Gift with purchase, that is how I use to describe green marketing when I began working with new business partners. I took this approach as it supported the widely held belief that the main-stream American consumer is not going to sacrifice product performance and is unwilling to pay any significant premium for a more sustainable product or service. Witness the SunChips compostable, but noisy packaging disaster from just 2 years ago. Hence, I thought of green product benefits as a “gift with purchase,” a free bonus for choosing one product over another, but not something that can represent a trade off. I had wanted my partners to think of green as the “tie-breaker”, allowing their brands to win the toss-up.
Today, I want to officially call B.S. on this logic.
The fatal flaw in this idea is that it assumes consumers are taking the time to full evaluate primary product benefits, make the determination that they are equal, and then move on to the secondary benefits. I don’t buy it. Focused and singular communications are the most impactful. Cluttered multi-benefit messages get lost and consumers’ quickly lose interest trying to wade through it all. If you have not seen the video below depicting the result of Microsoft designing the iPod box, it is a great example of this effect and worth a quick view. Just imagine how many eco-logos could be slapped on there today!
So if green is not a secondary communication tie-breaker, and it is not a primary product benefit communication for the general market, where does that leave sustainability and green marketing? I think it leaves green marketers promoting more sustainable products in a tremendous position, because let’s face it, being a tie-breaker is not that enviable of a position.
Inspiration recently came to me at the wine store as I reached for the “The Big Green Box” by Pepperwood Grove, a brand from Don Sebastiani & Sons.
The story I told myself as I bought the Big Green Box was that I wanted the very functional benefit common to all boxed wines, the ability to enjoy a glass or two at night without leaving half a bottle in the fridge, becoming slightly oxidized overnight and losing the tastiest aspects of the wine. Most bag-in-the-box wines allow you to enjoy the wine over 4 weeks from when you initially open it with no oxidation. While a nice benefit, the real reason I have recently adopted bag-in-box wines is not an increase in functionality – after all the original box wine, Franzia, has had an identical benefit for the last 25 years. Heck they even trademarked it with WineTap(R). Rather, it is the signal of quality and sophistication that a boxed wine positioned as a more sustainable and greener alternative tells me as the consumer, “you can trust me, I’ll taste good, look how enlightened I am in my eco-conscious packaging.”
I want to make the case that it is these higher order emotional benefits that are the real opportunity for green marketing to shine. Just as a higher price can be a signal of quality, so too can green benefits.
Besides box wine I have another example closer to my work at Johnson & Johnson, that of reprocessed single-use surgical devices. In this category the main functional benefit for hospital customers is significant savings, in many cases up to 50% versus purchasing new devices. And while that is a compelling case for any resource constrained hospital, it seems that the emotional benefit of reducing waste going to landfills and contributing to more sustainable operations is what wins hospitals’ hearts and minds, as evidenced by the category leader Styker Sustainability Solution’s current marketing, website and blog.
With appropriate customer targeting, a green message can allow brands to strike emotional gold.
What categories have you seen where green has or could be used to signal quality and help deliver an emotional benefit for customers?
Dell surpassed Johnson & Johnson by a mere 0.1 on a 100-point scale in the 2011 Newsweek Rankings of America’s Greenest Companies, edging my company out of the top 5. It is probably in part because of efforts like the Reconnect Program in partnership with Goodwill, to refurbish and recycle computers and other electronics, that helped them in the Newsweek rankings.
I recently had the opportunity to use the Reconnect Program while back in Cincinnati for Christmas. Amy and I rented a car for our trip and since we had use of a car, always a novelty for us, we decided it was a great opportunity to go through our closets and gather up our donations, add them to the trunk, and drop them off while we were in Cincinnati, which has a number of convenient Goodwill Reconnect locations.
