'Green' branding not always best, poll suggests

Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun
Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Too many companies engage in "knee-jerk green marketing" even though most consumers have higher priorities than the environment, sustainability marketing consultant Kierstin De West said Monday.

Her comments came after her company -- Conscientious Innovation -- released online poll results showing that although B.C. residents care about the environment, they are still more concerned with their own well- being.

The poll found British Columbians consider social and personal "sustainability issues" -- like wages, or being connected to family and friends -- more important than environmental issues like pollution and global warming.

A lot of companies jump on the green bandwagon when often that isn't their most powerful sustainability story," De West said in an interview. "Maybe they're doing a lot of powerful and interesting things in fair trade and employee engagement.

"Being eco-chic may not reflect what's authentic for their brand."

The poll of 170 B.C. residents, part of a larger survey of 5,000 North Americans, found that being paid a living wage was considered the top sustainability issue -- with with 88.6 per cent of B.C. respondents considering it important.

That was followed by how employees are treated (88 per cent), a balanced life (87 per cent), being connected to family, friends and community (87 per cent), and personal relationships over material possessions (79 per cent).

Pollution issues came in sixth place (77 per cent), followed by fair trade (77 per cent), global warming (68 per cent), buying local (66 per cent), and spiritual contentment (61 per cent). Buying organic products placed even further down the list at just 33 per cent.

De West said a lot of green advertising these days lacks enough detail to make it meaningful to consumers.

"There may be a lot of vague philosophical claims, but no specific details that people can sink their teeth into," she said.

The poll also found a majority of British Columbians can't identify leading companies that are either socially responsible or socially irresponsible. More than 50 per cent of respondents answered "I don't know" when asked to identify such brands.

Twenty-four per cent of B.C. residents feel Wal-Mart is socially responsible, but 17 per cent also feel the retail giant is socially irresponsible. Nobody felt Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op was socially irresponsible, but just 22 per cent said it is a socially responsible retailer.

De West said businesses are clearly missing the mark when it comes to sustainability messaging, because 80 per cent of British Columbians say they want to know about the socially responsible behaviour of leading brands.

The poll identified five top areas where British Columbians plan to make socially responsible and sustainable choices in the future -- financial investments (53 per cent), vacation choices (53 per cent), car choices (45 per cent), home decorating (45 per cent), and shoes and footwear (41 per cent).

The poll results came as B.C. prepares to celebrate 30 Days of Sustainability -- to raise awareness of sustainable living in Western Canada -- beginning today, Earth Day, and running to May 21

The third annual celebration, which attracted more than 100,000 B.C. participants last year, features a series of events throughout Metro Vancouver -- including Celebrate Earth Day at Jericho Beach Park on April 26, Growing Up Green at Britannia Community Centre on May 3, and Urban Vegetable Gardening at Strathcona Community Centre on May 4.

A full list of events and details can be found at web link.