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Pinterest has been the latest craze in social networking. According to site analytics, Pinterest popularity has exploded from 1.2 million users in August, to over 7 million today. The budding social network has proven to be more than a fad, gaining over $27 million in venture funds.

What is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets users organize and share images that they find on the web. Pictures, or pins, are organized onto boards that categorize them into themes. The pictures then link back to the original site where users can find more content. To learn more about the network, Mashable’s Pinterest: A Beginner’s Guide  is a great resource.

Beyond its mainstream appeal, the network has the potential to be particularly valuable for green businesses. Organizations undertaking green initiatives are constantly trying to make environmentalism fit within the larger scope of business. Pinterest is the perfect platform to visually show the many facets of their brand personality. More specifically, it allows businesses to engage their stakeholders while displaying how their environmental consciousness fits into the mix.

Pinerest Best Practices for Green Business

1. Encourage Reuse Through DIY & Craft Boards

Pinterest Green DIY

What better way to encourage reuse than through creativity? DIY pinboards hold great value for green businesses creating a Pinterest presence. These boards allow users to upload pictures of ways to reuse products. For the fashionista, what better way to recycle old T-shirts than to make them headbands or scarves. Encourage Home décor enthusiasts to make wreathes out of the packaging materials of your product. Rather than contributing to the cycle of consumption, this creates a mindset of reuse and environmental consciousness.

2. Display Different Sides of Your Brand Through Pinboards

Whole Foods Pinterest Board

It is unlikely that being green encompasses the entire personality of a brand. However, if the organization is making environmental strides then it should have at least one environmentally inspired board. Pins on that board should be eye-catching and provide interesting content.

3. Make It Social

Pinterest Contributors

Give users an incentive for following the brand by allowing them to contribute to select boards. This is  a great way to build relationships with pinners that are influential about the environment. You can gauge a pinner’s influence by looking at the number of people that follow their boards. Also, it  can be a way to reward Pinterest users for liking and commenting on the organization’s pins.

4. Remember to Link

Linking the pins to sites is a great way to drive traffic and raise awareness of environmental issues and initiatives. It is important to remember that Pinterest etiquette clearly states that it is not a platform for self-promotion. Make sure the picture and description clearly represent where the link will take you. No one likes to be deceived or spammed.

5. Create Environmental Awareness Through Contests and Challenges

Timberland Earthkeeping and Pinterest

Green businesses have the opportunity to engage their stakeholders with innovative Pinterest challenges. After unsuccessfully trying to find examples of green businesses taking advantage of Pinterest contests, I came up with a few ideas of my own. Jones Soda could challenge users to pin pictures of their most creative ways to reuse soda bottles. Timberland is currently running a social media campaign dedicated to “Earthkeeping.” The footwear giant could inspire pinners to upload pictures of footprints in the destinations that they hope to protect.

(Follow me on Pinterest!)

No one suggests that writing about science will turn the entire world into a model of judgment and creative thought. It will be enough if they spread the knowledge as widely as possible.

- Isaac Asimov

TreeHugger and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have announced the launch of their third annual World Environment Day Blogging Competition. Bloggers, journalists, photographers and environmentalists are encouraged to compete to win a trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to attend World Environment Day 2012, June 3 – 6. The winner will travel with Treehugger and UNEP to help cover the event.Green Blogging

 

Contestants simply have to blog about the 2012 World Environment Day theme – the Green Economy – between now and February 12th. The top 10 best posts will then be chosen to compete in a second round of competition. More information including the official rules, submission guidelines and FAQ are available on the UNEP website.

 

Once again Treehugger and UNEP have reaffirmed the fact that there is a valuable place for writers and communicators in the environmental movement. Write on.

Facebook is taking new steps towards a commitment to sustainability by announcing its plan to launch the “Social Energy” App. Through partnership with the National Resource Defence Council and Opower, the application will allow users to monitor their energy usage and increase their energy efficiency. To make things more interesting, the users will compete to reduce their energy bills. The NRDC states that the application will be available early next year.

