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March 2011

By Claire Brooks, President, ModelPeople Inc.

Our 2009 Green edition noted that US consumers have been behind the rest of the world in prioritizing "green" as a driver of brand purchase decisions. For our 2010 Green issue of CultureBlog we interview “Eco-Heroes” in cities around the US, Europe and Asia – trendsetters who define a new generation and who incorporate green values seamlessly into their work and everyday lives. Their stories offer up some insights for brand execution.

• Don’t compromise design or quality for “green”. Our London fashion-designer eco-hero, Minna, says that "eco" can mean "boring" to consumers.

• Establish a genuine, personal mission. Our Hong Kong eco-hero, Denise, supports Stella McCartney’s fashion label not only because the designer uses eco-friendly materials in her designs but because of her personal dedication to environmental causes.

• Be transparent and authentic in every aspect of brand execution. Our San Francisco eco-hero is cynical about the commodification of "green" and tries to research a brand’s record on environmental impact, respectful craftsmanship and workers’ rights. In Berlin, Mona lectures on "Cradle to Cradle" marketing, which models human industry on nature’s processes.

• Develop a two-way dialog with consumers. Newly reinstated Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, recently featured in the Harvard Business Review, emphasized the importance of their Facebook dialog with consumers in rescuing the brand’s decline. Our eco-heroes follow philosophically driven organizations like Farmlab in their local communities.

• Source “local”. The display merchandising in my local Whole Foods has been allocated exclusively to "local" produced goods. Our eco-heroes buy local because they enjoy an emotional connection with products which have a sense of place or craft associated with them. This contrasts with the anonymity of imported goods. In addition, they want to keep the profits - and more importantly, jobs - flowing within their local network. As China’s population ages, and the “China Price” continues to increase, local sourcing may become more realistic for mass brands.

A cynic may argue that it’s easy for young, single consumers to be philosophical about their purchases; but harder on a family budget. Mainstream brands which occupy the space between cheap mass and premium eco-niche, and offer both accessible design and value and "green" credentials are still rare. Ford has made a bold move, by re-launching the former #1 selling Explorer SUV on a lighter-weight car platform with recyclable materials and a (smaller) “EcoBoostTM” engine. The consumer launch was via Facebook.

Newly arrived in the US from Europe, in 1997, I remember the looks of polite incredulity when I made a presentation in Detroit - perhaps the last bastion of eco-unfriendliness – recommending that GM start investing in the design of appealing smaller cars and station wagons. Over the next few years Detroit went on to sell more gas-guzzling SUV’s than ever. Ford’s bold move may have been prompted by desperation, and they may need to work a little on “transparency”, but this belated response from a tra


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