Receiving credit for being green
Using Airmiles experience to mitigate global warming
It was only a matter of time before the first national “green” loyalty scheme launched in the UK.
What Loyalty Magazine expected was that this would come from a small environmental organization. In fact it has been created by some of the most experienced customer retention brains in the business – most of them ex-Air Miles.
The Ice loyalty scheme promises to “support British sustainable retail, with one of the country’s most generous and flexible loyalty schemes.”
It aims to “mitigate climate change via mass consumer purchase power.”
The CEO of Ice is the loyalty industry veteran Jude Thorne, who in the nineties helped turn Air Miles into BA’s most profitable subsidiary, with profits in 2000 of £27.2m.
Thorne went on to set up Verve Partnership Ltd with Steve Toomey, ex-financial director of AirMiles and now FD of Ice. Verve advised on customer loyalty programmes for companies such as Sainsbury’s, MBNA, RCI, Cendant Group, John Lewis and Virgin Nigeria.
It was then, Thorne told Loyalty Magazine, that serendipity took over, by bringing together some of the leading minds in the nascent sustainable living business, including Tessa Tennant, chair and co-founder of the Carbon Disclosure Project, Gareth Hughes, co-founder Climate Change Capital and Wayne Silby, founding chair of the Calvert Funds, a $15bn investment management group in Bethesda, Maryland, noted for their leadership in the area of socially or environmentally-oriented projects.
Over several years, these forward thinking people worked on ways to develop a scheme that would encourage people to make choices in the way they ran their lives, and to reward them for choosing sustainable and environmentally helpful goods and services.
Jude explained: “It was a long time in the thinking and development process. It happened because a number of the right people came together at the same time.”
The main issue was how to persuade consumers to engage in green issues, climate change and carbon neutrality and to feel they were making a difference.
“We started to develop the notion of what would have to be a mass market programme to mitigate global warming through mass purchasing power,” said Jude. “People don’t want to buy shapeless hemp clothing, but what they have told us in focus groups is that they want to be able to make choices based on environmental credentials. IPSOS Mori did research for us that concluded that people wanted to understand the environmental difference between products, and while ICE isn’t perfect, it does enable consumers to see the credentials of each product they buy.
“We were determined that ICE was not going to be something that only appealed to dark green consumers, but to those who wanted to make small changes to their life.”
The Ice programme can be seen at www.myice.com, although it has not yet been launched to consumers.
On the site, it is possible to browse by sector (environmentally sustainable furniture for example, or renewable building materials; food from local suppliers; clothes and even gin. Each product has its own green credential panel, enabling the consumer to make its own decision about its environmental value.
As the consumer collects credits, online, by telephone order or by EPOS at the point of sale, so they can redeem them, even if there is only one credit to spend.
As with schemes such as Airmiles and Nectar, the amount of Ice credits the consumer earns per £ spent varies by retailer, and ranges from 1 credit per £1 up to 12 per £1. This is made clear at the point of purchase.
In terms of worth at redemption, every ICE credit is worth 1p to the consumer.
Rather than having an army of green police checking out the credentials of every ICE partner, Thorne said that the scheme would be using the existing standards already in place for environmental authentication. She explained: “We feel it is not our job to set new standards but that the scheme should use existing standards such as those of the Forestry Commission or Soil Association. We will work closely with these organisations to ensure that our selection criteria are as accurate and as transparent as possible. We feel we need to be absolutely open with the answers to consumers. If we find that partners make claims that are wrong, which have been exposed either by consumers or the media, then they will be suspended until the situation is sorted out.
“There is clearly a potential for things to come out and we have to be ready and forearm ourselves for this. There is always a better alternative though, and this is what we will endeavour to provide.
“We believe that if we can persuade consumers to buy more in the environmentally friendly space, then this has to be a good thing.”
Thorne stresses that ICE is not a scheme that has been created as a static progamme. She explains that it is at the start of a journey and that it will constantly evolve and develop. One goal is that in three years time, the scheme will be well enough developed to begin embarking on community projects, such as group vegetable growing, or solar television. It is planned that community initiatives will be one of the beneficiaries of unused ICE credits.
She sees no reason why, by then, the scheme should not have millions of ICE accounts in use, with many times more partners than currently.
