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Is This Greenwashing Or A New Trend?
By Todd O'Donald
January 23, 2009

As part of its commitment to the environment, Coca-Cola recently announced that its landmark Times Square billboard is going green along with 29 neighboring billboards. The 30 billboards will be drawing on wind power, which would be the equivalent of powering 38 households for a year. On face value, it is difficult to think of the bright Times Square lights and multi-national Coca-Cola coming together for a meaningful green conservation initiative. Is this a turning point for major consumer marketers or another case of greenwashing?

Greenwashing is defined as a form of corporate misrepresentation wherein a company will present a green public image and publicize green initiatives that are false or misleading. For instance, a company might release misleading claims or even true green initiatives while privately engaging in environmentally damaging practices.

For Coca-Cola's part, it is making meaningful strides in its environmental stewardship particularly in its water conservation initiatives around the world and recycling campaign here in the U.S. The Times Square announcement coincides with the new Coca-Cola campaign: "Refresh. Recycle. Repeat," which supports its long-term goal to recycle or reuse 100% of its aluminum cans and plastic bottles in the U.S. By highlighting and promoting its early green efforts, Coca-Cola is breaking new ground for multi-national consumer packaged goods companies.

For some time, corporate social responsibility initiatives were confined to annual reports and PR departments looking to counter negative presence. Marketing departments have historically been weary of promoting them out of fear of opening Pandora's box. Coca-Cola's Times Square announcement showcases its leadership and also signals that companies are evolving to current trends and consumer demands.

To a large part, this shift in emphasis can be attributed to the emergence of a mainstream conscious consumer who is grappling with the same challenges corporate America is facing albeit on a much smaller scale.

Over the past few years, consumer attitudes have shifted toward the environment. There is increased concern among consumers about the long-term consequences of their actions on both their health and the environment. Conscious consumers are concerned about global warming, the environment, the health of their families, the price of gas and dependence on foreign oil as well as their personal finances. They shop at Whole Foods in pursuit of natural and organic products and are creating a greener home but have not yet traded in the SUV for the hybrid or mass transportation.

These little hypocrisies have not just let them be tolerant of corporate America but let them evaluate their green deeds in a positive light. Conscious consumers appear to acknowledge that although it is not ideal, it takes time for mainstream social consciousness to take root.

This emergence of a mainstream conscious consumer is reshaping corporate America's sustainability efforts as well as the way it promotes them. According to a 2008 DoubleClick Performics Survey, 60% of consumers say it is either extremely important or very important for companies to be environmentally conscious. For its part, savvy marketers such as Coca-Cola are responding by doing more and saying more.

 

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