Our electronic donations included three cable modems, after Comcast successfully convinced me that my intermittent Skype issues were related to my out-of-date modem and not the speed of my connection. The drop off process at the Goodwill located at 10600 Springfield Pike, Cincinnati, OH 45215, was extremely convenient, with a manned pull-up drop off point and clear Dell Reconnect signs. After taking our donations and providing a receipt, we were in and out in less than 5 minutes and all for free. Other electronic recycling programs can carry a small fee, but the partnership with Goodwill is brilliant in a number of ways:
We need more efforts to create these strategic partnerships across industries to solve problems for consumers, like how to easily recycle electronics at the end of life.
Let’s get one thing straight: I am a total sucker for technology. Even as a marketer who knows many of the tricks and persuasion tactics, I love to be convinced that I need the latest and greatest new gadget. And while I just barely resisted the urge to buy the new 4GS iPhone, I was not as restrained when the need arose to replace our thermostat. For the record, I did just equate a thermostat with a new iPhone. Let me explain.
Sub-metering for our condo building is having the expected impact. In fact, this summer when I was working from home and running the AC all day, we had some pretty steep electric bills, much bigger than the monthly decrease in our condo fees. When the buttons on our current thermostat started to stick and become unresponsive, I realized that we needed to get a new one to avoid even higher bills. So it was off to a home improvement store. I am not sure if the saving energy commercial below drove me to Home Depot, or if it just happened to be the store we passed while out on other errands. Either way, I found myself at the shelf of thermostats trying to make a decision. Let me walk you though my decision process.
The first step was eliminating the cheap but “dumb” thermostats that only allow you to set it and forget it. I knew I wanted a programmable version. It quickly became clear that there were still plenty of programmable options to sort through.
The next step was to evaluate the price range of the programmable options. They spanned from $49-$99, quite the range. At first glance there seemed to be little difference. An extra $20 got you the ability to program every day vs. just weekend or weekday. Nice, but not super meaningful. I was just about to walk out with a $49 model when the last thermostat in the row caught my eye with one line:
All it took to get me to pick up the most expensive model priced at $99 was wifi. My immediate reaction was: How does it use wifi? Touchscreen, that means no buttons! After picking up the package I found out that it connects to my home wifi network allowing me to adjust all functions of the thermostat from any internet device, including my iPhone. Sold!
When I got home and got it installed I realized that this was so worth the 100% premium I paid vs. the other base level programmable thermostat for two reasons:
1. What I hate about programming a programmable thermostat is that the keys and user interface usually suck. The directions look like hieroglyphics and you have to hit what seems like 25 buttons to program a single day. The new thermostat solves that elegantly. There is a web interface that allows me to program the entire week in about 2 minutes and then upload it to the thermostat, over wifi. This alone is worth the price of admission. Also note the “Reset to Energy Star Recommendations” button, which makes it even easier to save money.
2. The ability to control all of the thermostat’s functionality remotely is very slick. On a recent trip to Dallas I got a call from Amy. She wanted to know how to turn on the AC as she had not used the new thermostat yet. Instead of trying to walk her through it I just opened the app and turned on the AC, from my hotel room in Dallas. Now all I need to do is get the app installed on her new 4GS iPhone.
What I took away from this experience is that while it has become clear that consumers are unlikely to pay a premium, of any level, for a greener product, I am more than willing to pay a 100% premium for a product that makes my ability to save energy, and be greener, even easier and in some ways fun. The big idea is not to just deliver a greener product with the same benefits, but delight the consumer to be able to command a premium price.
As a note my cousin Justin recently called my attention to an even cooler thermostat, the Nest Learning Thermostat. This one also has wifi connectivity, but it learns your preferences to more efficiently reduce energy consumption. This new technology removes all of the barriers for saving energy and in turn money. You can even have it professionally installed. Maybe I should have waited for this one? Then again, at $249, maybe not. The payback on my current thermostat is already close to 2 years.
On a final note I do wonder if these companies are collecting usage data as these devices are internet enabled. A collective dollars or kilowatt hours saved would be pretty compelling. Just a suggestion.
