Green Washing

Ever seen a product marketed as being good for the environment – in a plastic bottle?

Consumers are looking for sustainable options in their purchasing, and companies follow that trend. Sometimes the change is has an environmental impact, sometimes not. It can be hard to tell. When a company markets their products as sustainable but spends more on marketing than sustainable sources, or produces misleading marketing or packaging, or promotes their product as simply better than alternatives – that’s greenwashing.

Definition

Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.

Some Examples

Starbucks announced last year that they would ban straws and instead introduce a “sippy cup” lid. Turns out that the lids use more plastic than the straws and are unlikely to be better for the environment. But they got good press at the time of the announcement.

TIP: If you’re worried about straws then skip the straw/plastic beaker all together, and opt for a reusable cup. Starbucks and many cafés will make coffee in your reusable cup and may even offer a discount.

Walmart joined the sustainability trend, launching a “go green” sustainability campaign. Given that Walmart customers are price sensitive this was always going to be a challenge, and the report card is mixed. They’ve reduced foodwaste, and increased recycling of plastic. Their efforts to shift to 100% sustainable energy have so far (in more than 10 years) only got to 4% according to the EPA.

TIP: if you’re trying to assess claims look for agency reporting on data, and beware of percentage improvement, a move from 1% sustainable energy to 4% is a 400% improvement.

Coca cola – and other beverage companies – are working on “plant-based” plastics, that will be biodegradable. In some countries these bottles are already on the market, in some cases they’re still as much as 70% plastic, and about 80% of beverage containers still end up in landfill.

TIP: If you’re worried about this source of plastic stop buying drinks in single use plastic. Ask for tap water in restaurants, carry a water bottle from home (assuming you live somewhere with safe water).

In these cases the companies are trying to do something genuine, it’s just not easy to change people’s behaviour or build new resource infrastructure. These are not the worst examples of greenwashing.

Airbus took the skies in 2008 using the slogan “A better environment inside and out” for the Airbus A380, even putting on the planes’ tail. But air transport is a highly polluting industry, putting millions of tons of CO2 into the environment every year. Their argument seems to be that because of the scale of the plane less pollution occurs per kilo transported – true, but in the interests of honesty in marketing perhaps the slogan should be “not quite as bad for the environment as our old planes (which are still flying)”. Hmmm, not so snappy, needs work.

Volkswagen’s emission scandal which came to light in 2015 was possibly the most extreme example of greenwashing to date. Volkswagen not only made false claims about the emissions from their cars, the emissions devices in half a million cars themselves were modified to pass emission tests over a period of forty years. One good outcome, I suspect this scandal led to countries adding legal requirements for ecological claims to companies’ marketing.

Legal?

Probably not, most countries have advertising standards requiring that statements in an ad are verifiable. Some countries  -Australia, Canada, Norway, the US – have including requirements for companies to back their environmental claims with data the advertising standards.

Even so, as a consumer it’s worth keeping a cynical eye on claims of “greener”, “eco-friendly”, “biodegradable”, and “sustainable”.

 

Image via pixabay

Drinking from the Firehose

“How’s the new role? Are you just drinking from the firehose?” asked my colleague yesterday.

It seemed a new and peculiarly American phrase to me but I knew exactly what she meant and the answer was an exhausted “yes”.

What does that mean?

Wiktionary gives a very simple definition

  1. (idiomatic) To be overwhelmed (with work, information, etc.); to be inundated with an uncapped, unfiltered amount

And it seems the term has been around for more than a decade, as it was picked up in a nicely nuanced way in this 2006 blog post.

Why am I drinking from the firehose?

I took on a new role in February, it’s more global, more strategic, and more fun. I’m now part of a US-based team, none of whom have met me. However I still have some projects to complete from my former EU-based role as I haven’t been replaced. So in the mornings I focus on the EU projects, and the afternoon I switch to the US projects, my agenda is getting crowded and my day is a bit stretched.

It’s cutting into my writing time – but it is temporary. I will be writing more regularly from June onwards as one of my projects finishes sometime in May. In the meantime, back to that firehose.

 

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Cord Cutting

I’ve moved. There’s one glaring absence in my living room, I no longer have a TV. I haven’t had a landline phone for years. Apparently I am a “cord cutter“.

