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Eco-Activists, Execs Engage in a Battle for the Brand
By: Jeff Louis
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Brands are under extreme pressure these days.

There is Internal strife that stems from inconsistent creative executions that don’t exude brand essence. There is the brand's image and how it affects everyone in the company. Plus, there is always brand equity to worry about. These concerns often lead to talk of and disagreements over a rebranding effort.

It’s enough to cause a bleeding ulcer, and the pain is constant.
While the internal pain is bad, the extreme pressure from external sources proves excruciating. Everyone -- from journalists and bloggers to government offices to watchdog groups -- attempts to determine a brand's future.  

Let’s not forget about the eco-activists. While I’m sure that no one wants to turn our planet into a toxic dump, don’t they realize the cost of sustainable packaging? 

Millions, and maybe billions, of dollars need to be allocated for new equipment, installation, and training as a result of implementation. 
Executives likely are environmentally conscious people; everyone seemingly has moved in that direction. However, when it comes to answering shareholders, most would have to admit it’s every man or woman for himself or herself. Picket lines, boycotts, smear campaigns, and negative publicity ensue because of a Styrofoam cup or an aluminum can. It's not the company's fault; they didn't invent them. 
Admittedly, activists can be a huge pain. However, their actions often can be quite impressive, too. While some are out in the ocean ramming tankers, the innovators take the the road less traveled. Eco-friendly activists definitely think outside the environment. Instead of going mano a mano with Goliath, they attack from the inside. Once disregarded, some are now shareholders in major corporations, and they’re steering their respective companies toward responsibility. 
Starbucks committed to using only reusable coffee cups by 2015. However, one of their shareholder groups spoke up and asked for the specific numbers. They simply wanted to know the plan.
The shareholder group, As You Sow, formed in 1992 and spun off their Corporate Social Responsibility Program. It uses shareholders to steer publicly held companies to positive environmental changes. To date, As You Sow has led "25 shareholder solicitation campaigns moving numerous companies towards greater environmental sustainability and social equity.”
http://thesoftlandingbaby.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/bpa_free_safer_cans.jpgExecutives may not enjoy this guerrilla warfare, but I bet they admire the thinking behind it and most likely canned their strategic-planning group as a result. 
In a similar move, As You Sow, Domini Social Investments, and Trillium Asset Management Corp. did the same thing at Coca-Cola, filing a shareholder proposal that requested Coke to issue a report by September 2010 on the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in its products. Coke uses BPA in its bottles and the inner lining for aluminum cans.

Consumer groups and the FDA are investigating for possible health effects. During Coke’s annual shareholder meeting, “a representative from Domini Social Investments presented information on the potential risks of the chemical, pointing out that some manufacturers have eliminated BPA from baby and sports bottles, and some U.S. states and cities have banned the use of BPA in certain food and beverage packages.” 
Although they lost with 22 percent of shareholder agreement, the battle continues.

According to As You Sow, “These numbers are encouraging because, admittedly, it’s challenging to get affirmative votes. In fact, the SEC requires just three percent shareholder approval to revisit the subject at the next year’s meeting. “
Coke, in an effort to reassure shareholders and stave off costs related to finding a new inner lining for their cans, stated an adult would have to consume at least 7,400 12 ounce cans per day to get close to the BPA limit the government imposed.  
While corporate responsibility did not win the day, it certainly got Coke’s attention, as well as that of their competitors who use the same chemical, and signaled a different type of corporate takeover is afoot.



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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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