Incorporating Eco-Friendly Merchandise Into Your Program
The good news is that the conservation ethic whose absence Nelson bemoaned is growing. By hook or by crook—or by rising energy costs and falling water and air quality—people around the world are hopping on the environmentally friendly bandwagon in ever-increasing numbers.
Take hybrid cars, for instance. According to a recent Maritz Poll, consumers who are giving strong consideration to hybrid technology for their next vehicle purchase nearly doubled between 2004 and 2005. What's more, of the respondents who said they would give equal or more consideration to buying a hybrid, the majority—85 percent—said they would also pay more.
What does this have to do with your plans for incentive and reward programs for your employees, your business partners, your sales force and your customers? The factors that motivate people to move to hybrid cars are the same factors motivating them to go green across the board, and you can harness these motivating factors to get the results you want. These motivations include rising energy costs, a desire to reduce pollution, a desire to reduce Americans' dependence on foreign oil, the availability of tax credits and the enjoyment of the latest and greatest technology.
What is the lesson here? People are ready to go green now, and anything you can do to help them may prove to be the motivational strategy you need to reach your business goals, whether that means improving sales, boosting employee morale, or actually incorporating a corporate environmental responsibility strategy at your own workplace.
A Rising Consumer Consciousness
According to the BBMG Conscious Consumer Report, which was conducted by branding and marketing agency BBMG in conjunction with research partners Global Strategy Group and Bagatto, nearly nine out of 10 Americans claim that the words "conscious consumer" describe them well. The report, which combined ethnographic research in three U.S. markets with a national survey of more than 2,000 adults to learn how companies can reach, inspire and motivate modern consumers, revealed that "conscious consumers" are more likely to buy from companies that manufacture energy-efficient products, promote health and safety benefits, support fair labor and trade practices, and commit to environmentally friendly practices, if the products are of equal quality and price.
"Americans think before they buy," according to Jefrey Pollock, president of Global Strategy Group. "Our poll reveals that many consumers are evaluating the social and economic impact of their purchases on the world in which they live. They tend to prefer to buy from companies that reflect their values and are increasingly likely to buy from companies that demonstrate they are good for the people and the planet."
Who are these conscious consumers? Who is truly motivated to go green?
A lot of people are motivated by environmentally friendly brands and products, according to Dana Slockbower, director of marketing for Rymax Marketing Services Inc., one of the largest manufacturer's representatives in the incentive industry, which has helped put together environmentally friendly incentive and reward programs for many of its clients. "Eight in 10 people believe it's important to buy from green companies and will spend more to do that."
While Generation X and Generation Y seem to be the demographic group most motivated by the green message, Slockbower said such programs also reach across age groups and demographic boundaries to motivate people from all walks of life.
"[Generation X and Generation Y are] very aware," she said. "We're also seeing that anyone in a big health craze—an outdoorsman, someone who's into working out, the healthy-body-mind-and-soul type of person—are very big on eco-friendly initiatives."
But the impact of your eco-friendly motivation plan doesn't end with these groups. "With global warming being so prevalent in the news, it's motivating people to go toward this type of lifestyle," Slockbower added. "The North American youth culture between 13 and 25 years old is the most involved in doing philanthropy activities and is the most environmentally conscious group in this world. They may not be in the workforce yet, but their parents may be working in your recognition program, and their kids are definitely influencing them."
Many of Rymax's corporate gifts and rewards clients are directly asking for help making their programs more environmentally friendly, Slockbower added. "They say, 'We want green brands. We want green products. And we're OK if it's not as great a margin,'" she said. "A lot of event planners also want green products or environmentally friendly gifts to hand out at various meetings."
But the impact is also being felt elsewhere, as companies large and small look to make their own operations more environmentally friendly. With these messages coming from the top—and with demand coming from your recipients—it simply makes sense to incorporate a green message into your motivation plan.
A Rising Corporate Consciousness
According to the "2008 SHRM Green Workplace Survey" released in January 2008 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 50 percent of surveyed organizations have implemented a formal or informal environmental policy, but 43 percent do not have such a policy, nor any plans to implement one within the next 12 months.
Yet companies that do implement environmental responsibility programs report considerable benefits, including improved employee morale and a stronger public image for the company. A smaller number also reported increased consumer/customer confidence/choice and a positive financial bottom line as benefits, as well as increased employee loyalty.
According to Gerlinde Herrmann, SHRP, president of the Herrmann Group and a member of SHRM's Corporate Social Responsibility Expertise Panel, these findings indicate that green initiatives can help attract potential employees. "These employees check the background of organizations and talk with employees to find out for themselves if the 'green' CSR (corporate social responsibility) messaging delivers on its promise," Herrmann said.
While HR professionals report some barriers to implementing such plans—including implementation cost, maintenance cost and lack of management support—nearly three out of four employees from companies without these programs say that they want their employers to go green.
