eBay has a reputation as the go-to web site for anything unusual or hard to find. Now, eBay meets the needs of another niche: consumers who want to exhibit their social and environmental beliefs in the products they purchase. The company has partnered with World of Good, an organization focused on developing companies’ socially responsible practices. The venture, WorldofGood.com, allows shoppers to purchase goods from producers and artisans from around the globe. When shopping for goods at the site, consumers can learn more about the background of the seller and how the product contributes positively to interests such as the environment, animal protection, or a social cause.
The market potential for WorldofGood.com may be small today. However, the emergence of this site and its support from a major retailer like eBay give it an opportunity to succeed. If it does, it is possible that other ventures that promote sustainable and ethical consumption will enter the marketplace. Increasingly, consumers want to make purchases that make a difference. WorldofGood.com may be a significant step toward a new era of socially responsible consumption.
Link: Washingtonpost.com – “New eBay Site Has Social, Environmental Aim”
As Earth Day approaches April 22, there are growing concerns that the spirit of the observance is being lost in a sea of green marketing initiatives. It is commendable that companies are taking up the cause of Earth Day, but there is a real risk of over-commercialization. After all, Earth Day is more about advocating a cause than a selling event. It should not be treated the same way department stores create Columbus Day sales or some other special event that becomes the excuse to run a promotion!
Practicing environmentally responsible behavior in all phases of operations from product design, materials procurement, packaging, distribution methods, and communication tactics should be a priority for businesses. And, it is permissible to toot your own horn and leverage green business practices as a point of difference. But, there is a fine line between being green and chasing greenbacks. Consumers can see through efforts to do the latter; successful green marketing requires a true commitment to being an environmentally responsible organization.
Nike is introducing a shoe that is targeted toward American Indians. The Air Native N7 will feature a design that reflects distinguishing physical and cultural traits of American Indians. This is not your typical new product launch as it has a strong social component. The company plans to sell the shoe only to American Indians, with tribal organizations paying wholesale prices and either selling or giving away the shoes to their members.
Some people might be skeptical about Nike’s motives- is this a publicity stunt? Is Nike trying to build goodwill at the expense of a certain group of people? It appears to be neither; Nike is passionate about promoting health and wellness. People are being put ahead of profits, and it will be interesting to see if other companies come forward with similar strategies to further segment markets. Major corporations like Nike will be questioned about the sincerity of their motives whenever they do good, but in this case the Air Native N7 seems to be a winner for all involved. Link
Increased interest among the general public in the social responsibility practices of Corporate America may spur a new trend in business education: the “Green MBA.” Specialized business programs are nothing new and are a way to further segment the market for graduate business education. Graduate programs that focus on socially responsible business practices are being introduced at well known institutions such as Duke University’s http://www.fuqua.duke.edu/, and relatively unknown institutions like Dominican University of California.
Is this a fad or is it the shape of things to come? Business schools are challenged to offer relevant training in programs that will enable graduates to compete in a global business environment. While Green MBA programs aren’t likely to become standard fare in B-schools nationwide, there appears to be a market for offering such programs. At the very least, B-school curricula should include expanded coverage of social responsibility practices within each business discipline. Link
Soon we will all be able to eat Dunkin’ Donuts with a wee bit less guilt. The company has announced it is removing trans fats from menu items by mid-October. Dunkin’ officials were quick to point out that “we did not create a healthy doughnut.” So what have they done? Offering a no-trans fat doughnut can give Dunkin’ a point of difference over its large competitors like Krispy Kreme and Tim Horton’s, but it doesn’t seem to be a revolutionary introduction. It seems to be a move that customers will likely notice and signal to special interest groups that the company is trying to make a healthier(?) product.
At the very least, Dunkin’ may appease advocacy groups that challenge food companies with unhealthy offerings to be more responsible in managing the nutritional benefits (or lack thereof) their products contain. At least Dunkin’ doesn’t appear to be planning to use a tactic similar to what KFC used a few years ago when the Atkins diet craze was in full swing when it made a lame attempt to suggest that fried chicken was a healthy choice. In this case, Dunkin’ acted on its own volition before being forced into taking actions by advocacy groups or government regulations. Link
I listened to a very interesting segment on NPR’s Science Friday last week about efforts to produce environmentally-friendly packaging. It was pointed out that in some cases attempts at green marketing may have unintended consequences. For example, a container for a television that uses less materials but does not adequately protect the product could lead to damaged goods that would not only create costs to repair, but it is possible that products would have to be disposed, thus creating waste when the idea was to save natural resources.
Another point raised about green marketing is that environmental policy that affects business is often politically driven, not scientifically driven. The case of ethanol as an alternative fuel for automobiles was cited as an example. Uncertainties exist about how widespread adoption of ethanol as a fuel might impact the food supply (specifically foods whose production relies on corn), but some policy makers are promoting ethanol as the alternative fuel. In addition to concerns about how much corn would be needed to produce enough ethanol to meet our fuel demands, ethanol is a less efficient fuel than gasolinein terms of energy production. Such limitations have not stopped some lawmakers from jumping on the ethanol bandwagon (or would that be a harvester?).
The importance of conducting business in a way that protects the environment cannot be overstated. It’s more than just the basis for an advertising campaign; everyone benefits when we use our natural resources responsibly. The temptation that must be avoided is practicing green marketing simply for the sake of being able to say “we’re green!” It must be driven by the aim of being a good steward of the environment, which can also lead to a potential side benefit of a competitive advantage.