Sustainability efforts get more rewarding

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Not too long ago, many multichannel merchants showed their commitment to the environment by including recycled paper in their catalogs and holding Earth Day promotions. However, with concern about the environment reaching across so much of the population, many retailers are now looking for new ways to tell their story, while giving consumers green choices at the same time.

"We are seeing some of this green trend seep into loyalty programs," says Kelly Hlavinka, director at Colloquy, Cincinnati.

One retailer already doing this is Aveda. The company's Pure Privilege members can redeem points for the purposes of planting a tree, a one-of-a-kind handbag made from recycled Aveda magazines or jewelry made from recycled Aveda bottle glass.

"This is a natural extension of what many of these companies are already doing to help the environment," Hlavinka says. Aveda is known for natural products that are sourced from all over the world. The company also donates millions of dollars to environmental causes through the sale of its products.

Expanding loyalty options
There are two primary reasons why a multichannel merchant would want to give shoppers a green option as part of its loyalty program, Hlavinka says. One is that there is a move toward offering customers more choices for how they can redeem points. Also, retailers may be trying to enlist new customers in the program with these offerings.

Merchants are also using affiliate marketing to expand their support of environmental causes while rewarding consumers.

RecycleBank, a Philadelphia-based private company, offers a program in several areas in Pennsylvania and Delaware in which homeowners earn RecycleBank dollars based on how much they recycle. The company provides homeowners with a garbage can embedded with a computer chip. This enables the collection trucks to calculate the weight of the recycled material and credit the appropriate home.

Consumers can track their RecycleBank dollars online and redeem them for coupons good towards purchases with participating retailers, including Omaha Steaks, The Sharper Image, EMS, eToys, Borders, Whole Foods and IKEA. RecycleBank is hoping to bring the program to New England soon.

The average amount of recycled material per household reportedly increases when RecycleBank comes to town and there is no cost to marketers to participate in the program since RecycleBank generates its revenue by helping cities offset their landfill disposal fees.

When it comes to multichannel merchants' green marketing efforts, "the online business is where the growth is the most dynamic," says Shawn Draper, VP at brand communications agency Imre Communications.

With a significant portion of conversation about the environment taking place online, marketers are using blogs, SEO and SEM to reference their sustainability programs and green products with the hope of being included in the conversation, Draper says. Leveraging this kind of viral marketing is most dynamic when done in partnership with brick-and-mortar stores, he continues.

Earth Choice, a new line of environmentally friendly household cleaning products developed in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, uses blogs to raise awareness. The line's "success with consumers online and in blogs is driving sales in store," Draper says.

Home Depot, which sells the products, is learning just how powerful a combination the Internet and green marketing can be. Its Eco Options microsite, launched in April, has quickly become the company's most popular. Its launch coincided with the introduction of the Eco Options product classification on more than 3,000 Home Depot items.

An online education
"We know that our customers are looking to be more environmentally conscious and we want to give them the tools and the products to do that," says Jean Niemi, senior manager, corporate communications, Home Depot.

The Internet is a great educational tool, she continues. "A great majority of our customers go on our Web site to research our products before they come into the store," Niemi says.

The microsite contains features such as a Home Efficiency Audit. After answering questions, the consumer gets suggestions to save money and energy, with options to buy products online or find them at a local store.

Other calculators have been added throughout the site, including one that tells consumers the benefit to the environment and cost savings if they change air filters.

Evo, a multichannel skiing and snowboarding apparel merchant in Seattle, is also using the Internet to boost its environmental platform. The company hosts environmental events at its store in Seattle, works with Carbon Fund to offset the carbon emissions of its store and has incentives in place for its employees to bike to work or purchase lower-emission vehicles. Last winter, it launched a program that gives customers the option to offset the carbon emission of their online shipments for an additional charge of 50 cents.

About 7.5 percent of orders take advantage of this option, says Will Swales, sales manager and head of the Evo's corporate responsibility initiatives. However, when on Earth Day, Evo offered to triple-match customer's contributions, that number rose to 15 percent. "This shows that customers want to see that we are practicing what we preach," Swales states.

With this in mind, Evo's goal this year is to develop a report card that tracks the year-over-year improvements in its environmental impact and publish it on the Web.

The Sundance Catalog is the latest multichannel merchant to try to bring an environmental message to a brick-and-mortar store. In June, Sundance opened the first of a planned national roll out of retail locations, which will include 20 stores over the next four years. The Denver flagship was designed to reflect the brand's commitment to supporting environmental sensibility, and was constructed with recycled woods.

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