John Ozimek, associate director at Mi liberty

John Ozimek, associate director at Mi liberty

The issues surrounding the environment and climate change are something that marketeers have been weaving into campaigns all around us for some time.

Today, it’s almost impossible to see an advert for a car without knowing exactly what its carbon emissions are; large corporations have quickly shifted into green gear as they try to capture the global zeitgeist. Yet while auto companies have had a green agenda for a long time, for the mobile telecoms industry, it’s something that is relatively new and delicate to deal with.


Green V Cheap

For all the noise being made in the media about eco-friendly gadgets and saving the planet one product at a time, consumers are still resistant to making major changes to their shopping habits. Witness what has happened over the past year in the UK; as the economic downturn began to bite, major companies saw consumers switch from premium ‘green’ products to less environmentally friendly, cheaper ones. Sales of organic produce slumped as shoppers changed to economy ranges; as soon as wallets are hit, thinking and buying green is seen as a nice to have, rather than something essential.

What’s happening here is that we are trying to change deeply ingrained habits, which is a tough marketing challenge. In survey data released in December, US organisation, the Consumer Electronics Association, found that more than half of consumers surveyed plan to consider green issues when buying gadgets in the coming year, and 33% said they expected to make some kind of purchase based on green credentials in the next two years. That’s at least a start.

Mobile phone companies are certainly responding to this growing trend; at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona there were green handsets on show from Motorola, Samsung and ZTE. Nokia has created a mobile app to let users track their energy consumption and calculate their carbon footprint, and Sony Ericsson has created a concept phone that is fully biodegradable.


Controlling caveats

Of course, a few environmentally friendly handsets are really a drop in the ocean in an industry which expects to sell about a billion handsets this year. Get under the skin of consumer thinking, and the expectations of thinking and buying greener products start to get bogged down with all kinds of caveats; the price has to be right, it has to be from a trusted brand, from a trusted retailer, with the same quality, performance and looks as the less green alternative. No wonder that mobile technology companies would rather focus on things that are making them money right now. than gambling on the fickle mores of consumers.

But nevertheless, the CEA poll found that 65% of consumers think that it’s important for consumer electronics to have some kind of green credentials. I think it’s time for companies to take another look at how they market their green credentials, and this goes for the biggest manufacturers as well as the smallest retailers.

Every company is most likely doing something to reduce the impact of their business or products, even if all that means is that they have installed recycling bins around the offices. Consumers react well to companies who they see as making an effort; it’s human nature to appreciate someone who is seen to be trying just that bit harder than the competition.


Trumpet blowing

I think that there’s plenty of scope for companies to let their customers know exactly what they are doing to make their businesses, and by association their products, greener. For example, Nokia spends millions on marketing its handsets every year; how much does it spend letting people know that it has created a handset recycling program that spans 5000 collection points in 84 countries? That’s something that would certainly make me consider a Nokia handset next time I’m due an upgrade, as I’m one of the many people who seems to end up with a drawer full of old phones and no idea of what to do with them.

There’s plenty of research that shows that consumers would respond to a logo or description that would show them the environmental credentials of a product. So there is a massive opportunity for the whole industry to really take the lead and define standards that will help consumers make the right choices.

Something I have discussed with a few clients is the idea of measuring the factoryto- store carbon footprint of a device, so that consumers can see not only if the gadget itself has any eco credentials, but also that it has been sourced and manufactured in a responsible way.

So its time for mobile to wake up and smell the organic, fairtrade coffee. Green isn’t going away anytime soon. Let’s make sure consumers understand the efforts we are all making to deal with waste, to source responsibly, to create new devices which use less power and can be recycled more easily. Add this information to websites so it’s easy to find; make sure that when a product uses recycled packaging, there is a logo there to tell them. Little things like this can and will add up to make a real difference, as long as everybody gets on board.

If the mobile industry really is going to make itself greener, then there are going to be tough choices ahead, and we’ll need consumers on our side. That’s a marketeer’s rallying call if ever I heard one. Who’s with me?

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