According to the NRDC, the focus on energy efficiency will encourage the same level of comfort, just using less energy and waste.

Five Initial Features of the Social Energy App:

  • Compare Energy Use Among Facebook Friends:  People will be able to invite friends to compare their energy use against their own, show how energy efficient they are and provide information on how to improve their efficiency.
  • Compare Energy Use to Similar Homes:  Users will be able to compare their home energy use to similar homes in a national database.
  • Share Energy Information on the Facebook Newsfeed: People will be able to contribute information about their energy use, rank, and involvement.
  • Group Collaboration:  Communities of users will be able to form teams to help each other reach collective goals and compete against other groups.
  • Automatically Import Energy Data:  Customers of participating utility companies will be able to automatically import their energy data into the application. For customers of utilities that are not participating, energy usage information can be entered into the app manually.

The Other Side of Facebook’s Social Energy

In the past, Facebook has been criticized of greenwashing by environmental activist groups. Most famously, they were targeted in Greenpeace’s Unfriend Coal campaign. Since February 2010, Greenpeace has been campaigning Facebook to stop using coal power and commit to 100% renewable energy.

Facebook Unfriend Coal Campaign

Greenpeace's Unfriend Coal Photo Contest

Sparking the initiative was Facebook’s announcement to build a large data center to serve the millions of Facebook users. The center was set to be full of new energy efficient technology, but be run on coal-powered electricity, the largest source of air pollution in the world according to Greenpeace. The campaign reaches far beyond Facebook, and represents the IT sector’s increasing demand for energy.  

“At current growth rates data centers and telecommunication networks, the two key components of the cloud Facebook depends on, will consume about 1,963 billion kilowatts hours of electricity in 2020. That’s more than triple their current consumption and more than the current electricity consumption of France, Germany, Canada and Brazil combined.” – Greenpeace

The campaign currently has over 700,000 Facebook supporters world-wide. One of the demands of Greenpeace’s campaign against Facebook calls for the social media giant to become an environmental advocate. More specifically, the group wants Facebook to become an advocate for energy efficiency at the local, national and international level. The new Social Energy app seems curiously parallel to the activist demands.  As Facebook is stepping out as an energy efficiency leader, one can only hope that the trend will go viral among other IT giants.

First order of business – let’s put an end to the top three misconceptions about eco-fashion. Eco-clothing doesn’t mean you have to wear lettuce. Your wardrobe will not be primarily green or earth tones. Lastly, it will not have the style of a burlap sack. In fact, eco-clothing can be extremely fashionable.

Eco-Fashion Week

Styles from the first eco-friendly fashion week in Portland, Oregon.

Admittedly new to eco-fashion myself, I have set out to decipher the intracacies of the industry. How can an industry that sustains itself on transforming a “want” to a “need” be environmentally friendly?

According to STEP (The Sustainable Technology Education Project) eco-fashion clothes:

  • Are made using organic raw materials
  • Don’t involve the use of harmful chemicals or bleach to color fabrics
  • Are often made from recycled or reused textiles
  • Are made to last, so people use them longer
  • Come from fair trade

What triggered this investigation was the recent launch of H&M’s advertising campaign for their ‘Conscious Collection.’ My initial reaction was a fit of excitement that eco-clothing was going mainstream. The line features items for men, women and children made from environmentally-adapted and greener materials, such as organic cotton, Tencel and recycled polyester. Even more exciting, the collection stays consistent with H&M’s record of affordability.

However, my research quickly uncovered that H&M’s recent sustainable actions might be just as much of a strategic PR move as they are an environmentally conscious effort. In January 2010, H&M came under media scrutiny for reportedly destroying and dumping unused merchandise in the street. The New York Times reported that bags of unworn, cut clothing were found outside of the 35th St. store in New York City.