Product Details: 3M Filtrete 7-Day Touchscreen WiFi-Enabled Programmable Thermostat
This is the third and final (for now) post in a series documenting the differences between traveling as a backpacker and as a business traveler. Click to see the first or second post in the series about the differences in the Flying and the Staying. Next I wanted to cover the differences in working while on the road.
This is where the real tradeoffs come in. While it would be great to stay in amazing hotels and fly business class as a backpacker, you just can’t afford to because it is so expensive. And if you are working while backpacking it is usually not for more money than covering your blog hosting costs and maybe a nice night out (in Thailand), hence the hostels and coach class seats. But since J&J is paying, I have a job to do when I get to wherever I am going. And all the sightseeing, eating in great local restaurants and even sleeping in those big comfy beds (no matter how jetlagged you are) comes second to doing excellent work.
Now with good planning and prioritization I have been able to do most of the fun things in addition to delivering great work. On my most recent international work trip to Brazil, I was able to fly down 3 days early and spend some time sightseeing over the weekend in Rio. A couple of my pictures are below.
I also spent some of that time at my hotel doing emails, working on PowerPoint decks and making phone calls. Although most of it was on Monday while it was stormy and raining.
I would also like it to be known that by taking my detour to Rio I managed to save J&J $650 off the direct flight from Newark to Sao Paulo and back. So not only did I get to enjoy the trip with a short personal stay on the front end, I saved the company some money.
And while I gave up a weekend at home with Amy, I was able to ensure that my first trip to Brazil was not entirely spent in conference rooms like this one, which turned out to be much nicer than many of the ones we have in New Jersey.
So what is your best business trip extension? Let’s hear about it in the comments below.
This is the second post in a series documenting the differences between traveling as a backpacker and as a business traveler. To see the first post in the series about the differences in air travel, please click here. Next, I want to cover the differences in accommodations.
One of the biggest questions people asked about our backpacking trip was, “What was it like to stay in hostels?” often asked with an intonation that implies that hostels must be dirty and terrible places to “have” to stay when traveling on a budget. So I thought I would compare my Singapore accommodations on both trips. While backpacking, Amy and I stayed at the lovely Sleepy Sam’s in the Arab section of Singapore, just down from the Masjid Sultan mosque.
We sprung for a private room ($62/night), but shared the bath, toilet and kitchen facilities with everyone. Included in that nightly fee was a simple breakfast of toast, jam and coffee, so we never really had to use the very nice kitchen.
Compare that to the luxurious Fairmont Hotel, which is located across the street from the famous Raffles Hotel, the birthplace of the Singapore Sling.
My room at the Fairmont ran $265/night, but did include a magnificent buffet breakfast every morning (which was most likely a huge contributor to the approximately 5lbs I gained on this trip despite working out 4 days in the Fairmount’s huge gym). The biggest difference probably has to be the beds. At the Fairmont there was a very comfortable king size bed with fresh sheets every 3 days. At Sleepy Sams the bed was a pretty thin mattress on a small platform. However, I will note that the free lobby wifi was MUCH slower than the wifi at Sleepy Sam’s.
All in all I am not sure that the Fairmont is worth the entire $1,100 premium that they charge over a place like Sleepy Sam’s for 6 nights in Singapore. In fact, at the Sustainable Brands 2011 Conference in Monterey, the second stop on my business trip, I learned about Google’s travel and expense system, Trips, that employs gamification principals to save the company money. As it was explained, the system works by allotting employees a set amount of funding for a trip to a city or region. If the employee is able to book and travel for less than the set amount, my understanding is that the employee has two options on what to do with the savings:
If we had that system at Johnson & Johnson, I think that I may have honestly considered the option of staying at Sleepy Sam’s if I knew that I could bank the savings or donate it to charity. The potential $1,100 savings would have been a bit of an inconvenience and a little less comfortable, but if I am willing to take it on, I should share in the savings, right? What would you do? Let me know in the comments below. And if you work for Google (Kristin, I am talking to you) and I have this wrong please correct me.
