Green claims face scrutiny

Marks & Spencer is the top Green brand in the FTSE 100, while BP has emerged as the biggest Green ‘pretender’, in a poll by media company Chatsworth Communications.

Marks & Spencer is the top Green brand in the FTSE 100, while BP has emerged as the biggest Green ‘pretender’, in a poll by media company Chatsworth Communications.

The FTSE 100 Green Washers and Winners survey, released last week, aims to reveal which brands have the most effective Green marketing campaigns, according to 1500 journalists, political lobbyists and opinion formers.

‘The results reveal an increasing cynicism as to whether UK business will ever aim for anything more than “Greenwash”,’ concludes the survey.

A Greenwasher – a relatively new word in the branding lexicon – is a company that claims to be more sustainable than the public believes is true.

The second Washers and Winners survey conducted in six months puts M&S on top for the second time, with 51 per cent of respondents naming it as the top-performing Green brand and 40 per cent being most aware of its Green marketing campaign.

‘Its Plan A commitments are high-profile, positive and effectively unavoidable. [M&S] is on a mission and it’s not superficial: it’s a key part of its business plan,’ says one respondent.

Meanwhile, BP is languishing in the doldrums of bad public opinion. Voted as the worst Greenwasher, one respondent called it, ‘quite simply an unsustainable business that has done so much to make it look like the opposite’.

Another observed that since BP branded itself ‘Beyond Petroleum’ with the help of Landor Associates a few years ago, ‘there has not been much sign of a commitment to renewable energy initiatives’.

It will come as no surprise to many that an oil company has trouble convincing people of its serious commitment to sustainability. But, despite its overall success, M&S this year also made its first appearance on the Greenwasher’s table, where it took third place with 10 per cent of the votes.

‘Plan A is complete garbage, just like its packaging,’ is one respondent’s pot-shot that must hit M&S where it hurts. At the end of last year the retailer picked up some bad press after a Government report found that it wraps its food in more packaging than any other supermarket.

It seems that blue-chip companies are over-stretching themselves in the race to find favour with increasingly environmentally aware consumers, and are making bold claims that they then cannot live up to.

‘Designers are partly to blame for this,’ says Nicolas De Santis, chief executive of ethical design consultancy TwelveStars, which has just redesigned a chain of petrol stations in Spain and Portugal to make them more sustainable.

‘Any supplier has a responsibility to extend its own code of ethics to its client,’ says De Santis. ‘The design and advertising industries have the biggest role of anyone to play in communicating a company’s sustainability, and over-claiming is rife.’

Social Environmental Enterprise & Design Foundation co-director Clare Brass agrees. ‘Designers are perpetuators of social and environmental problems. If they were more aware of the impact of their actions, then that might change. Designers should stand up to clients more than they do,’ she says.

This is easier said than done. Calling on the head of BP to prove its Green promises are embedded in the company’s business strategy is perceived as a high-risk activity by many designers. ‘If you put up resistance there is a risk that the client will go somewhere else, so designers are in a very difficult position,’ says Brass.

Luckily, this could be a transitory problem, suggests Chatsworth account manager Matt Austin. ‘Sustainability is going to become a normal part of business practice quite soon, doing away with the need for grand, very obvious Green campaigns. Messaging is likely to become more subtle as sustainability becomes second nature,’ he says.

Top five Green winners April 2008

Marks & Spencer 51%
BSkyB 9%
HSBC 7%
BT 6%
Sainsbury’s 6%

Top five campaigns April 2008

Marks & Spencer 40%
BP 14% (down from 40%)
Tesco 10%
Sainsbury’s 9%
HSBC 7%

Top five Greenwashers April 2008

BP 38% (same as last year)
Tesco 21%
British Airways 10%Marks & Spencer 10%
BAe Systems 3%

Source: 2008 Chatsworth FTSE 100 green survey of 1500 UK opinion formers

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