The colour green: corporate conscience or fashion statement?

Hotwire has conducted a major audit looking at the greening of corporate communications and its potential influence on consumer purchasing habits across Europe.

They researched five sectors (retail, banking & finance, manufacturing and automotive, utilities and technology & telecoms) in five countries (the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) looking at how frequently companies use green issues in their external communications vehicles. In this instance press releases were selected as the representative comms tool. We coupled this with pan-European consumer research that identified how green issues affect the purchasing decisions of consumers in the same sectors and countries.

Contrary to popular opinion, companies across Europe do not greenwash their communications wholesale. The Hotwire study has found that across all the sectors green appeared as a theme relatively infrequently - in only 7.5%-17% of companies' external communications. French companies use green issues the most at 17% while German companies are least likely at 7.5%. These are interesting findings – with Germany very much an international leader in terms of energy efficiency we put it more down to regional 'style' than the reality of the companies' initiatives. However, while it is good to see that companies are not opting for a cheap greenwash across the board, it is also interesting to note that they are not in synch with consumer interest for green products and services. While companies communicate about green issues relatively infrequently the consumer interest in all things green is very high. When asked to score their interest in 'green' between 1 and 10 (10 being the highest) European consumers scored on average between 6.3 (Germany) and 8 (France). Consumers in Spain, the UK and Italy scored 7, 7.2 and 7.7 respectively. In other words, consumer interest is very high but in terms of corporate communications, companies are not doing much to satisfy the interest.

The technology & telecoms sector is an interesting sector in terms of how it currently communicates around green, and what influences the buying decision when purchasing technology products and services. The UK is the only country that communicates in any volume (22% of technology companies' external comms) about 'green'. At 5 out of 10, the consumer research indicates that 'green' is not a very compelling driver for British consumers in the technology space, however there is some interest and UK-based companies are doing a few things to garner that interest. In the rest of Europe PR professionals in the technology space have huge opportunities. While consumer interest is pretty high at between 5.5 and 6.1, the companies' corporate communications efforts have so far ignored the green agenda. In France only 7% of external communications by technology companies include the green theme, in Germany 1%, Spain 2.9% and in Italy 0%. There are some big openings for being the green champion in the technology & telecoms industries in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Brendon Craigie works for Hotwire, an international firm specializing in PR campaigns and strategy.

They have published a full white paper on The Greening of Corporate Communications