I have just returned from my second RTW (round-the-world) trip in as many years. The first took me to 18 countries on 5 continents, took over 9 months to complete, cost me $31,124 (my half of the total) and was done as a self-funded backpacker. I just completed the second RTW trip as a business traveler. This time, the route took me east, over Northern Europe to Singapore, on to San Francisco, before the final eastern leg back to Philadelphia on June 12th. The trip took just over 2 weeks and will cost Johnson & Johnson a shade over $10,000 for me to attend a key regional meeting and an industry conference. To compare and contrast the two experiences, I will publish a series of upcoming posts about what was better, worse and just different between traveling as a backpacker and as a business traveler. Let’s get things kicked off with one of the biggest differences, flying business class.
While we did get a couple of nice upgrades on our backpacking trip, including an upgrade to economy-plus on the United flight from Chicago to Munich and the very clutch business class upgrade on Korea Air from Sydney to Seoul,
we were mostly back in economy. This was not too bad as most of the flights we took on the backpacking trip were less than 5 hours. Just enough time to read a magazine, write a blog post and maybe have a meal, as most international airlines, even the budget ones, still serve meals on flights of only an hour or two.
That is a huge contrast with my recent 18.5 hour flight on Singapore Airlines direct from Newark, NJ to Singapore, the longest direct flight in the world.
The entire plane is business class, with lay flat beds, personal entertainment systems and meals of seared tuna and fresh bread served on real china.
And while the amenities and services on the plane were a huge benefit, and made being in the air for that long not only tolerable, but downright enjoyable, it was the benefits in the airport that made the most difference in my flying experience. It all starts with the check-in. As I was traveling for business, I had a suitcase for luggage rather than my Osprey backpack, and there was no additional charge for checked bags (I am sure it is covered in the $6,500 ticket cost). I was then directed to the business class lounge which had complementary wifi, beer, wine, and small bites before boarding.
The flight was long, but covered the nearly 10,000 miles in astonishing comfort and speed. One of the key benefits of this long flight is that Singapore Air is a Star Alliance member, resulting in me achieving Silver status on US Air from this one flight. With Silver status I was able to get a free upgrade to domestic first class for the final flight back to Philadelphia, which allowed me to complete the entire trip in business/first class. And as Amy remarked when we quickly checked our luggage ahead of a very, very, long, bleary-eyed and irritated looking economy class check-in line at 5:15am in the San Francisco airport, “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure does get you a whole lot of convenience.” Not to mention a free bloody mary or two on the flight home. What do you think, is business class worth the dedication to slavishly flying one airline?
Turning off the lights, setting the programmable thermostat and buying energy star appliances and CFLs; for the last 8 years I have been making these decisions largely driven by my conscious for resource conservation, not my wallet, due to the collective way I pay for utilities in my condo. Essentially all utilities are pooled and then owners pay a percentage of the total based upon the square footage of their unit. This creates a casebook example of moral hazard, meaning there is little or no relationship between the risk, or cost, someone bears and their usage or action.
I knew that this situation had to be fixed as electricity costs were the driving force behind increases to our monthly homeowner association fees (HOA fees), which are currently over $600/month for a 2-bedroom unit. When you take into account that the HOA fee includes all utilities, insurance, common building maintenance – including the pool and gym, as well as services like the concierge and security it is really not too bad. But seeing residents wearing sweaters in the summertime because their air-conditioning is cranked all the way up to a chilly 68, I knew that was not the behavior of someone who was paying for their own electric usage.
Knowing is Half the Battle
I am hopeful there is a straightforward solution to this problem: sub-metering of electric. Last December our management company, Wentworth, at the urging of the Energy Committee, of which I am a member, invested in an electric sub-metering system that measures the use by each resident and then allows them to bill based upon actual usage, not square footage. After 18 months of fits and starts we are on the cusp of rolling the program out and I could not be happier. I recently got a “sample” invoice in the mail and while there is lots of room for improvement, I am at least happy to see that residents’ electric costs will now be tied to usage.
