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How to make everyone green without the guilt

Batten down the marketing hatches, here comes another piece about climate change, global warming, doom, despondency, landfill taxes, primary producer responsibilities and non-compliance fines, writes Peter Martin.

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Nope.

I'm talking making "green" gold. In the money sense. Saving it. Creating it. Businesses. Organisations. Consumers. And (as we're on an allegorical roll, especially for those who I can get onside by the end of this piece) your competitors... with envy.

The potential of the green pound has long been appreciated, though usually sidelined as a niche market. But despite (maybe because of) the recent high-profile government and interest group warnings and campaigns, its true market potential has been swamped by efforts to stop the consumer doing what they had been doing... or at best change their behaviour. And the pay off to the audience? Little, if any, reward.

Weaning people off their ingrained consumer tendencies sometimes needs an appeal beyond the rational, sensible or social; just look at the conversions as a result of anti-smoking, drinking or fatty food campaigns.

But we should not, and need not, seek to prevent anyone from enjoying the benefits of their lifestyles -- any more than we should threaten or shame them. "Do this... or else we'll all die/fine you etc" are not major motivators to the British public, as any life assurers or nanny-state-phobic legislative drafter will tell you.

So what I would advocate is that environmental champions and business people alike spend a lot more time thinking about how we can make people want to behave in an environmentally responsible manner. Not just to save the world -- but because it represents a worthwhile and growing reward-based business opportunity.

There's a lack of good old-fashioned opportunistic, consumer-led marketing focused on the green pound. It just needs a few savvy business people and their marketing colleagues to apply their skills to appeal to everyone's "what's in for me" instincts, and I believe we'll see a change in the way we all think about, and deal with, waste and our environment.

Let me give you an example. Supermarkets A&B put their grapes in plastic clamshells to prevent bruising. Supermarket C serves them loose. Many customers may be concerned about waste, but that can include the waste of damaged produce. That's option C out. But in making that choice, they are also "aware" about the costs of packaging, both financially and environmentally. So how do they decide? Now, what if supermarket B has built in a second use for its clamshell? Here's a suggestion I have applied myself: kid's masks, themed for the time of year. Everyone's needs are met. Undamaged grapes, a tad more on the cost the consumer accepts and no plastic in the bin that same night.

The same thinking can apply to anyone, from a cosmetics brand to a soft drink manufacturer to a cereal company. If people are getting two things for the price of one, avoiding putting more rubbish in their bins and on into landfill, then it makes them feel richer in pocket and in spirit, and hence more likely to buy again... and again... and...

I'm not suggesting every company can or needs to go out and redesign their packaging -- in fact, there's a long-term interim solution being provided by a unique new website portal I work with: Junkk.com.

The way to get the consumer to respond is to apply the talents of those who understand them, those who know the motivational value of brand loyalty and can offer ideas and solutions. If packaging has a second use, it will save the consumer money and time, which is just one good way to ensure a repeat purchase. Or encourage a bulk one. There are many more waiting to be shared, mostly by consumers themselves. If we all have a good book in us, we almost certainly have one great idea for something we've stared at across the breakfast table over the years... we use cereal boxes in the office as magazine files: "the pack would soon be junk but for that extra Special K."

What is required is a major mindshift that brings the environmental guys together with those from PR and marketing. And in turn their designers and ad agencies. They can interact to see how the problems of their individual areas could help their company do a lot more than tick some legislative or PR boxes at AGM time. Opportunities will blossom by adding creative people to the mix, and not just by viewing it all as a compliance or technological issue.

And when we all succeed, then the consequent feel-good, planet-saving, CSR, SRI-index stuff is just part of having our cake replete with icing, cherry and hundreds and thousands of other win-wins sprinkled subtly and palatably into the mix. Then it becomes a simple matter of the two things we can all identify with: choice and market forces.

Peter Martin is CEO of creative consultancy Firebird.com and also Junkk.com, a website portal that offers companies a new way to connect with consumers and improve their green credentials, due to launch to consumers soon. Visit www.junkk.com or email info@junkk.com for an info pack.

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