When we first caught a glimpse of NBCUniversal’s Green Week a few years ago, we were skeptical. After all, a few cheesy “The More You Know” ads, a Green Week campaign (coming up on November 13th), and self-referential jokes on 30 Rock about a superhero named Greenzo seem like little more than an attempt to score quick points with environmentally minded viewers. But Beth Colleton, NBCUniversal’s SVP of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, tells us that the larger Green Is Universal campaign now runs deep in NBCUniversal’s culture. Think of the company’s journey as a blueprint for other big media companies to emulate–because besides NBCUniversal, there aren’t many media giants to look toward.
Colleton’s position didn’t even exist until after the Green Is Universal campaign began in 2007–the result of a realization that the environment and energy issues are relevant to every piece of NBCUniversal’s business. There is that large consumer-facing piece of the campaign, sure, but that’s not all. “Our theme has been awareness, activation, results,” says Colleton. “Our approach isn’t to be preachy or condescending.”[/i]
Behind the scenes is where most of the Green Is Universal action can be found. The NBCUniversal Eco-vation program, which brings attention to employees who find sustainable solutions to company problems, recently spawned an impressive (but seemingly mundane) innovation: the ability to recycle and repurpose tapes used by the newsroom. After the recent earthquake in Japan, the tape supplier had to shut down all of its plants. This could have been a disaster–before the repurposing project, NBCUniversal only had two to three weeks’ worth of tapes on hand. But with the ability to repurpose tapes, NBCUnivrsal was able to extend its supply to two to three months.
NBC also recently came to the conclusion that its employees (even actors and directors) can sometimes work remotely–something that is obvious in other industries, but not quite as much in the entertainment business, where in-person collaboration is a mainstay. “On the Lorax [film], we’ve done more than 50 recording sessions where the stars were in one part of the world, and the directors and production crews were in others,” says Colleton.
There are similar examples all over NBCUniversal’s business: Instead of building new physical sets for each show, CNBC can now change backdrops with the touch of an iPad; the news channel’s all-new cube technology draws less power on an entire wall of TVs than the previous design did with a single TV; in NBCUniversal’s Orlando theme park, the entire vehicle fleet runs on biodiesel. Colleton says that these actions aren’t primarily motivated by monetary benefits, but the cash savings don’t hurt.
“The solutions aren’t the most glamorous, but collectively they add up to an impressive portfolio,” says Colleton.
Colleton won’t say that NBCUniversal is doing more than its media counterparts, but we’ve already seen imitators pop up. In 2010, CBS acquired EcoMedia–an advertising program that directs a portion of ad dollars into solar installations, urban reforestation projects, and the like. But CBS has been attacked by environmental organizations, who say that EcoMedia’s EcoAds program is nothing more than greenwashing. In a letter to the FTC, Center for Environmental Health, Ecopreneurist, Friends of the Earth, and the Rainforest Action Network complain: “[The EcoAds logo] clearly suggests to viewers that the products or services advertised provide environmental benefits, when there may be no basis for such a claim.”
NBCUniversal, at least, is pursuing Green Is Universal in earnest. “In the beginning, people might have thought ‘Oh, this is just a single promotion, it’s not something [NBC] would stick with,'” explains Colleton. “But feedback has been really strong that we’ve made this part of our DNA.”