Silk Soymilk and The Bonneville Environmental Foundation

Wind-Powered Cause Marketing

As I write this, I don’t know exactly where the electricity that powers my computer comes from. I live in Utah and a good deal of electrical power is generated from locally-mined coal. So it could have come from a relatively dirty source like that.

I’m about five miles away from a canyon stream where there’s been a small hydroelectric plant for more than 80 years. Environmentally-speaking, that’s quite clean. Moreover, this part of the American West is dotted with super-sized hydroelectric plants. So it could have come from one of those sources, too. Or maybe a nuclear or solar power plant.

Illustrated above is an interesting cause-related marketing and sweepstakes campaign from Silk, the soymilk which is positioned against its competition in two main ways.

The first is that it’s kept in the refrigerator case near the dairy milk and thereby tastes more like cow’s milk. Soymilk doesn't have to be refrigerated. Silk, in fact has a line of soymilk that is "shelf stable" and requires no refrigeration until it's opened. But most Americans find cold milk the most palatable. That positioning remains Silk's principal selling point.

But increasing Silk is also positioning itself as a ‘green’ product. Which appears to be a savvy move in the States. Soymilk can be thought of as greener than cow’s milk and as Thomas Friedman pointed out in a long piece in the New York Times (registration required) on Sunday, “Green has hit Main Street.”

How green is Silk’s manufacturer, WhiteWave Foods? Those kinds of questions depend on how dogmatic you are about "green-ness." But while their electrical power comes from the grid just like mine, they pay for wind power ‘offsets.’ And they’re intellectually honest about what that does and does not mean.

“The energy that runs our homes and businesses comes from a variety of
sources….We don't have a choice of what kind of power we drain out of the
pool... But we do have a way to choose how the energy we use gets put back into
the pool. Silk Soymilk is making sure that only 100 percent clean, pure wind
energy goes back into the power pool to replace what we take from it.”
Here’s how this campaign works. You buy Silk and bring it home. Then you register online and enter the UPC code from the Silk carton. When you do you’re entered into a contest to win the grand prize which includes a suite of Energy Star products… for instance, a refrigerator, washer and dryer, air conditioner, etc… plus a $5,000 gift certificate from Gaiam Lifestyle Products and enough Green Tag offsets to power the new appliances for 3 years. The total package is worth $22,000.

Also, when you enter, WhiteWave puts a couple of nickels (the exact amount is unstated) into wind power. Instead of identifying a donation amount, they say this:

"By entering the Silk Green Caps for Green Energy Sweepstakes, you have helped us offset another 30 kilowatt hours of energy! Your contribution has prevented the
release of these pollutants by fossil fuel energy sources:
· 51.75 lbs. of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change.
· 0.12 lbs. of sulphur dioxide, the main cause of acid rain.
· 12.66 gal. of waste water, used to cool power plants."
Of course one of the challenges of these kinds of efforts is how far to take it. Silk sits in the refrigerator case of my local grocer. And I’d be surprised if WhiteWave Foods is buying enough wind power offsets to offset the refrigeration of all the cartons of Silk in stores. Likewise they probably don’t offset the power required to produce the carton Silk comes in, or for that matter the power it takes to dispose of it or recycle it. Then there’s the power required to grow the soybeans or truck them to WhiteWave’s plants or out to the stores. You get the picture.

There’s a lot to like about this campaign. They are transparent about the amount of the campaign’s donation cap; $200,000. They have a cool animation that runs down a few simple things households could do to be greener. They have a carbon calculator to estimate your lifestyles carbon footprint. Plus, I like how the informational stuff, which I think strikes the right tone; helpful without being guilt-inducing.

The campaign’s only failing is that you really have to drill down into the sweepstakes’ official rules to find that it is The Bonneville Environmental Foundation (the provider of Green Tag offsets above) which gets the donation generated when you enter the UPC code. Likewise, the process whereby the Foundation offsets dirty energy is a little murky.

The Sweepstakes ends on August 1, but if I were advising WhiteWave I'd tell them to make permanent the green cap portion of the promotion, just as Campbell's Labels for Education and General Mills' Boxtops for Education are permanent fixtures. Green is as green does, after all.

To my European readers these kind of campaigns are old hat by now. But to my American readers you can expect to see more cause marketing campaigns like this one.

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