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Archive for the ‘green marketing’ Category

In a story in Wednesday’s New York Times, I write about how Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm, ran a successful successful fundraising campaign to help the climate change-endangered American pika by using Foursquare and location-based advertising:

SAN FRANCISCO

IN a city passionate about the environment and technology, commuters are using their smartphones to check in at a popular social networking service to help keep a critter threatened by climate change from checking out.

“What does it take to help save the endangered pika? About 20 seconds,” read ads from Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm, that line San Francisco transit stations and feature the cute rabbitlike American pika in its Sierra Nevada mountain redoubt. “Check in now at Foursquare at ‘Earthjustice ad.’ Every time you check in, an Earthjustice donor will donate $10 to protect endangered species.”

Foursquare, a rapidly growing social network, lets people use their mobile phones to announce their location to friends. When they arrive at a restaurant, bar or another site, they “check in” and can broadcast their whereabouts through other social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The Earthjustice campaign appears to be among the first to let people check in at a physical billboard, a tactic that has proved successful for the firm and could be attractive to other advertisers, according to industry analysts and Foursquare executives.

“Tying in location allows the advertiser to see which particular ads are more successful at prompting responses,” said Noah Elkin, a mobile marketing analyst at eMarketer, a New York research firm. “Plus, checking in allows each person to share what they think is important about the ad campaign. If they post their check-ins to Facebook and Twitter, you’ve reached a much broader audience.”

Earthjustice’s foray in location-based fund-raising began after the group was offered free ad space to run public service announcements at several Bay Area Rapid Transit stations.

“Foursquare was becoming very popular, especially here in San Francisco, and the BP oil spill had happened not too long before, so it was this perfect storm,” said Ray Wan, the marketing manager for Earthjustice, which is based in Oakland, Calif. “A lot of the time people are standing around BART checking their phones as they wait for their train, so it was a no-brainer to use Foursquare as way to get them to engage with the ads and support our work.”

Earthjustice persuaded one of its donors in the Bay Area, whom Mr. Wan described as “very progressive” but who wished to remain anonymous, to pledge $50,000 toward the experimental campaign.

Human Ideas, a Minneapolis firm, created the wall-size ad featuring the pika, which many biologists consider the animal most at risk in the continental United States from global warming. Earthjustice represents the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that is fighting to place the pika on state and federal endangered species lists.

The pint-size mammal lives mostly in mountainous areas in the western United States and Canada, and even a small spike in its body temperature is fatal. As temperatures have risen, pika populations have vanished from lower elevations, while other populations have remained stable. In February, federal officials declined to give endangered species status to the pika.

The ad for the pika is just one of three that Human Ideas has created for Earthjustice. Another ad, squeezed between billboards for banks and insurance companies, shows an offshore oil rig and declares, “Use your cellphone to drill the oil industry.” A third ad pictures Lake Tahoe, admonishing commuters, “Don’t just stand there. Stand there and help keep Tahoe’s water clean.”

“We want donor dollars to go to causes that are meaningful to Californians,” said Mr. Wan. “When you’re standing around in this urban environment, all the ads are for Starbucks or banks, so to see the pika staring at you turns your head.”

Commuters have checked in at the ads more than 5,700 times, meeting Earthjustice’s $50,000 fund-raising goal.

Many of those who use Foursquare automatically post their Earthjustice check-ins on their Twitter and Facebook pages, further spreading the group’s message.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: The White House

In The New York Times on Wednesday, I take a look at how the rapid rise of low-cost Chinese solar panel companies have forced Silicon Valley’s high-tech solar startups to retool for a global market they had not anticipated:

FREMONT, Calif. — A few years ago, Silicon Valley start-ups like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé dreamed of transforming the economics of solar power by reinventing the technology used to make solar panels and deeply cutting the cost of production.

Founded by veterans of the Valley’s chip and hard-drive industries, these companies attracted billions of dollars in venture capital investment on the hope that their advanced “thin film” technology would make them the Intels and Apples of the global solar industry.

But as the companies finally begin mass production — Solyndra just flipped the switch on a $733 million factory here last month — they are finding that the economics of the industry have already been transformed — by the Chinese. Chinese manufacturers, heavily subsidized by their own government and relying on vast economies of scale, have helped send the price of conventional solar panels plunging and grabbed market share far more quickly than anyone anticipated.