Lily Cole - Save the Future Campaign

Lily Cole in the Save the Future Campaign

Why might a store destroy and dump it’s merchandise, you might ask? The industry’s attitude towards waste is reflected in comments made by managing director of the clothing label, Lyle & Scott, when suggesting he would rather ‘burn’ the company’s excess stock than recycle it or give it to charity. Many companies don’t want to diminish their ‘brand’ by selling their merchandise at a discount, or further by giving it away.

British model and eco-designer, Lily Cole, recently addressed the oxymoronic nature of ethical fashion to Guardian Newspaper in the UK. She pointed out that the cyclic nature of fashion is inherently wasteful. The industry is built around fast turnover, consumerism and constant trends. However, eco-fashion provides a way to grow the industry in a sustainable and ethical way.

Textile waste is not a new concern. In fact, it has been building up in in landfills for decades, with 1.2 million tons in the UK alone. The chemicals used to process textiles can release harmful toxins into the environment when decomposing. Producing these fashion trends also consumes valuable resources. One company estimated that it takes as much as 8,000 liters of water to grow the cotton for just one pair of jeans. So, think twice before throwing that denim in the trash.

Fashion is a great avenue of self-expression. So, why not express that you care for the environment? Oh, and you’ll look good too.

Three things you can expect in April: the Easter Bunny, rain and a heap of green advertising. The 2011 Earth Day celebration will take place on April 22nd and will bring out the best in organizations promoting their most creative green strides. It is also a time when PR professionals are expected to promote and communicate green initiatives, even if they have no environmental familiarity.Earth Day 2011

In order to communicate effectively, professionals must reconcile environmental jargon, complex issues, such as global warming, and their organization’s relationship with environmental regulations. Inability to consider these concepts can hinder the communication of the message and make a company susceptible to greenwashing criticism. The capitalist temptation to generate profit from Earth Day marketing can also pose the threat of greenwashing backlash.

The New York Times summarized the problem saying, “So strong was the anti-busines sentiment for the First Earth Day in 1970 that organizer’s took no money from corporations and held teach-ins ‘to challenge corporate and government leaders’…Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services, like office products, Greek yogurt and eco-dentistry.”

The slew of green marketing begs the question – are organizations simply doing good or capitalizing on it? I can think of various holidays that allow companies to make a buck, but eco-minded consumers and the planet should not be exploited. The best campaigns raise awareness rather than capitalize on the opportunity by offering environmental incentives with a purchase. However, there are some organizations that have learned to perfect this balance.

The Earth Day Nice List:

  1.  Starbucks – When you bring a travel cup into your local Starbucks on April 22nd, you will receive free coffee or tea. This promotion encourages less paper and plastic consumption, while complimenting Starbuck’s continuous environmental responsibility.
  2. Target – You could win the ‘Refresh Your Nest’ sweepstakes and receive a $50,000 sustainable home makeover. Also, the stores are highlighting green products during the entire month of April.
  3. IKEA – The IKEA store in Tempe, Arizona is offering free breakfast and a T-shirt to anyone who bikes to work or school on April 22nd. In addition, by bringing your used plastic bags into the store you will receive a free reusable shopping bag.

While commitment to sustainability goes beyond being green for one day, Earth Day offers a global opportunity to stop and think about how your organization affects the environment, and the steps that you can take to become more environmentally responsible.

Classifying the following gadgets as crazy is far from a stretch. However, determining whether these gizmos are crazy cool or crazy ridiculous can only be decided by consumers. One thing I know for sure is that there are some green-minded and extremely creative people developing interesting products.

Source: International Energy Association (IEA)

Estimated electricity consumption in the residential sector from “information and communication technologies” and “consumer electronics,” 1990-2030.

Technology has become a large part of our daily lives. In fact, the global gadget habit is seen by many as an opponent of sustainability. With millions of tons of electronic waste being produced each year, e-waste has become a mounting global problem. Therefore, it is vital that we think outside of the box to create biodegradable and energy efficient alternatives to the products we use in our daily lives.

