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Interview With John Grant


To celebrate the launch of his new book, The Green Marketing Manifesto, John Grant has kindly agreed to be interviewed by me (and I’m no Parky so I appreciate this John)…

1. Consumers demonstrate many levels of engagement in this debate. How can brands upsell consumers from disengaged to engaged, from considering action to doing action, from doing action to doing more action?

I’ve heard that argument and I think the direction is right, but isnt it mostly a research artifact (if you define 4 segments its natural to want to move people up the chain, a bit like the 1960s AIDA model of communication)? If you look at something like M&S ‘behind the label’ its working well at all levels, reinforcing, stretching people a bit, educating, introducing genuine firsts in the British high street…

2. Given the globalised coverage of these issues and the apparent triviality of individual action when set against international response, can we really expect the ‘do your bit’ message to resonate with people? How do we prevent abdication of responsibility?

The problem is that everyone is already doing their bit to take the earth over the edge. I’m not sure I’ve met anyone recently who has a less than one planet lifestyle. The issue is whether you deny this (and the guilt – for instance nearly 80% say they feel guilty when they fly) or find little ways to satisfy your ongoing needs, wants, desires without doing the damage.

The point you make about it being ‘too global’ is a good one, we badly need much more personal mental models of responsibility, and to remember that relatively few of us can affect things on a Kyoto level.

3. Many brands are making an effort to become greener and many are shouting about it. Is there a danger that over exposure of green messaging will lead people to ignore or even reject? How do we stop the trend towards green from being just that – a trend?

It’s a very topical subject, several are talking very publicly about eco fatigue. The media would love that to be the next chapter of this story, they have wrung most of the sensationalism (sells papers) from the problem and gentle human level community solutions isnt hard news. But the evidence (not least the climate change science evidence) is the issue is here to stay.

Brands shouldnt try to be green, it just isnt an image quality. It’s an innovation agenda. You can innovate with people’s lifestyles too, with collaboration, community and so on. But as a rule of thumb if you aren’t changing anything, then you haven’t made any difference; to your brand nor to the problem. (No more than if you made a ‘cool bank ad’).

4. It’s human nature to make trade offs – "If I recycle a lot, I feel like doing my bit, so I don’t feel so guilty about flying several times a year" – but will this ever bring the systematic change and mass adoption of greener lifestyles that is needed? Is the biggest battle the one against the idea that we can consume our way out of the problem?

Actually it’s a very sane approach, it just has to be made on the basis of good info. My version is "I turned down 10+ long haul business trips in the last 6 months, so i dont have to worry so much about composting." if people binge diet on green they soon lose heart. we all have to each cut about 4-5% of our impact out every year. Cumulatively that will get us well past kyoto and other targets. Unless you actually want to convert to a buddhist monastic life (and great if you do) then identify a few big things that make a chunk of difference. Recycling isnt a good thing to reckon you have done your bit with though. We shouldnt be buying all that packaging in the first place. And it makes negligible difference compared to a long flight.

We do need to consume less resources. partly its about efficiency, but partly its about cutting some stuff out. But not cutting everything out. It’s like obesity, which a dietary/biochemistry professor told me is simply the impact of the average adult eating "100 too many calories per day"

5. Who is currently doing green marketing really well, and why?

Lots of companies are doing it well. I think the best of the bunch over the last year has been M&S. But there are about 200 other examples in the book 😉

If you want more good examples this week without purchasing my book, do go and check out the 2007 green awards, I published the whole winners list press release on my blog.

Incidentally a lot of the best green advertising has been done elsewhere; there are some great films from US, Germany, Brazil – with real spike, wit and humanity. Over here it seems like we are stuck in the ‘polar bears and people in flowing dresses running through fields’ groove.

6. The Green Marketing Manifesto is just out – how would you summarise it’s key messages in a few lines?

Green isnt a marketing communication subject at all, its about innovating and educating your market to come with you.

brands need to lose the sentiment woody allen put so well in that quote:
"Enough about me what do you think of my movie?"

Mind you that was just as true before sustainability loomed large.

I think the most exciting thing in the book/my work is the potential for crossover between sustainability and web 2.0

Freecycle was just the start :J

I saw John speak this morning and he was excellent. His book is out now. Buy it here.

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