As a result, the California companies, once so confident that they could outmaneuver the competition, are scrambling to retool their strategies and find niches in which they can thrive.

“The solar market has changed so much it’s almost enough to make you want to cry,” said Joseph Laia, chief executive of MiaSolé. “We have spent a lot more time and energy focusing on costs a year or two before we thought we had to.”

The challenges come despite extensive public and private support for the Silicon Valley companies. Solyndra, one of the biggest firms, has raised more than $1 billion from investors. The federal government provided a $535 million loan guarantee for the company’s new robot-run, 300,000-square-foot solar panel factory, known as Fab 2.

“The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra,” President Obama said in May during an appearance at the then-unfinished factory.

But during the year that Solyndra’s plant was under construction, competition from the Chinese helped drive the price of solar modules down 40 percent. Solyndra rushed to start cranking out panels on Sept. 13, two months ahead of schedule, and it has increased marketing efforts to make the case to customers that Solyndra’s more expensive panels are cost-effective when installation charges are factored in.

“It definitely puts more pressure on us to bring our costs down as quickly as possible by ramping up volume,” said Ben Bierman, Solyndra’s executive vice president for operations and engineering, as driverless carts shuttled stacks of photovoltaic parts to large orange robots at Fab 1, the company’s original factory.

To be sure, Silicon Valley companies like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé continue to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in customer orders and some plan to expand local manufacturing. But the rapid rise of low-cost Chinese manufacturers has made investors — who once envisioned the region’s future as Solar Valley — skittish about backing new capital-intensive start-ups.

“I don’t see another Solyndra being done,” said Anup Jacob, whose private equity firm, Virgin Green Fund, has invested significantly in Solyndra. “It’s very difficult today to show a business plan to investors and say, ‘I need hundreds of millions to a billion dollars to get to scale.’ ”

In the third quarter of 2010, venture capital investment in solar companies plummeted to $144 million from $451 million in the year-ago quarter, according to the Cleantech Group, a San Francisco research firm.

The paucity of capital and the sheer size of Chinese solar panel makers have proved particularly problematic for companies like Solyndra and MiaSolé, which make photovoltaic cells using a material called copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS.

Unlike conventional solar cells, which are made from silicon wafers, CIGS cells can be deposited on glass or flexible materials, much as ink is printed on rolls of newspaper. Though the technology is less efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, the promise of “thin film” solar cells was that they could be made cheaply.

However, producing CIGS cells on a mass scale has turned out to be a formidable technological challenge, requiring the invention of specialized manufacturing equipment.

While Silicon Valley companies were working on the problem, silicon prices fell and Chinese companies like JA Solar, Suntech and Yingli Green Energy rapidly expanded production of conventional solar panels, supported by tens of billions of dollars in inexpensive credit from the Chinese government as well as other subsidies like cheap land.

Arno Harris, chief executive of Recurrent Energy, a San Francisco solar developer acquired by Sharp last month, said he chose to sign a supply deal with Yingli because the Chinese company offered low prices, quality products and financing.

“We realized that would enable us to bid competitive power prices from projects that could also be efficiently financed,” Mr. Harris said in an e-mail. “It may seem obvious to state it this simply, but declining prices are the key to driving the next era of demand for solar.”

Chinese solar panel makers now supply about 40 percent of the California market, the largest in the United States, and the bulk of the European market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm.

“We grow every year with double revenue and almost double capacity,” said Fang Peng, the chief executive of JA Solar, in a telephone interview from the company’s Shanghai headquarters. “At end of the year, we will have 1.8 gigawatts of capacity and will have grown from 4,000 employees at the beginning of this year to more than 11,000.”

By comparison, Solyndra expects to have a total production capacity of 300 megawatts by the end of 2011.

The competition from the Chinese has prompted some Silicon Valley companies, like AQT Solar, to pursue new strategies to survive.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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In Thursday’s New York Times, I write about a new guide to green products vetted by the city of San Francisco, which in 2005 instituted strict purchasing standards:

In 2005, the City of San Francisco instituted strict purchasing standards requiring municipal departments to buy products that met certain environmental, health and toxicity guidelines.