Thorne is particularly keen to bring on board local partners, although she would be happy for national chains to also take part. When asked if she would accept one of the big supermarkets as a partner, she said there was no reason why not, as long as its products met accepted environmental standards.
She said: “We are talking to pretty much everyone in the green space, both in manufacturing and retailing. We want to make the scheme as wide as possible, while ensuring we maintain our policy of sticking to specific environmental criteria and standards.”
Thorne is very well aware of the debate around environmental issues, and the inevitable discussion as to what is environmentally friendly and how to prove it, together with the issue of carbon credits and offsetting. She believes however, that if choices are made taking into account the currently known consequences for the environment, then this is better than not considering it at all.
She gives the example of sustainable tourism. While it could be argued that it is probably better for precious, vulnerable places if no-one goes there at all, it is clearly better if a resort recycles, uses rainwater for showers and toilets and uses solar power for heating and light.
She said: “Sustainable tourism is a really big thing. Some companies are doing a lot of work on taking carbon out of the supply chain, and if they are really achieving this, then it should be supported.”
Which is why she was particularly pleased that Eurostar is now a partner. The company, which has never partnered with an outside rewards scheme before, claims to provide carbon neutral train travel to Europe from the UK.
Thorne knows that one of the most fundamental goals of any loyalty scheme, but especially one professing to offer green alternatives, is that it should deliver on the customer promise. This means ensuring that product credentials are accurate, but also that the scheme itself lives up to its expectations.
Said Thorne: “We don’t want a situation developing where customers are disappointed. We are in this for the long term, so we are making sure we offer long term support, both for our partners and for the end user.”
Partners so far
o Eurostar (also covers Rail Europe) – carbon neutral train travel to Europe
o Eat Sleep Live – furniture handmade by craftsmen from reclaimed timber for sleeping, dining and living
o Green Building Store – large builders merchant and DIY specialist, specialising in only environmentally friendly building and decoration products ranging from tiles to new window units
o The Kitchen Doctor – replacement doors and kitchen refurbishment service with a sustainable supply chain
o The Solar Centre – solar gadgets and lighting
o British Eco – renewable energy systems for the home
o Foodari Direct – offers a full range grocery home delivery service – it coordinates the Food For Kent; and Food4London schemes and is currently expanding to establish regional services throughout the country, all food produce is locally sourced, traceable and sustainably grown
o Green and Blacks Direct – organic chocolate and gifts
o Northern Harvest – Locally grown organic produce that ensures traceability and recycling of packaging
o Green Tomato Cars – London based eco taxi firm
o Content – mid market skincare and cosmetics
o Lovelula – organic natural and ethical cosmetics and beauty products
o Glebe Farm Products – LEAF accredited organic, locally produced pet food; seeds and home gardening supplies
o Organipets – organic pet food, sourced locally
o Sacred Spirits – Gin and Vodka distilled by hand just 100 yards from the summit of Highgate Hill in London
Examples of companies coming soon…
o Great Green Systems (formerly GreenCone) – patented range of domestic bio-digesters, creating garden compost from kitchen waste – even cooked food, fat and meat bones
o Urbane Living – home interiors, as featured on “Grand Designs”
o Alder Carr farm – Large, Suffolk-based farm shop, including a deli, butchers shop and in-season ‘pick your own’ area. There is also an onsite cafe which uses seasonal food from the farm and local area
o Avid Organics – home delivery of fruit, vegetables and whole foods
o Devon Rose – organic meat home delivery in the West Country
o Fashion Conscience – online destination site for ladies designer eco fashion
o Mimimyne – online retailer of children’s toys, clothes and furniture
o Over Farm Market – Gloucestershire-based farm shop, with ‘pick your own’ and onsite small farm and animal centre
o EJFoundation – Men and women’s fashion made from 100% organic & fairly traded cotton with all proceeds raised going to help Environmental Justice Foundation’s international work to protect people & planet
o Mopay – mobile phone recycling
o British Fine Foods – online retailer of sustainable UK food
o Thomas Smith Trugs – Handmade Sussex Trugs
o Craigies Deli and Farm Shop – Edinburgh-based farm shop and café