I had already cut my tv viewing significantly, and I know exactly the moment I made that decision. I was watching Cold Case, or NCIS, or SVU, on the detective and crime channel, where they were showing a string of episodes of the same programme. I hadn’t noticed that one episode had ended and another had begun, and I couldn’t remember how the crime had been solved. I realised 2 things – all the procedural genre TV shows are incredibly formulaic, and that TV was, in effect, wallpaper in that I no longer paid attention to it.

As streaming services rise more people are cutting their cable/broadcast tv and opting for streaming services, often this is a cost cutting move. Many providers bundle their TV + internet + landline services, which is often good for consumers, except that now I only need a reliable wifi service. Many providers bundle their content, which is often not good for consumers. Some years ago I contacted the cable tv provider her and asked if I could have just 4 channels, I was willing to pay half the regular fee even though I was forgoing about 30 channels. The answer was a firm no.

There are lots of guides out there on how to set up a combination of streaming services so that you won’t miss your favourite shows. Not all of the services are available in Europe (yet). There’s some evidence that those moving off cable and onto streaming happier than TV watchers.

My motivation was a little different, I’m happy to save the money, but I also wanted to change how I use my time. Of course I do have Wi-Fi, so I have the option of YouTube or Netflix. But I have deliberately made it inconvenient to watch on a big screen, so I am reading more and being more creative with either writing or crafting.

Meanwhile anyone want to buy a TV set with a slightly broken remote?

image via pixabay

 

First Mover Advantage

It sounds like something from flatmate hell, where the first person to move into a shared house gets the advantage of choosing the best room, or from sport where the racer first off the starting block has an advantage.

In fact this business term originated in the game of chess, where there is a slight statistical advantage for white who has the first move.

In the business world it has come to mean the advantage gained by the first significant company into a new market. Very often the “first move” has some transforming aspect to it, or combines two formerly separate products or services.

One commonly cited example is Netflix, a DVD rental service that outmanoeuvred the incumbent video rental giant Blockbuster. By developing a huge supply of DVDs, a fast delivery service, and a very simply business model that could be explained online Netflix could take over the market for DVD rentals in the US.

Apple are also often mentioned, although they did not develop MP3, and were not the first to think of portable music players (I had a Sony Walkman way back), they combined the two into a device that people would actually want to use, and developed an online delivery model, iTunes, that has left the rest of the music industry scrambling.

But the first mover advantage is not a guarantee of success, in many cases the first mover incurs expenses educating users, or on R&D, or on building infrastructure but competitors can move in easily before the real gains have been made.

Despite the risks it is something of the holy grail for business seeking to innovate into new space, so this term often pops up at marketing strategy meetings.

It doesn’t always work, just as in running a race where someone can trail the leader and make a last minute sprint to win the race. If I knew anything about sport I could point to examples. So instead a business example; Spotify is now the world leader in streaming music, but it wasn’t the first to come up with the service. It beat out early rivals Napster and Rhapsody by winning the war for user numbers by a factor of at least 20. In the platform economy user numbers are king, beating out profits as a predictor of success.

Sometimes being a smart follower is better than being a first mover – especially in a long race with significant headwind.

Image running

 

Upselling

Upselling is the practice of offering the customer a little more than their original purchase request. The most well-known example is probably the McDonald’s “would you like fries with that?”, in fact whatever you order at McDonald’s you’ll be offered one more thing – even if you’re ordering via a digital screen.

It’s a normal part of service in the US, but it’s less common here in the Netherlands, and there have been times here where I’d have welcomed a little upselling rather than trying to catch a waiter’s eye to order water.

But last week I had a sales experience where upselling almost lost them the sale. I wanted a small item, a nail buffer. I imagined the price would be in the 5-10 euro range. But I couldn’t just buy the buffer, I had to buy a set… I tested the hand cream, it smelt good. I agreed to by the set, my decision helped by it being on sale. At this point I’ve agreed to spend 3.5 times my initial planned spend.

But then they tried to upsell again, for twice what I’d just agreed to spend I could have a body scrub and a moisturiser – telling me that I had “skin discolouration” as part of the sales pitch. I declined politely. Then at the cash register, while I was standing with the money in my hand, I was asked again – I was so tempted to walk.

But on reflection I think the hard sale is one of the reasons this company is being forced to offer big discounts on their products. The Dutch are a bit allergic to this approach.

Image  french fries via pixabay

Ego Surfing

It’s a term coined almost twenty years ago, referring to the act of searching for your own name, pseudonym, or handle online to see what information appears.