Now the city has put online the database it has developed over the past five years to serve as a resource for other cities as well as for corporate purchasing agents and consumers. Called the SF Approved List, the Web site lists more than 1,000 products, like bathroom disinfectants and computer keyboard cleaners, that do not emit greenhouse gases.

“It is quite difficult for purchasing agents to find environmentally preferable products,” Karl Bruskotter, environmental programs analyst with the City of Santa Monica, Calif., wrote in an e-mail. “Any vendor can offer a product or service and call it green, and the purchasing agent may not know how to ask the right questions to uncover whether or not the product really is green.”

For example, he said, it can be challenging to find a safer chemical product to remove graffiti. He noted that Santa Monica maintained its own green purchasing program. “I have looked at the San Francisco list and sought a distributor down here in L.A. to give to our staff for removing graffiti,” Mr. Bruskotter said.

Chris Geiger, the green purchasing manager for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said the city researched the environmental and health hazards for each product category.

Mr. Geiger said his team developed its list based on existing “eco-labels,” its own testing and by tapping a database of chemical hazards maintained by GoodGuide, an online consumer service. The city evaluates ingredients, energy efficiency and volume of recycled content. Rather than just compare various products, the environment department also researches environmentally preferred alternatives to using a particular product.

“The biggest difference between SF Approved and commercial guides is that this is coming from a government agency that has looked at products for its own use with an objective eye,” Mr. Geiger said.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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photo: Think

This post first appeared on Grist.

“Honey, could you run down to the store and pick up some milk, tofu and one of those new Think City electric cars?”

That could be a conversation you’ll be hearing soon in Switzerland (in French, German Italian and Romansh, of course) now that Norwegian electric automaker Think has struck a deal with Swiss retailer Migros to market the City.

Sort of a cooperatively owned Costco, Migros is Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain and operates more than 600 stores across the country. In a deal announced Wednesday, Migros will sell the battery-powered Think urban runabout through a new division called M-Way.

“We have the key central retail locations all over Switzerland and beyond, now we want to use these bases to spread the news and sales of electric vehicles such as the Think City,” Herbert Bolliger, President of the Federation of Migros Cooperatives, said in a statement.

The announcement caught my attention because it’s a reminder that, one, not all green tech innovation is destined to happen here in California, and two, business model innovation will be just as important as technology itself in transforming electric cars from a niche to a knockout.

From its reincarnation a few years ago under the leadership of then-chief executive Jan Olaf-Willums, Think sought not to sell so much a car as mobility. Internet-enabled and connected to your mobile phone and the power grid, the plastic-bodied City was designed to plug into the transportation and electric power networks rather than be just another isolated hunk of metal rolling down the road.

You might buy the City but lease it’s battery or drive one when needed through a car-sharing service like Zipcar. Or from your neighborhood grocery store.

James Andrews, a Think spokesman, told me that sales of the City will begin this summer at Migros supermarkets. M-Way will initially set up retail outlets at Migros stores in urban areas.

It’s a smart strategy to expose consumers to electric cars. After all, how often do you casually stroll through car dealerships, which, in the United States at least, tend to be isolated in “auto rows” off the beaten path.

Now how often do you pop down to Whole Foods or Safeway for a gallon of milk? You’re probably likely to check out the City or another electric car if you pass it on the way to the wine aisle. Maybe you’ll even take one for a test drive around the block.

Migros’ M-Way already has sold a fleet of 60 Citys to Alpmobil, an eco-tourism company that will provide them for the use of its guests at a resort in the Swiss Alps.

Back in the 1990s, Think leased a previous version of the City to San Francisco Bay Area residents as part of a pilot project that let them plug the cars in to charge at train stations. Among the Think early adopters was a guy named Sergey Brin.

San Francisco is likely to be among the first U.S. cities to receive shipments of the latest City when Think begins selling the car in America later this year. Who knows, you might even be able to buy one at the farmer’s market one day.

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image002There are a growing number of “green” software applications for the iPhone. One of the newest is an app that turns the gadget into an anemometer to clock wind speeds for those considering installing a backyard turbine. As I write in The New York Times on Thursday:

Thinking of putting a wind turbine in your backyard? Mariah Power is introducing a program that will let you measure the wind speed around your house by pointing your iPhone toward the sky.