The top five environmentally responsible practices, as ranked by HR professionals, include:
Employees offer a different perspective, ranking the promotion of walking, biking and taking public transit higher than HR professionals. However, HR pros and employees alike say that the number-one motivation for participating in such programs is to make a contribution to society.
Incorporating more "green" options into your incentive and rewards program is just one more way to help your company go green. Ultimately, it will be one more way you can help improve your company's reputation with its own workforce, as well as influencing those the company comes in contact with, from dealers and channel partners to customers.
Green Up Your Incentives
Slockbower said that the term "eco-friendly" means a variety of things to different people. "Most obviously, it means it's good for the environment, so you're part of something and you feel like you're making a difference."
But she adds that environmental friendliness can be viewed from a business standpoint as well as an environmental standpoint.
"From a business standpoint, a lot of companies get good PR by incorporating this type of program," Slockbower explained. "From an environmental standpoint, anything that uses recycled elements, anything that is more energy-efficient and anything that reduces waste is good for everybody."
Whether you want to make your incentive program more environmentally friendly as part of a larger initiative at your organization, to inspire participants who are motivated by green products or just because it's the right thing to do, there are several first steps you can take.
First of all, it's important to note that an environmentally friendly approach can work with any type of program, whether it's customer loyalty, employee recognition, corporate gifts and rewards, or event planning, because these brands and products are capable of motivating such a wide audience.
"Certainly wellness programs are on the rise, and they benefit from being completely online and as green as possible," Slockbower said. "Safety programs are also big in this area. Any client who is willing to put that awareness in place, we're willing to work with."
The biggest way to improve the environmental impact of your incentive program, which Slockbower said depends on your budget and how geographically dispersed your participants are, is changing your communication plan.
"The biggest thing is involving less print in your communications," she explained. "The more technology you use, via e-blasts, placing things on the company intranet and so on, would always be better than print. That's just a save-a-tree initiative."
It's also smart to put the program catalog online, versus using a print catalog. "Many of the larger, more traditional companies we work with can be resistant to that, so we're trying to push those who do use catalogs toward recycled papers and working with companies that will print from recycled goods."
The green mission that begins in small changes to the communication plan often flows outward into the selection of rewards. "Clients are asking for specifically green brands, where on the program we want to call out a whole 'eco-friendly rewards' area," Slockbower said. "But we're not seeing as much of that yet."
Don't underestimate the impact your green initiatives might have. According to Mark Watkins, a spokesperson for Voltaic Systems, which manufactures solar-powered backpacks and messenger bags capable of recharging handheld devices and, soon, laptops, said your efforts can expand outward to reach more people than you might realize.
"The ripple effect is huge," he said. "When a Fortune 500 company really has the mandate to green up, it just fans out from the business into personal lives, and it keeps going and going."
Once you are ready to move into eco-friendly rewards, you can start by learning more about the green initiatives of the brands your program offers. As green becomes the new thing, brands are certainly responding. Slockbower said that Rymax alone works with 15 brands that incorporate environmentally friendly practices, involving many kinds of initiatives, from restricting use of hazardous substances to conserving energy and reducing pollution.
While no conclusive list is available, here are some brands of note that have taken action within their companies to green up their internal practices, as well as the manufacturing of their products. You can highlight some of their practices as you communicate with participants about your program:
Apple Inc.: The now-ubiquitous iPod—always a reward and incentive favorite—offers a chance to highlight several of Apple's eco-friendly practices. The company aims to reduce packaging, and in fact, the packaging of iPod Classic now consumes 35 percent less weight and 82 percent less volume than the first-generation iPod. All iPods are also globally compliant with the restrictions of hazardous substances requirements (RoHS). iPod and iPhone power adapters also exceed Energy Star efficiency requirements and already meet California's stricter efficiency regulations, which do not take effect until July 1, 2008. Apple offers a free recycling program that will take back iPods and cell phones—regardless of manufacturer or model. Finally, Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in its products by the end of this year, and the company's restricted substances program limits the use of heavy metals and ozone-depleting substances in its products and manufacturing processes.
Canon: Canon also has a strong environmental stance, incorporating manufacturing and business practices that aim to reduce energy use, conserve resources and eliminate hazardous substances, from procurement of raw materials through a commitment to the Energy Star program and recycling of certain consumer products.
The Coleman Company Inc.: Part of taking care of the environment is encouraging people to get outside and learn more about the world around them. In that respect, Coleman, which makes outdoor gear of all kinds, from tents and sleeping bags to coolers and tailgating gear, is a standout, supporting advocacy groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and the Continental Divide Trail Alliance. Coleman also recently partnered with New York City to kick off a project that aims to plant a million trees throughout the five boroughs over the next 10 years. The project intends to increase New York's urban forest, made up of street trees, park trees and trees on public and commercial land, by 20 percent, helping to achieve environmental and quality-of-life benefits.