Understanding is the Other Half
While it is great that Wentworth has sub-metered the building and will be tying resident costs to their usage, the biggest issue here is communications and context, essentially marketing. As you can see from my sample invoice above there are at least 3 areas in which it could be improved
1. How does this compare with the reduction I will see in my HOA fees?
– As it turns out through my extensive investigation these reductions are already known. As such they should be communicated and compared to the bill residents are getting to show reductions/increases vs. what they were previously paying as part of the HOA fees.
2. How does this compare with other units like mine?
– Again this information is available but not being communicated. The Wentworth team, through the Intech 21 system, has access to the entire building’s information including a comparison to each unit in a vertical section of the building.
3. What can I do to reduce my costs?
– Here is a missed opportunity. ~50% of the residents will be paying more than their HOA reduction. That is not good news for them, understandably so. But instead of provoking anger, for any resident that will be paying more than they are saving in HOA reductions, Wentworth should be offering turnkey ideas on how to lower their usage such as: programmable thermostats, energy efficient appliances and lighting (CFLs), and blinds for south-facing units to limit solar gain in the summer. Also offering to do a walk-through audit if requested would go a long way in building goodwill.
The lesson from this is that the technology part of the solution is just the first part; thinking through the challenges of how to most effectively communicate those changes is the critical second half, and unless Wentworth addresses the issues I have raised in the roll-out I am expecting an outcry by the residents. Never doubt the importance of good marketing.
Sub-Metering Company: Intech 21
CityView Management Company: Wentworth Management
That is what we save every year by not having a car. The final amount amazed me after running the numbers this week. I sat down to analyze the situation as I am now two months into my new job and wanted to see if it made sense for Amy and me to consider purchasing a car. Maybe it would be more cost effective, after all the daily train tickets cost me $26.07 every time I go to my office in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It also should not be surprising that I wanted to involve excel in this calculation, as I did with the Beast on our U.S./Canada road trip.
Once I factored in the cost of buying the car, maintenance, insurance, gas, and the loss of our monthly rent from our parking space, the cost of the train, Zip Car and occasional rental car didn’t even come close. And that is with rather conservative assumptions on the cost of gas ($3.50/gallon) and car maintenance ($150/month). The details are below and if anyone sees a mistake or an assumption that is out of whack, call me out on it in the comments below. I want to ensure this analysis is robust and credible.
I also thought I would look at the carbon savings and impact of choosing to not have a car. My research led me to CarbonFund.org, where I was able to compare the carbon impact of my train commute vs the same commute in a car. For this part of the analysis I only compared the 12,000 miles that would make up my commute to New Brunswick, New Jersey. The other 8,000 miles we would use a personal car for are also likely to be used with Zip Car or rental cars for longer trips so no savings is to be had there. Turns out the savings was much less than I had thought, only 1.72 tons saved each year. And if I tried to “sell” that carbon credit, I would be able to “monitize” my carbon savings at current rates of $10/ton to a whopping $17.20 annually.
While the financial savings are great, and a big reason we will not be buying a car anytime soon, there is another great benefit to commuting on the train: not having to drive. The benefit of not having to actively engage in your commute is huge when your commute is 2 hours each way. One of the first things I bought in my new job was an extended battery for my laptop so I am able to be productive while commuting. I snapped the picture below of a fellow work day commuter who was also using the train time to polish a presentation. On the days when I just can’t bear the idea of another powerpoint, I am able to sit and enjoy the scenery.
So are you ready to sell your car and take to the trains? Can you make due without a car? For most Americans that do not live in a city it is likely not possible, but understanding the costs you assume when choosing to live where you do is critical, and for us to move out of the city we need to understand that the need to have car is an expensive choice.
 Factors in tax impact of 21% reduction due to use of the pre-tax Commuter Check program offered by Johnson & Johnson.