We often place a negative association on displays of egos, and references to ego surfing on the internet are generally negative or sarcastic.

But ego surfing can be a smart thing to do.

Just as companies manage their online presence and their online reputation so should you, I think this should be an ongoing action, but I’m sure people think of it more when they’re job seeking.

If you’re a random, unfamous person like me, the occasional search on major search engines will be enough. Here’s how I do it;

  1. Use a browser I don’t use very often
  2. Log out of any accounts, particularly Google
  3. Clear browsing history and cookies
  4. Search for my name, and the name of the blogs I write
  5. Search for the key topics I write about in the hope that my name/blog appears connected to those topics.

It’s important to use a “clean” browser to do this as Google will give you adjusted results based on your location, browsing history and login.

If you find content that shouldn’t be publicly available you have a few options to remove it; WikiHow provides a list of actions you can take. In some cases Google will remove content that they index if it could lead to identity theft (although they won’t remove your date of birth). In some situations EU residents can ask to be “forgotten” by Google when information is dated and has a negative reputational impact.

There are therefore two very good reasons for searching your own name; to check that your name isn’t associated with negative information and to make sure that the content you are publishing is building your reputation in your field of expertise.

The algorithms used by search engines prioritise content that is useful, rewarding content sources that provide useful content, and ranking content higher that is clicked on. Most people won’t click on “next page” of a google search so it’s really important that your content is on the first page of results, in fact there’s a joke in Search Engine Optimisation about hiding anything you don’t want anyone to find on page two of Google results.

If you find that your prized content is not ranking highly in search results the thing to do is create more quality, useful content, generate more links to that content and wait. If you’re a public figure and find you are turning up in search results connected to negative events, the way to change that is to start doing a lot of good things, media will create reports on the good things and that’s what will appear connected to your name in a very short time.

Algorithms can have inherent bias, but they mostly reward content that is useful, often clicked and newsworthy.

The sculpture in the header image of this post was set alight, and burnt in a matter of minutes. So much for an ego.

 

Image: Art: Ego    |    Michael & Sandy   |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Breaking Down Silos

The metaphorical silos in a company can be seen as representing boundaries put up by an organisation to keep a group of people focused on accomplishing their goals, and preventing interference with progress by outsiders, so there’s a positive purpose.

But we talk about breaking down silos because when silos are rigidly maintained within a company it creates problems. Silos form in large companies to support the hierarchical structure of the company. It rests on an old model of thinking about work; that managers know what needs to be done and are responsible for directing all those under their responsibility to complete that work.

For me silos are are an outcome of an overly hierarchical company culture, one where people are unwilling to share knowledge, solve problems together or co-operate in any way.  The business directory defines silo mentality as;

a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

Visible signs that your organisation is in silos;

  • people talk about “us” and “them” meaning different departments within your company
  • you need agreement from management of two departments to get co-operation from another department
  • you need permission from a manager to approach someone in another department
  • departments in your company store their information online in team sites or shared drives that are only accessible for department members
  • you do have lunch with colleagues, but only ever from your own department
  • your personnel directory is searchable by name, or department, but not by expertise
  • when you look for specialist expertise, for example a Spanish-speaking tax expert with experience in Latin America, you start by emailing someone who speaks Spanish

Yes there is a need to focus on the work, and that may mean that a project team shuts itself off from the organisation in some way. Yes in regulated industries there may be a need to put boundaries between certain parts of the organisation; the term used for this in banking in Chinese walls. In agencies temporary boundaries are often put in place around a project to prevent sharing of client information.

In general I wouldn’t consider anything temporary as a silo; just as you don’t move a grain silo easily, silos within companies take time to be established. I agree that there are regulatory boundaries to be considered, and while I’m probably guilty of understating those in my enthusiasm for improving knowledge sharing across a company, I’m certainly not thinking of them when I call for us to “break down the silos”.

I watched a TED video that talked about what might be one of the greatest silo breakdowns ever, and it comes from the US military. General Stanley McChrystal states;

The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it.

He explains that it’s almost impossible to know who is the best person to use each piece of information, and that the army therefore moved from a “tell only who needs to know” to “we need to tell, and tell them as quickly as we can“.

It’s this philosophical shift I am referring to when I talk about breaking down the silos.

In some companies the need is urgent, and in those cases the phrase needs to be upgraded to “tearing down the silos”.