Denon Electronics: This manufacturer of high-quality home entertainment products ensures that all products marketed within the United States are compliant with RoHS, which effectively eliminates heavy metals from the products and their manufacturing process.
Hartmann: This leather and travel goods manufacturer has employed environmentally friendly business practices, such as recycling wastepaper and ink cartridges, and offering flexible schedules for employee carpooling and home office solutions.
iRobot: Some of iRobot's products offer low-impact packaging (no foam), are RoHS-compliant, and are powered by NiMH batteries—the most environmentally friendly batteries on the market.
Meyer: This well-respected manufacturer of Anolon, Bonjour, Circulon, Farberware and KitchenAid cookware and other kitchen products runs its entire corporate office on solar power. Over 30 years, this act alone will reduce carbon dioxide by more than 5,000 tons.
Nike: A good place to turn for corporate gift cards, especially associated with wellness programs, Nike has adopted many practices that improve its environmental friendliness. In fact CRO (Corporate Responsibility Officer) Magazine named Nike No. 3 in its ninth annual ranking of top corporate citizens among U.S.-headquartered public companies. In just one example, Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program collects old shoes of any brand to recycle into a material called Nike Grind, which is incorporated into sports surfacing for basketball and tennis courts, running tracks, soccer fields, fitness flooring and playground safety surfacing.
Nautilus Inc.: This fitness company that manufactures a complete line of health and fitness products like treadmills, elliptical trainers, accessories and more recycles all cardboard, paper and shrink wrap. The company also converted 99 percent of cleaning materials to be environmentally friendly—no easy step when you consider the chemicals you'll find in everyday household cleaners—and employs a water-base powder coat system to paint activities to recover and reuse 99 percent of unused paint material.
Sony: Another company with a strong commitment to environmentally friendly practices, Sony has adopted eco-friendly approaches to product development and design, packaging and more. For example, Sony uses 10,000 tons or more of recycled plastics annually in various products, including televisions, audio products and digital video cameras. The company also has made efforts to develop and use vegetable-based plastics. It began using these plastics in packaging materials in 2000. In 2002, it started using them in Walkman casings.
Tissot: This maker of Swatch-brand watches and other Swiss timepieces started an alternative-energy research company to work on hydrogen, solar energy and fuel-cell technology with a view toward making green engines for cars.
Toshiba: Named one of the greenest companies, Toshiba has a strong commitment to the environment, including commitments to Energy Star compliance and ensuring that all new products undergo environmental assessments. Toshiba has developed energy-efficient TVs, refrigerators, vacuums and AC units; adopted lead-free soldering in most products; and built the world's first prototype of a hydrogen fuel center for portable PCs.
Of course, this is just a very small drop in a large green bucket. Ask your incentive partners—from brands to manufacturers' representatives—to help you learn more about their environmentally friendly practices.
Going beyond promoting a brand's awareness of its own environmental responsibility, you can encourage your recipients to choose eco-friendly products by promoting the green aspects in your catalog and program communications. Environmentally friendly options can be found in nearly every market segment, whether it's electronics that are more energy-efficient, sporting goods that incorporate recycled materials or watches and personal accessories that make use of solar power and renewable materials.
An ever-increasing number of products on the market are made from recycled, renewable or lower-impact materials.
One example is The Perfect Chair from Human Touch, available through Rymax Inc., which is made using 100-percent-renewable plantation-grown parawood. Recipients will be able to relax, knowing they're putting their feet up without harming the environment. The zero-gravity recline of the Perfect Chair offers a unique experience. As your feet rise above your heart, pressure is removed from the spine, allowing absolute surrender to deep relaxation. It makes an excellent gift or reward for someone who's been putting in long hours to get the job done.
From Top Brands Inc., the new, environmentally friendly Pure by Chantal is stoneware created for a greener world. The three-piece set includes bowls of various sizes formed from the earth's clay and fired with a clear, natural glaze, free of coloring agents, reducing environmental impact by up to 50 percent. Slight imperfections only add to the natural beauty of these bowls.
Coleman offers several cooler options that are made without ozone-depleting materials. The 70-quart Xtreme Marine Plus Cooler, for example, can keep ice cold for up to five days, holds 98 cans and is environmentally friendly.
When it comes to powered products, there are plenty of options on the market that offer greater energy efficiency. Look for the Energy Star rating, or do a little research to see how the product reduces energy consumption.
To reward and motivate recipients who love to cook, check out the Circulon Induction Cooktop, available from Rymax. Using the speed of induction cooking, this product can boil water twice as fast as a traditional stovetop and features nine preset power levels from a low simmer to high, as well as seven preset cooking temperatures and a timer so you can set the exact cooking time needed. It heats a pan 50 percent faster than gas, and energy is transferred directly to the pan by the magnetic field, so little heat is wasted.
