Using Carbon for Competitive Advantage

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

As the topic of carbon emissions continues to become more and more visible on the public stage, it’s inevitable that it will feature increasingly in various marketing activities.

A story on the website today about easyJet’s call for emissions standards prompted me to think a little more about how and why carbon emissions will be used in marketing.

The Good – BSkyB (PDF)

BSkyB was one of the first large organisations I heard of that asked its employees all to watch ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ together and to make a top-down decision to become a carbon neutral company. What’s interesting about the way BSkyB approached climate change is that as far as I can tell, they decided it was an issue that couldn’t be ignored because it constituted a significant business risk, as well as a matter of CSR imperative.

My favourite part of the BSkyB story (without wanting to sound too Fanboi) is that they took a very hard line with their supply chain, and essentially told them that if they weren’t carbon neutral by a certain date too, that they would be in very real danger of losing their contracts with Sky at the next renewal. I have since read case studies from several of Sky’s major suppliers (such as the Commercial group) that shows the positive and galvanising effect that Sky’s mandate had on their own businesses.

This is marketing through leadership, and undertaking something for the right reasons. Either that, or I just can’t see the ulterior motive.

The Bad – easyJet

The story that prompted my post. easyJet demanding emissions standards for air transport. Don’t get me wrong, this in itself is not a bad thing. Of course we should be pushing for higher emissions standards in every arena, but this isn’t selfless moralism by easyJet – it just suits their business because they own one of the newest fleets in the world. Guaranteed if there was a call for emissions standards that did not suit their own interests, they would be on the other side of the fence, lobbying and fighting as hard as they could.

This is not a call for progress or action on carbon emissions, this is greenwash facilitated by benefit of the fact that their fleet is newer than that of other operators.

The Ugly – America’s Power

Yuk, this is just ugly. One of their pages is called ‘77% cleaner‘, which sounds great. Except that they base this claim on five compounds and doesn’t include carbon emissions, or environmental impact in general. Coal is just a dirty fuel, causing as many health problems as environmental ones. It’s ugly because it’s just untrue. At least easyJet is being disingenuous rather than plain deceitful. Neither is a sustainable competitive advantage, but the death throes of the coal industry are particularly distasteful.

From reading the America’s Power site, you’d figure that the coal industry were a group of concerned environmentalists, forced to mine coal against their strongest desires. The reality is that their sole interest is their profit margin, and the moment that there is the possibility of being forced to clean up the environmental disasters they cause, they are very happy to restructure a business to put the clean-up costs on the public purse.

And in case you’re thinking that sounds familiar, here in the UK, we as the taxpayer are footing a