Developing a green standpoint: Consumerism and Communication in India

Developing a green standpoint: Consumerism and Communication in IndiaCopenhagen, the much touted and criticised climate gathering of 2010, demonstrated the green standpoint of most nations. In particular, it was an eye opener to the increased green importance levied in India and China.

As a developing nation, India has much at stake in the current sustainability paradigm. The global focus on resource depletion has no doubt awakened the Indian consciousness to the need to protect and preserve resources. This is of increased importance in a nation where 400 million households are still without electricity, while the government and industry looks to secure CDM status and carbon credits for harnessing solar or biomass energy.

Traditionally, green campaigns in India have largely been centred around World Environment Day or Earth Day, promoted by NGOs. The issues discussed have revolved around increased air and water pollution levels. The Delhi government took a commendable step forward in 2002, with a move towards installing public buses with CNG (compressed natural gas) fuel. This was not only a landmark in terms of green consciousness, but the supporting campaign ushered in an era of green communications.

Since then, the emergence of corporate responsibility by virtue of multi-national and global corporations has come of age. This started with ‘tokenistic’ campaigns such as the maintenance of small green areas, or tie ups with NGOs for environmental and social contributions. Only in recent times, has business woken to the concept of inculcating ‘green’ thought in all its business practices. The communication and motivation of this green thought still rests in building favourable corporate reputation through green credentials.

Green consumer behaviour in India is still limited to the upper middle class or upper socio-economic strata. Consumers are now conscious about their green value of their purchases, which has been aided by successful communication campaigns. India is a price sensitive market, and thus marketers face the challenge to promote their green focus as a substantial value addition. Furthermore, with the diverse socio-economic, geographic and seasonal variations, consumer preferences and attitudes differ from North to South and East to West. Therefore, marketers sometimes have to present their ‘green’ ideas with an underlying relevant social cause.

An early and successful example of such ‘focused’ communication is a campaign by Unilever, for their detergent brand ‘Surf Excel Quick Wash’. Launched in 2005, this was initially a regional campaign for the state of Tamil Nadu, which faced acute water shortages. The campaign introduced Surf Excel’s Quick Wash variety, which produced lesser foam and thus, required lesser water for rinsing. Ultimately, this translated in lesser water usage (and wastage!), which struck a chord with the water thirsty state. There was also an economic undercurrent, as the residents paid a premium for each bucket of water they used. The brand chose a well known South Indian actress and activist as the face of their campaign. Following the success of the brand’s launch in this state, the brand rolled out their national campaign on similar lines. The company roped in well recognised national activist Shabana Azmi for their campaign, with the tagline ‘Ab do bucket paani rozaana hai bachana’ (Now we have to save two buckets of water everyday). Watch the TV commercial at:

This ad demonstrates that green credentials are not enough to promote a product, but also need a more relevant consumer ‘connect’. In a country with a growing number of millionaires and increasing personal disposable income, consumers are more likely to spend their growing wealth on a higher standard of living. In other words, this translates to ‘buying more, spending more, wasting more’.

One of the bigger moves in the environmentally conscious consumption reflects the technology sector. India has been a dumping ground for e-waste, and now companies such as Nokia and HCL have launched initiatives to take back obsolete technology, and recycle them as possible. However, this concept is finding slow acceptance with consumers – for the moment.

While business focuses on green as a means of enhancing their brand image, it is the public sector and NGOs that are the forefront of campaigns towards actual change. One of the best campaigns (and very innovative) was a recent campaign by a charity situated in Bangalore, India by the name of ‘Trees for Free’. The organisation launched a very interesting outdoor marketing campaign, through Ogilvy, which showcased the many benefits of trees, and thus encourage tree plantation. Their campaign included suspending star burst shaped cut outs from trees in the largest and most popular park in the city. They also used existing logged wood to create fund raising boxes, which were then situated in various locations in the city, as in the picture above. Needless to say – they got the message across. For more information and pictures of their campaign, visit their Flickr photostream.

Communication agencies in India are waking up to the challenge of promoting green campaigns, and the need to tie them into larger causes. Interestingly though, the media itself has been responsible for the increased consciousness about the green consumer thought. Currently, communications agencies, together with businesses, agencies, NGOs and the public sector, have enabled some progress into green consumerism. However, there is still some way to go before Indian consumers give the ‘green light’ to accepting higher priced organic and fair trade goods.

Posted by Sveccha Kumar

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