Another energy-efficient home product, the Miele Optima Series Dishwasher uses more environmentally-sound water softener, environmentally-friendly detergents and features more energy-efficient configuration of the baskets and trays, as well as meeting Energy Star standards. Furthermore, the series features recycled plastic parts, and uses no heavy metals or leads.
Available through Almo Special Markets, Philips Green Flagship products are certified to be more than 10 percent more efficient than their competitors. One highlight among these products, Philips' Eco FlatTV, won the overall "Best in Show" choice for CNET's "Best of CES" awards. This high-definition LCD television delivers a top-quality picture while vastly minimizing power consumption. Power-saving features include proprietary dimming technology that lowers the LCD panel backlight to reduce power consumption without compromising picture quality. The TV also incorporates lead-free components and environmentally safe flame retardant materials. Philips didn't stop there. Packaging and user manuals are also made of eco-friendly materials. Other Green Flagship products include a home cinema system that uses 73 percent less energy than its closest competitors, the Cineos Soundbar DVD Home Theater, which uses 74 percent less energy, and the GoGear 2GB Flash Audio/Video player, which uses 15 percent less energy and 21 percent less packaging.
Citizen Watch Company's Eco-Drive watches, which represent more than two-thirds of Citizen's watch sales, are another way user's can reduce their energy consumption, this time through a permanently rechargeable lithium-ion cell. Light from solar and artificial sources creates the energy needed to run the watch. There's never a need to replace a battery, and depending on the model, a single charge can keep the watch going for anywhere from six months to four years. The construction of the Eco-Drive has prevented 10 million watch batteries from being made—and disposed—over the past decade.
Some products are both eco-friendly and can help people enjoy their world a little bit more. To help people purify their indoor environments, HoMedics offers the brethe air revitalizer, which kills up to 99 percent of odor-causing bacteria. The non-toxic, green-friendly and environmentally safe system uses a breakthrough technology to remove smoke, cooking, pet and stale household odors, creating a "rain forest" mist that washes incoming air with 100 percent natural and biodegradable botanical extracts. Great to reward your participants who are sensitive to airborne bacteria, it's safe to use anywhere, as it's not harmful to pets or babies.
For people who want eco-friendly products to help them enjoy the great outdoors, Johnson Outdoors offers two kayaks made from recycled materials. Both the Dirigo 106 Recycled and the Cayuga 110 Recycled are made from 100 percent post-industrial plastic. Johnson Outdoors' commitment doesn't stop there. You can also use your program communications to promote the fact the Johnson Outdoors donates 1 percent of the gross sales on its recycled boats to the Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization that supports and empowers member organizations to protect their communities, ecosystems and water quality.
If you're trying to promote greater environmental awareness in your employees, sales force, dealers, customers or others, what better way to motivate them than by offering products that will help them make their own lives a little greener?
Voltaic Systems, for example, creates solar-power bags that can help recipients get a little bit "off the grid." The three primary bags—two backpacks and a messenger bag—are capable of recharging handheld devices like cell phones and iPods. And new to the company's product line is the Generator (coming this spring), which will be powerful enough to charge a laptop computer.
Mark Watkins of Voltaic Systems said the company has done programs for giants like Google, GE and HP. "As we grow and Corporate America is becoming more green-sensitive, our phone is ringing a lot more," he said. "We deal with a lot of Fortune 500 companies." Watkins cited the bags' high functionality, especially for a mobile sales force that needs to charge up devices while on the road.
"Certainly giving these to their employees is a way of enhancing and empowering them out in the field, but it also sends a very important message about sustainability and corporate responsibility," he added.
One client uses the bags as a gift to the graduates of its leadership training program. "So they go out into the world and they're empowered in more ways than just their training—they also have new tools to use," Watkins explained.
Stylishly constructed from fabrics made with recycled soda bottles (PET), the bags are tough, waterproof and UV-resistant. More importantly, they are solar-power generators that can charge virtually any handheld electronics, from cell phones to cameras and iPods, and now, laptops. The original bags feature three solar panels that produce 4 watts of power. An integrated battery stores extra power so it's available when the sun goes down. Eleven different adaptors make it possible to connect virtually any device. The new Generator uses a single solar panel to produce up to 14.7 watts of power. Branding options are also available.
One Step at a Time
Above all else, when you're trying to green up your program, you need to remember that complete adherence to all things green is very difficult. While many brands and companies participate in environmentally friendly initiatives and manufacture products with green features, very few products are 100 percent green. But that doesn't mean you can't start making a little difference.
"Any initiative is important," Slockbower explained. "You're doing something. Each step is one in the right direction."