While many corporations leverage the Internet to distribute information about environmental initiatives, a few companies are going much further by facilitating two-way dialogue with stakeholders.
Some companies may view such dialogue – via email, web forums, chat rooms and video - as risky, as it may open them up to public scrutiny. Moreover, this sentiment may be especially true today for those brands that compete in carbon-intensive industries.
Nonetheless, companies that are bold enough to enter into a dialogue tend to find that the rewards outweigh the risks. Dialogue creates a direct channel to stakeholders that can be used to gather feedback, build credibility, and engender more loyalty by showing a more human side of the company.
In other cases, companies are using dialogue to activate stakeholders – including customers, suppliers, employees, partners and shareholders – as change agents by soliciting new ideas.
There are several examples of dialogue in the environmental space. Here are just a few:
British Telecom. It seems that on most corporate sites today, users are hard pressed to find a specific contact to forward their concerns to, let along an email address that does not deliver to a general mailbox.
BT is different in this regard as it offers a detailed listing of contact names and email addresses to send questions specifically regarding corporate social responsibility, corporate environment programs and environmental supply chain management.
Shell: Shell periodically conducts webcasts with senior-level executives on topics such as its annual Sustainability Report. Interviews address questions solicited from stakeholders via email.
Dell: When Michael Dell declared that he wanted to build the “greenest PC on earth,” his company launched IdeaStorm as a platform to solicit “direct feedback from, [its] customers, suppliers and stakeholders” on how to do just that. Moreover, IdeaStorm engages its stakeholders as change agents by encouraging them to promote their ideas and discuss them online with Dell and other users.
General Motors: Chevrolet just announced a bold move in the green space by inviting the public to enter into a direct dialogue regarding GM flagship division and actions that it is taking to reduce its environmental impact. Through a New York Times advertisement, Beth Lowery, GM Vice President for Environment, Energy and Safety Policy asked the public to “talk” with Chevy about mutual concerns for the environment and what Chevy is doing to address them.
Lowery asks the public to submit questions through a New York Times microsite that will be published in the Friday Op/Ed section.
While many marketers perceive direct dialogue as too risky, many companies have fully engaged with stakeholders on many sensitive topics including the environment. For many, a direct channel to the customer provides a way to generate feedback as well as to solicit new ideas. Others focus on creating a more human way to connect with stakeholders.
Regardless, dialogue is consistent with key attributes of leading green brands including accountability, transparency and credibility. More companies need to overcome their fear of potential negative feedback and join the dialogue on green issues. If done correctly, dialogue will more likely mitigate than engender consumer backlash in the future.
(Full disclosure: GM is a Digitas client)