At an talk last night someone who works with a major brand of tea asked whether, since their client had missed the boat on organic and on fair trade but were now catching up on both... if there was any point in considering green marketing? Surely it was a compliance issue. The world had moved on, standards had changed. This brand was not leading or establishing a point of difference it was just keeping pace.
As I said on the night they could be right and there is no need for every brand in the world to jump on this bandwagon without careful thought about their motivations and the extent to which they have got their house in order. It certianly is a compliance issue if you have areas of the business which need to be much more sustainable and if you promote virtue without putting these right you are asking for trouble.
However on reflection I feel there is actually loads of scope for a mainstream tea brand and in a way it's a neat example to illustrate the points in the green marketing grid (see previous posts, my new book or indeed my talk last night).
1. setting new standards. It may not be new to Love Tea or Clipper but if they were the first mainstream brand to embrace fair trade and/or organic that actually would be very big news. Just as M&S going all free range (even in their pasta) or being the first to stock organic cotton was new for the mainstream only. What this sort of thing does is make people feel better about a mainstream brand they already buy, it reinforces loyalty.
2. setting other new standards. Carbon neutral, bleach free paper, 100% post consumer recycled packaging etc.
3. educating customers. How tea is made - in the age when 20% of kids didnt know sausages come from farms. It's one of those things you vaguely learned in geography at school. A fair trade programme back up with documentaries or web content about all the people involved, the history of tea (I read a book on that once, it's fascinating too) could be very involving. Dole have that scheme where you can use a code on the product to find out about the exact farm the fruit was grown at.
4. health. Tea vs coffee. Tea is good. It has less caffeeine, it keep you hydrated, it has ingredients (theophylines & stuff) which relax the central nervous system, its an antioxidant (against cancer) it is kills germs too. We should all drink a bit more tea and a bit less coffee. Who better than a big tea brand to lead the charge against all those endless coffee shop coffees?
5. The kettle. One of the common little things you can do (like changing lightbulbs) is only fill the kettle with enough water for your cup of tea, rather than overfilling the kettle and heating water you dont use. We make so much tea that this makes a surprising difference. You could also talk about using lemon juice to descale your kettle regularly (scaled up kettles waste energy, lemon is nicer than descaling agents).
6. Composting. What does everyone do with their 20 odd tea bags per household per day? they chuck them in the bin. What should they do? they should put them in a composting bin. What could a tea brand do? Bring out a branded composting bin and market these in a promotion. It might be quite a good promotion and also make the brand look up to date. It would also do a great job to normalise composting (big tea brands arent green and wierd so it must be quite normal).
7. Back to the leaf. I make leaf tea, and have done for many years just because I prefer it. But it is way greener too. Less manufacturing process, less bulk to transport & hence fewer emissions, less materials (the paper), more tea (the drink) per tea (the leaf). It's also sociable, you make a pot to share. You'd reduce the environmental impact of your brand if you encouraged more people to go back to the leaf.
8. Really cool new web 2.0 stuff. Some guys I am working with (ONZO - it's going to be a very cool series of such initiatives, do look out for their website and register when it goes live in the next few days) are planning a scheme which tells people in offices across the country when exactly to make tea, based on the loading of the national grid. This will even out power usage and waste less in electricity generation.
So you see, even if you are a big tea brand and are playing catch up on organic and fair trade ranges, there is really quite a lot you could do, if you really wanted to. :J