You’ve probably heard of high profile investments in solar by large retailers like Ikea, Kohl’s, Costco, and the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. These investments leverage the long terms assets (real estate) of the companies into income producing machines both inside and out. Coupled with various tax credits, accelerated depreciation, rebates, and other incentives, investments in solar make great financial sense for companies who have maximized interior square footage, but haven’t taken advantage of massive swaths of roof space. Walmart alone has installed over 65 megawatts of solar capacity to date.
Susan O’Neal Gear of Upstream Insight has an interesting perspective on big-box solar investments. She hypothesizes that investments in solar may help consumers feel good about the brands they consume. While greenwashing is rampant among those seeking a quick marketing boost by installing a few solar panels, large retailers committing to a renewable energy strategy as part of their investment portfolio and core strategic principles can gain considerable respect among consumers for “doing the right thing.”
Brand loyalty is a powerful thing, and engaging your customer base in a unique, albeit tangential way, is part of the effort to attract and retain customers. Walmart is surely one of the largest consumers of energy among retailers. Air conditioning, heating, and superb lighting don’t come cheap in terms of energy consumption. The 65 MW investment in solar is a drop in the bucket compared to the annual energy consumption of Walmart’s stores.
Think about this – Nationwide Insurance is a NASCAR sponsor, and they would probably frown upon driving 200 miles per hour, right? However, NASCAR actually has a lot to do with safe driving, safe cars, safe tires, etc. Nationwide’s investment in something tangentially related to what they do creates a connection between consumers and their brand.
Speaking of NASCAR, even those 98 octane gas guzzling speed demons use the green movement to promote their brand. They have a well funded and well known green program called NASCAR Green with 22 corporate partners. Check it out – pretty interesting marketing strategy, and the list contains some of the world’s most successful brands.