seem to be very interested in car technologies. We try to find a business angle for every story.

Unlike the technology industry, the success of many cleantech companies and products has a lot to do to do with public policy and changes in old industries that are notoriously slow and resistant to change. Do you think the reporting process for cleantech will change in the coming years?

Yes, as the industry starts to mature, I expect we will be moving from covering mostly new technologies and startups to covering more public companies and new applications for the technologies. Especially if, as some have speculated, there continues to be less money going into university and government research in these areas.

Do you have trouble finding the products, people and companies that have the potential to make a real difference?

I wouldn’t say I am seeing a shortage of companies with this potential. But whether they will be successful or not is anybody’s guess. We definitely will have winners and losers.

Rather than specific cleantech news and innovations, are you interested in hearing from companies who are applying these new technologies as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative?

As important as those initiatives are, we will be covering fewer of those types of stories, compared with news about new technologies. However, it’s still worth pitching us because we will occasionally cover those initiatives when they are very big or when they are surprising.

What are you seeing as big risks and challenges this sector has to overcome in the next five to 10 years?

The different parts of the sector are so diverse that they each have their own set of challenges to overcome. But, in general, I think companies will have to meet their promises, avoid too much hype and persuade legislators to approve greentech-friendly policies. One risk still is the historically volatile price of oil. Even though technologies like solar power don’t directly compete with oil, investors’ perceptions do tend to trade solar and other alternative-energy stocks higher when oil prices are high and lower when oil prices are low. Likewise, different parts of the greentech sector risk being influenced – for better or for worse – by the rest of the sector, so that if one piece disappoints, some investors might lose their enthusiasm for other parts of the sector.

The solar industry has already started to consolidate and I expect a lot more to come. Do you think other renewables/clean sectors will see the same thing as startups start to mature? If so, which sectors are next?

Yes, I think consolidation is a natural part of growth and maturity. This is already happening in wind power. Also, alternative cars and energy-efficient lighting are some areas where I expect we might see some consolidation once the technologies are ready. In fact, we already saw Hymotion get purchased by A123Systems, as an example.

Suggestions on how to work with you and what you look for in a story.

I am looking for stories involving both business and technology. That means story pitches should include elements of money and technology aiming to improve the environment. The product must be a technology, an innovative, fairly complicated piece of hardware or software. It also must be purposely created with some green intent. This focus on business and technology might well shift or expand as we grow, but it is what we’re looking for now.

As for working with me, the best way to reach me is to e-mail me at kho@greentechmedia.com. You also can call me at 510-268-9929. Obviously, notifying me early and giving me a scoop or an exclusive makes it more likely you will catch my attention. And if you do call, the best time is in the afternoon, when I’m off the daily deadline.

September 24, 2007 Posted by | clean tech, environment, Journalist Q&As, media, public relations, venture capital | 2 Comments

Renewable Energy’s $16 billion weekend

This weekend’s news: “The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed a Democratic rewrite of U.S. energy policy that strips $16 billion in tax incentives away from Big Oil and puts it toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.”

In a time when it’s standard to see overall clean tech and renewable energy funding or incentives barely put a dent into what’s going into fossil fuels, it’s a big moment when $16 billion is in the same sentence as renewable energy. David Roberts at Grist talked yesterday morning about the need for a national renewable energy standard, highlighting a new 150-page report, “Renewing America: The Case for Federal Leadership on a National RES.” I’m curious what David and the report’s authors think about yesterday evening’s news.

Many states have enforced similar measures but we’ve yet to see big action at a federal level. Reuters sums up how the skeptics feel… House Republican leader John Boehner said the bill “cuts the lifeblood of our economy off at the knees by increasing taxes to pay for green pork projects.” Green pork?

Clean tech, clean energy and whatever else you call them are new industries that need new infrastructure and new innovation. Aside from the often talked about reduced reliance on fossil fuels and global warming benefits of cleaner energy, what gets me excited about this “green pork” are the jobs already being created around the country. The same people talking about green pork are raising red flags about losing U.S. jobs and our ability to compete in a global market. The same way Silicon Valley become a global hub for technology innovation (and helped boost Calif. to become the world’s sixth largest economy), clean energy can do it again for the U.S. It’s a nice goal, right?

Century-old incentives and subsidies are what got fossil fuels to where they are today. Let’s not forget that when we try to compare the real cost of our energy. Those coal plants have had some help along the way (understatement).

How a bill like this could impact the clean tech industry is a good topic for a policy communications expert like Sean Garrett at 463 Communications. Maybe he’ll have something to add…

August 5, 2007 Posted by | clean energy, environment, global warming, policy | 4 Comments

Intel’s new CSR blog

With so much interest in what corporations are doing to make their internal organizations and the products and services they offer more “sustainable,” it’s nice to see Intel introduce a CSR blog (thanks to triplepundit for catching this). Environmental Leaders points out that McDonald’s and Sun Microsystems also have CSR and eco blogs. I’m sure some research could uncover several others as well. Send me a comment if you know of corporate blogs to profile.

This all has some significance. Most companies are racing to figure out their internal/external approach to CSR, cleantech, and whatever else falls under the green umbrella, and just like consumers, big companies need examples and best practices to follow. Even with the dozens of new events, articles and industry associations, there aren’t enough places to turn for information. These blogs, if done right, should serve as a good forum to create discussions that help companies across industries develop their approach to CSR.

I’ve talked about how these companies are already coming together with trade groups like TechNet. Adding clear and transparent corporate blogs into the mix is another step in the right direction. And I’m sure the media won’t mind new places to turn for information.

July 27, 2007 Posted by | blogging, CSR, environment, sustainable business | 1 Comment