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Is ‘green’ marketing a new frontier for responsible marketers or a gimmick?

Is 'green' marketing a new frontier for responsible marketers or a gimmick?


Is ‘green’ marketing a new frontier for responsible marketers or a gimmick?


Ovo Energy wants to turn its marketing ‘green’ but the move has been met with conflicting opinions about whether carbon offsetting alone is enough

Last week, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle caused a stir when it emerged they made four journeys via private jet within 11 days, triggering a backlash from the environmentally conscious.

Thankfully, we could all rest easy after Elton John declared he would be paying for the flights to be carbon offset (it was his plane they were flying on). But the case has raised questions over what we should be doing individually and collectively to reduce our carbon footprint.

That challenge is one faced by business leaders too. As we become more aware of the impact our lifestyles and practices have on the environment, it is up to every area of a business to work towards being carbon-neutral and finding sustainable solutions. But how far should this go?

Ovo Energy believes it should become part of every aspect of their business. And so its marketing team has revealed a new sustainability strategy that puts reducing its environmental impact at the heart of its media strategy and marketing plans.

That will see, for example, Ovo prioritise digital marketing over door drops, and finding digital outdoor that is powered by renewable energy (or carbon offset that if it can’t).

It is also imposing a no-flights policy, unless absolutely necessary, and is working alongside The Carbon Trust to develop a carbon offsetting strategy where renewable will be a requirement for any energy used in creating content.

The big question is whether this is a real concerted effort by Ovo to reduce its environmental impact or PR trickery that makes some headlines but doesn’t lead to real change. Reducing the environmental impact of any business activities is important, but marketing hardly seems like the biggest culprit here.

It’s hugely complicated too. What is the carbon footprint of digital outdoor versus ‘traditional’ outdoor? Why does a door drop have a higher carbon footprint than a TV ad? When is a flight deemed “absolutely necessary”?

There are undoubtedly other areas of the business where Ovo could have a bigger impact. Its tariffs for one. Ovo requires its customers to pay an additional £5 a month to get 100% renewable electricity (its standard is 33%). Is that enough when rivals such as Bulb and Octopus are offering 100% renewable as standard?

‘We must think collectively, not competitively’: Inside Ovo’s sustainable marketing strategy

The fact that the company’s director of brand and marketing, Sarah Booth, said that it’s essential to “walk your walk” from a sustainability perspective suggests it won’t stop at boosting the environmental credentials of its marketing. And hopefully the presence of more competition can prompt Ovo to consider extending what it offers consumers to meet its sustainable marketing goals.

And what Ovo has done is start a conversation in the marketing industry about the role its activities play and what being a responsible marketer means. Ovo admits its strategy isn’t perfect, and Booth admits they won’t get it right first time. That shows it is taking a realistic approach.

But by speaking out first Ovo has set itself up for some criticism and accusations of PR gimmickery. There are critics out there suggesting Ovo’s carbon-offsetting scheme isn’t enough, and the company is doing nothing more than slapping a green logo on its marketing practices (while making itself look better in the process).

But change has to start somewhere and Booth had the initiative to do something about it, which is admirable, particularly when she’s less than six months into her role at Ovo.

Now that Ovo has set the tone, the heat is on the rest of the industry to outline steps they are taking to reduce environmental impact. This is part of what Extinction Rebellion was talking about when it issued a call to arms to the ad industry to do something about climate change.

If advertisers want to convince consumers to change their habits, marketers have to change theirs first. We should salute the steps Ovo is making and remember this is not a battle that can be won alone. There’s always power in numbers. Maybe it is a PR trick but if its gets businesses thinking then maybe it was one worth playing.


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