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Action plan for a competitive strategy

1. Environmental management

  • Manage 'greening' strategically. Start by developing a vision and a policy. Gain support at the highest levels, and ensure that it is demonstrated through action and money, not just talk.

  • Keep it integrated. Build co-operation across departments, and involve people from all levels of the company. Formal 'green teams' are increasingly popular.

  • Develop a strategy that encompasses all your company's stakeholders.

  • Demonstrate market leadership. Educate customers about the environment, and make sure that internal operations are managed proactively, not in reaction to regulations. Design products and processes that incorporate environmental responsibility, and carry out cost-benefit analyses using cradle-to-grave, life-cycle costing.

2. Product strategies

  • Explore all possible ways in which your product can be environmentally improved. Examine the environmental benefits of each alternative, as well as the cost and practicality. Set priorities. Typically, measures can be identified that save money or are cost-neutral.

  • Prepare a phased plan of environmental improvements to accomplish over time. Estimate the likely timing and content of competitors' responses, and be ready to offer additional improvements to maintain leadership. Incorporate specific estimates of the tasks and time required to effect each planned improvement.

  • Ensure that your products meet or exceed the quality expectations of your customers. Durability generally enhances environmental performance.

  • Thoroughly test your products under consumer-use conditions.

3. Marketing and communications

  • Research the environmental attitudes and purchasing criteria of your customers.

  • Pursue alliances with other companies, environmental groups and research organizations.

  • Combine public relations and other marketing initiatives with traditional advertising.

  • Err on the side of understatement when making environmental claims. Being conservative avoids the risk of backlash. Whenever possible, let others praise your efforts. Do not establish unrealistic expectations.

  • Communicate through sources that people trust.

  • Treat environmentally-conscious consumers with respect. They tend to be well-educated, analytical, and cynical about corporate claims.

  • Admit mistakes and past errors. Show how the company and its products are improving.

  • Communicate simply and avoid jargon.

4. Public relations

  • Focus on public relations rather than advertising.

  • Develop community outreach programs involving your company and the areas it serves.

  • Work with your corporate customers to 'partner' environmental programs specific to their industries.

  • Collect stories of employees' green initiatives and try to publicize them, being concrete and educational in your approach.

  • Educate the public and the media about the environmental issues related to your company or industry.

  • Prepare responses to questions that are likely to be asked by the media. Involve knowledgeable technical people, not just PR professionals.

  • Anticipate bad press, and prepare information to minimize its impact.

5. Advertising

  • Wherever possible, supply consumers with sufficient but simple information, so they can assess claims themselves. Remember that claims must be backed up with evidence. Simple graphs or illustrations can be helpful.

  • While images of nature are useful, avoid ads that are merely soft and fuzzy image-enhancers. Green consumers are suspicious of empty imagery.

  • Avoid ads that are overly 'cute'. Consumers believe environmental responsibility should not be trivialized. Even 12-year olds think such ads are corny.

  • Test ads with green consumers before airing them.

  • Consider using advertising inserts to convey complex environmental information in print media. Include educational pieces written by neutral authorities or company experts, along with traditional ads.

  • Highlight any novel instructions or product usage modifications on the packaging and in advertising.

  • To overcome concerns about effectiveness, offer inducements to try the product. Free samples are especially persuasive.

  • Use the influence of children to encourage parents to test green products.

  • Gain environmental endorsements where possible, but be selective.

6. Other marketing strategies

  • Use labels to convey precise, detailed information about your product and its packaging. Ensure compliance with government labelling guidelines.

  • Use consumer hotlines to disseminate and gather information about environmental issues and customer concerns.

  • Point-of-sale displays, brochures, and videos are effective for providing more in-depth information than can be offered on labels. They should be used to catch the eye and to communicate the uniqueness of the company's green products.

  • Educate consumers who are hungry for environmental information. Companies have used television programmes, magazine articles, classroom curricula, and community meetings as ways of reaching environmentally concerned consumers.

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