Peter Matthews, founder and CEO of Nucleus, explains the dangers inconsistent terminology can have on sustainable consumer choice and how Hitachi is looking to shake up the transport industry through its holistic ‘360’ approach.
In 2021, Clemens Kaupa, an assistant law professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, filed a greenwashing complaint against Shell’s “carbon neutral” petrol with the Netherlands’ advertising watchdog. Shell was subsequently required to stop using the term “carbon neutral” to describe its petrol products.
Yet in Australia, “carbon neutral” petrol is considered a legitimate term. In fact, Australia’s own advertising watchdog recently dismissed a similar complaint against Ampol’s promotion of “carbon neutral” petrol.
Shell and Ampol’s products, and the criteria used to assess the claims, are similar. Yet one product has been deemed greenwash and the other not. Clearly there are no global standards for distinguishing what is and isn’t carbon neutral and so some consumers are being duped. More surprising still, in Australia, Ampol’s petrol has been endorsed by the government through its carbon neutral certification scheme ‘Climate Active’.
In other fields, such as medicine, organisations exist to debate, agree and then implement consistent terminology, like Snomed, which is the product of the International Health Terminology Standards Organisation.
We now need a common language to tackle the climate emergency. Without one, how will consumers know if they are helping or hindering the journey to net zero? How will we stop greenwashers greenwash with impunity? Is the lack of a common language one of the reasons some businesses have opted to “greenhush”, keeping a low profile for fear of being targeted?
With the disappointing political outcome to COP27, it’s beginning to look like it’s going to be up to business to make the difference that governments can’t, or aren’t prepared to make. A growing number of ESG investors are certainly starting to move the dial, funding companies who take sustainability seriously and refusing to fund those who don’t.
Certainly, those businesses that place sustainability at the core of their brands can expect not only investors, but customers to respond positively, too. Ultimately, those that make opaque claims, without being fully accountable for those claims, are destined to fail. And for good reason.
On the upside, ‘greenwashing’ is starting to be seen for what it is, with companies put on notice by the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and others, because they mislead, causes confusion and sow discord around effective options for shifting the dial on climate change. Ultimately, greenwashing will damage the brands that chase short-term gain with false, misleading, overstated or unsubstantiated green claims; unless, of course, if you live in places like Australia.
At any rate, when it comes to defining a brand’s commitment to sustainability, proof and transparency are required. Commitments beyond reducing harm to the environment, to creating positive environmental, economic and social value define the three dimensions of sustainability that next-economy brands will be judged on.
Sustainability locks together environmental, social and economic change
Transport, for example, faces massive decarbonisation and social challenges. Mobility brands need to be able to prove they are on the journey to net zero, reducing congestion and pollution and supporting positive social behavioural change, throughout their entire product lifecycle. How many can sign up to that agenda?
One positive example can be seen in Hitachi Rail, whose mission to achieve net zero across its value chain by 2050 is founded on helping cities and transportation operators shift people away from cars and towards lower carbon transportation, by making public transport more seamless and convenient for passengers.
Electrification of rail is already having an impact. For example, Hitachi trains on East Coast Mainline have already disrupted air travel between London and Edinburgh. Between April and August 2022, 57% of journeys between the two cities were by rail, compared with a pre-pandemic position of 35% for April-August 2019.
In the busy summer month of August, 66% of travellers chose rail over domestic flights, suggesting the trend may be set to continue.
This “modal shift” is the first pillar of Hitachi Rail’s decarbonisation strategy, alongside reducing emissions throughout its own value chain (including factories, supply chain and its products and services), and the decarbonisation of rail through batteries and electrification.
Accelerating consumer adoption of the most sustainable products by creating brands that communicate clearly using transparent and consistent language will be key to success in the circular economy. As such, defining a new brand strategy and naming architecture for Hitachi Rail’s suite of digital mobility services was a perfect platform to demonstrate this.
Branding a sustainable proposition
Lumada Intelligent Mobility Management is the suite that brings together Hitachi’s holistic vision for smarter mobility across three key areas: smart ticketing, mobility management and electrified mobility solutions, all managed through a real-time mobility platform – designed to help transport authorities, transport operators and passengers shift to more seamless and sustainable transportation.
Within that suite are a set of distinct offers for passengers, cities and operators.
Understanding how mobility data is helping to accelerate change, enabling transport networks and operators to improve transport economics, reduce congestion and pollution, while meeting decarbonisation targets, was the inspiration for a new smart mobility value proposition. We identified how a 360º vision could benefit society through the achievement of net zero goals.
Until now, Hitachi Rail’s target audience has been transport operators and municipalities, but new passenger apps create a direct connection with the travelling public, so the brand naming and identity had to be designed to connect with consumers, too.
The solution is a scalable architecture that can grow over time, with the first two products establishing the scalable 360 naming concept:
360Motion – a real-time mobility platform that provides operators with integrated data analytics across multiple transport networks to deliver network efficiency and value added insights;
360Pass – smart ticketing solutions, including an innovative hands-free smart consumer app, enabled by Bluetooth, so passengers can travel across multi-modal transport systems without barriers, or any need to tap-in and tap-off.
The ‘360’ brand concept has been reinforced by a visual brand system using ‘circularity’ as the visual cue. This features a precisely calibrated bezel around the numeric mark, which is contained in a roundel. The brand is brought to life using animation, where appropriate, such as app splash screens.
The 360Pass smart ticketing app and 360Motion platform were launched in Genoa, Italy in July 2022.
Working with Hitachi has confirmed our belief that we are entering an era where sustainability needs to become a core attribute of every new product or service, and brand propositions need to be based on facts and data, rather than advertising claims and marketing fluff.
For now, the focus has to be on enabling consumers to quickly tell the green from the greenwash, but those that are transparent in proving their sustainable credentials and communicate compelling value propositions will be the brands that stand the test of time.
Let’s hope that governments wake up to this too, but, in the meantime, it looks like it’s in the hands of business to voluntarily agree some global standards and terminology for a common green language that we can all trust. Who is going to start this ball rolling?
About the Author
Peter Matthews is founder and CEO of Nucleus, an independent London-based brand, digital and IP consultancy.
A designer by training, Peter continues to personally lead strategic brand creation, innovation and transformation projects for international clients, specialising in sustainability and environmental solutions through to finance and travel. His rare combination of business, design, digital and IP expertise are highly relevant at a time of digital disruption in the branding ecosystem.
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