The application uses the phone’s microphone to capture wind noise. It filters out ambient sound and an algorithm converts the result into a decibel rating that corresponds to wind speed, according to Bill Westerman, a principal at Create with Context, a Silicon Valley digital design company that developed the app for Mariah.

“If you go out in your backyard and do a few measurements it gives you a pretty good idea of the wind speed and tells you what kinds of things you could power with a wind turbine,” said Mr. Westerman.

Mariah, based in Reno, Nev., makes the Windspire, 1.2-kilowatt residential turbine with horizontal blades that looks more like a piece of modern art than a conventional windmill.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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northern-hairy-nosed-wombat-alan-horsup-qpws

photo: Alan Horsup, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

In the ultimate in green corporate branding, Swiss mining conglomerate Xstrata is spending millions of dollars to save one of the world’s most imperiled large mammals, Australia’s northern hairy-nosed wombat. It’s the first time a corporation has agreed to finance the recovery of an endangered species, and in return Xstrata gets its name on everything from wombat websites to educational DVDs to the shirts worn by wildlife workers. Not to mention lots of green goodwill.

My story on Xstrata and the northern hairy-nosed wombat appears in the March 23 issue of Time Magazine. (See “Wombat Love” and the accompanying photo gallery.)

Only about 115 northern hairy-nosed wombats — a nocturnal, bearlike burrowing marsupial — survive in a single colony at Epping Forest National Park in a remote part of Queensland. The Xstrata money is paying for the creation of a second colony some 700 kilometers away as an insurance policy against a calamity at Epping that could wipe out the species.

I’ve been following the efforts of a small band of dedicated wildlife officials, led by conservation officer Alan Horsup, to save the northern hairy-nosed for the past couple of years. I have been privileged on a few occasions to encounter the extremely reclusive critter, which has rarely even been photographed. (Warren Clarke, who took the photos for my Time Magazine story, captured some of the best shots of the northern hairy-nose ever taken.)

Below is a video I shot of a wombat grazing during my most recent visit to Epping in January. It’s not the best quality but is notable for the fact that once we spotted the wombat it did not disappear down a burrow but let us get an extended glimpse of its behavior.

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Fortune associate editor Julie Schlosser reports from Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference:

PASADENA, Calif — Consumers are feeling the pressure to go green. And it’s hard to ignore. Drinking bottled water is a definite no no. Flying across the country? Buy offsets. The consumer is being bombarded with green marketing and advertising and the result might not be what you expected. All this green guilt and messaging just might be making consumers more skeptical about the growing assortment of green products.

When polled, most consumers overwhelmingly say they want to buy green, according to Joel Makower, head of Greener World Media and author of The Green Consumer. But they aren’t actually doing it. According to the research, Makower says, “If it is green, consumers assume it isn’t good.” And that means, in many cases, green products are entering the marketplace with a deficit.

That was part of the discussion at Monday afternoon’s panel, “The Green Consumer: Myth or reality?” Andrew Shapiro, founder and CEO of GreenOrder, a strategic consulting firm that works with big brands such as GE (GE), GM (GM), Starwood (HOT) and Office Depot (ODP), moderated the panel that included Stonyfield Farm founder Gary Hirschberg, Elizabeth Lowery of GM, and Makower.

Hirschberg, the CE-Yo (yes, you read that correctly) of Stonyfield Farm, the world’s largest organic yogurt company, has a fun story to tell. He took organic yogurt into the mainstream long before organics were cool, and he has built a $300 million-per-year business along the way. He has also managed to incorporate green principles throughout the product’s life cycle. “But we don’t even use the word green when we describe what we do,” he pointed out.

Still, he argues, there is obviously a green consumer. “But we think they are more focused on quality.” And the quality does something that millions of dollars in advertising can’t. It creates loyalty, says Hirschberg. “And if loyalty comes from an emotional place, authenticity is the key to creating it.”

What consumers are showing us is that if your company has a high “talk-to-do ratio” when it comes to going or being green, you’ll lose the consumer’s trust immediately. By adopting a sense of humility and focusing on communicating honestly with your consumers, Hirschberg argues, companies can build loyalty.

So how does a company build such a relationship with their customer? By offering them a premium product and one that isn’t just greener, but tastes better, lasts longer, or is more aesthetically pleasing. And as the economy continues to slow, the best way to get a consumer to go green is to give them the goods for less.

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