1. Orange Power Wellies – Feet Powered Gadget Charger

EnviroGadget: Orange Power Wellies

This gadget takes a new approach at sustainable energy by using the heat of your feet. The boots harness enough energy from the heat to power small electronic devices. It takes approximately 12 hours to produce enough energy to charge your cellphone for an hour.

2. MetaCell – Portable BatteryEnviroGadget: MetaCell

This portable battery charger is powered by saltwater or even more accessible – urine! It is simply ready for use anywhere. Rumored to be developed for the South Korean military, the battery combines the chemical properties of magnesium with the sodium in saltwater or urine to create a low voltage current. The battery generates enough electricity to power flashlights or even laptops.

3. Edible Christmas Cards

EnviroGadget: Edible Christmas Card

Are you one of those people who have a hard time letting go of really sentimental cards? Don’t throw it away…just eat it! A British design company has created edible sprout and potato-based Christmas cards. The cards are printed with food coloring rather than ink. It is a great way to speed up compost!

4. Waterpebble – Shower Usage Monitor

EnviroGadget: Water Pebble

Do you have that one pesky roommate that uses up all of the hot water? Do you shudder at your water bills? The creators of the waterpebble have found a convenient way to monitor your shower usage. The pebble uses three lights to display whether you have used too much, just enough or a planet-saving amount of water. The waterpebble records the amount of water consumed the first time that the monitor is used. It then subtracts a minimal amount each time you shower to gradually determine what is “just enough” and minimize your water consumption.

5. Biopac Biodegradable Pint TumblersEcoGadget: Biopac Biodegradable Pint Tumblers

Perhaps the best green gadgets are not the most complex, but rather the simplest and most useful. Pictures of college parties are littered with infamous red party cups. This eco-pint is a great alternative to petrochemical based plastic cups. The tumbler material is derived from corn starch and is 100% biodegradable and compostable. You can now be the coolest and greenest one at the party.

Green Jobs

Image Credit: Examiner.com

Is it possible that a healthier environment can contribute to a healthier economy? Sounds like a win-win to me. During his presidential election, President Obama promised to invest $150 billion dollars over the next 10 years to create 5 million new green jobs. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics’  upcoming 2012 national survey of green jobs, it will be possible to see the landscape of the green economy and opportunity for sustainability-minded communication professionals.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as:

  • Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
  • Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

When you think of environmental jobs, PR is probably not the first to come to mind. Although much of the green job revolution has been focused on valuable green-collar jobs, there is an undeniable place for PR in this mix. The role of public relations in the environmental movement goes beyond the spin and connection to greenwashing that some associate with it. The need for better communication of environmental issues can be seen in Suzanne Shelton’s annual study of consumer attitudes toward environmental issues.

Let’s test your green consumer knowledge. Which of the following environmental terms do you believe resonate most strongly with consumers?

  1. Conservation
  2. Green
  3. Energy Efficiency
  4. Sustainable

If you guessed “2-green”, you are way off. Shelton’s research revealed that only 61.5% of consumers have a positive association with the word “green.” The correct answer is “3-energy efficiency,” with 88.2% indicating a positive association with the term. 63% of participants feel positively about “sustainable,” and 74% feel positively about “conservation.”

Green PR

Image Credit: The Green Market

Shelton reasoned that “energy efficiency” trumped the rest because it is a term that consumers understand. Being energy efficient is an easy task that consumers can actually do. But what does it mean to be “green?” To some this term might simply be too broad. It is scattered all over advertising and product claims. Shelton believes that “green” has become a term strongly associated with boosting sales.

What does this mean for PR practitioners?

It is time for PR to move past marketing buzz to effectively and meaningfully communicate environmental issues with the public. Public awareness was listed last, but not least, in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ five categories of green jobs. The need to create a more environmentally informed public goes beyond public affairs to socially responsible corporations.

Regulations such as cap-and-trade have a strong effect on many U.S. companies and their employees. It is vital that communication professionals understand environmental concepts, so they can communicate effectively on behalf of their organizations.

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