We took a variety of transportation options while traveling, but one of my favorites was the multitude of trains. The picture above is me on a steam locomotive at the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka. We took intercity trains in Egypt, Vietnam, China and of course Japan. We also took many intracity trains and subways in numerous countries from,
Duabi’s automated subway system to,
Kuala Lumpor’s private system run by 2 companies that never seemed to connect in a convenient way.
The differences did not stop there. Train stations varied widely across the different countries with the station in Aswan, Egypt ranking up there as the most uncomfortable and maybe even a little scary,
to the station in Kyoto, Japan as the most spacious and airy.
I would rather be at either of them when I miss my transfer in Trenton, New Jersey on my current work commute from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to New Brunswick, New Jersey. The station in Trenton, while it does have a Dunkin Donuts, does not have free wifi, sushi or the spotless bathrooms of Japanese stations.
The one serious advantage the train systems have here in the United States is the automated ticket machines in multiple languages. Buying my 10 pack of tickets for NJ Transit while waiting on the platform in New Brunswick for the 4:23 to Trenton is quite easy.
And having an English language ticket machine when we were in China would have saved Amy and I the pleasure of the 15 hour ride in Hard Sleeper Class, which we explore in more detail in this post.
I was inspired to write this post in part because my current commute has me on trains much more than I have ever been in the past. And having seen many different train systems from around the world, I think the system here in the Northeast U.S., is quite impressive. However, I do not think that this means we can stop investing in the amazing infrastructure that moves millions of people everyday. Septa alone moves 400,000 riders every weekday, and transports 70% of Center City Philadelphia’s work force into the city. This is a hugely sustainable option for these workers. Imagine if we lived with this density of population, and lack of interstates without this great infrastructure. The Schuylkill (I-76) would be even more clogged, which I am not sure is even possible.
If you are interested in the strategic development of rail within the US, I recommend looking through Amtrak’s vision for High Speed rail in the Northeast, which you can find here.
I will be following up this post with a detailed analysis on the rational behind our decision to remain car-free since our return. As you might have guessed, there was an excel sheet involved and much like the cost comparison of the Beast we looked at all the angles. In the meantime let me know what you think about trains. Should we as a country invest in more rail infrastructure? Do you rely on trains to get where you need to?
Yes, We Can Too!
These words were splashed across the screen on CNN’s all day broadcast of the uprising in Egypt. If you had told me a year ago that one day I’d see the people of Egypt staging an uprising, echoing the words of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, I would have suggested you lay off the hooka for a while.
Because, you see, for me, the news about the civil unrest in Egypt came as quite a shock. It’s not that we didn’t see the deplorable living conditions first hand. We choked on the brown air, were approached by children in rags chanting what seemed like the only word they knew, baksheesh (tip or money), and learned about the crushing poverty during our meeting with CEDARE. We even experienced the corruptness of the local law enforcement, being taken behind the velvet ropes by officers in uniform for better photos of the Citadel only to then be refused exit without paying a bribe.
What is so surprising about the images on the news is that the palpable sense of hopelessness among the Egyptian people just one year ago seemed impossible to overcome. Never did I imagine that a people so broken and depressed could be inspired to stage such an uprising.
Unfortunately, what has not surprised me is the looting and destruction of Egypt’s treasured antiquities. We saw how the pyramids were strewn with trash, and how shopkeepers swept garbage into the Red Sea reefs. We grappled with the notion of a country so focused on getting through today that there was no idea of tomorrow, let alone a better tomorrow to strive for.
I am often asked how travel has changed me. My usual response is that travel doesn’t change who you are, but it does change how you see the world. Two years ago the headlines about Egypt would have been interesting, but nothing more. After spending more than three weeks there, I now feel a personal connection to the country, and find myself often wondering about the safety of the hostel owner in Cairo whose building is right in the heart of the city, or how the staff at CEDARE and their families are coping with the chaos in their country. As I watch the terrific and all too often violent images on television, all I can do is hope that the Egyptian people get the government they are seeking and begin to rebuild their country with a renewed sense of hope.