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Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
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Mary's Blog

Consumer Interest in Green Products Expands across Categories

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

Consumer appetite for green products has increased significantly in the past year, according to findings from the annual ImagePower® Global Green Brands Study, one of the largest global consumer surveys of green brands and corporate environmental responsibility. This year's survey, which polled more than 9,000 people in eight countries, reveals that consumers worldwide intend to purchase more environmental products in the auto, energy and technology sectors compared to last year. Now more savvy about how green choices in personal care, food and household products directly affect them and their families, global consumers are expanding their green purchase interest to higher-ticket items such as cars and technology. 

Industries protecting the environment
Consumers are divided on which industry currently does the best job of protecting the environment. 18 percent of American and 20 percent of Australian consumers say the energy industry does the best job of protecting the environment. By comparison, most of respondents in Germany (19 percent), India (22 percent), China (33 percent) and Brazil (22 percent) cite the technology sector. In the UK, more than 21 percent of consumers say the grocery store industry is the top protector of the environment. 

Where consumers are spending
While personal care, grocery and household products are the industries with the greatest representation among the top ten brands list, consumers in the US indicate that they intend to spend more money on green technology, energy and automotive products or services in the next year. When it comes to current usage of green products or services, the 2011 study reveals that the household products and grocery categories have the highest consumer adoption rates in all countries except China, where packaged goods/beverages and personal care are the most used categories, and in Brazil, where household products and personal care dominate. In all countries, consumers indicate that in the coming year they are less likely to buy green packaged goods and beverages, grocery and household products. 

"We're seeing a shift in the 'In Me, On Me, Around Me' mentality when it comes to purchasing green products," said Russ Meyer, Chief Strategy Officer of Landor Associates. "Consumers have a good understanding of how green choices in personal care, food and household products directly affect their families, and they are now seeing benefits like costs savings that attract them to higher cost items like cars and technology." 

Greater perceived value in developing countries
Consistent with last year's study, more than 60 percent of consumers globally want to buy from environmentally responsible companies. Respondents in all eight countries surveyed indicate that they are willing to spend more on green products. In developed countries such as the US and the UK, roughly 20 percent of those surveyed would spend more than 10 percent extra on a green product. 

In developing countries, however, consumers say that green products have a higher inherent value. Ninety-five percent of Chinese consumers say they are willing to spend more on a product because it's green—with 55 percent of them willing to spend between 11-30 percent more. Similarly 29 percent of Indian consumers and 48 percent of Brazilians say they are willing to spend between 11 – 30 percent more on green products. 

"Consumers in developing countries express greater concern over the state of the environment in their countries, which may contribute to their greater willingness to pay more for green products," said Paul Andrepont, Senior Vice President of Penn Schoen Berland. "Consumers in these markets also differ from their developed-nation counterparts in believing that selection, rather than cost, is the greatest barrier to buying green products. Brands that address these consumers' very real concern—over air pollution in India or deforestation in Brazil —have the ability to position themselves as premium in the market, a possible competitive advantage." 

Packaging is critical
Packaging continues to be a matter of great concern for US consumers. Seventy-one percent believe companies use too much material in product packaging—though only 34 percent of US consumers say they consciously purchase products that use less packaging. Almost half of American consumers feel that packaging that can be recycled is more important than packaging made from recycled or biodegradable materials. 

Packaging also plays a critical role in communicating product benefits to US consumers. More than 50 percent of American consumers say on-pack information helps them understand how green a product is. Additionally, 40 percent say that packaging is their primary source for information on environmental issues 
regarding products. 

"Other than price, the two biggest influences on purchase decisions are on-package messaging and prior experience with the product, both of which satisfy the consumer need to understand a benefit beyond 'saving the world,'" says Annie Longsworth, global sustainability practice leader for Cohn & Wolfe. "It's critical for green brands to communicate the real and tangible benefits of their products in addition to being green, which still feels like luxury to many consumers." 

2011 US rankings
For the first time since the inception of the ImagePower® Green Brands Study in 2006, the four brands perceived to be the greenest are "born green" companies. The full list includes: 

1. Seventh Generation
2. Whole Foods
3. Tom's of Maine
4. Burt's Bees
5. Trader Joe's
6. The Walt Disney Company
7. S.C. Johnson
8. Dove
9. Apple
10. Starbucks, Microsoft (tied)

"When we analyzed the approach of the top ten brands companies, using our Esty Environmental Scorecard™, it was clear that the winners achieve a product-value-information trifecta," says Amy Longsworth, partner at Esty Environmental Partners. "The top brands offer clear price value through co-benefits: a great innovative product that meets my functional needs plus green attributes that meet my values needs. These companies also tend to have robust life-cycle insight and complete sustainability strategies across their value chains, which enable them to draw from rich experience and data for their consumer communications."

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An Aging Workforce Presents the Greatest Diversity Challenge

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

 Business risk caused by demographic change (aging) was cited as the greatest diversity challenge by 48 percent of the survey respondents. Rounding out the top three challenges were gender (29 percent) and nationality (18 percent). 

Thanks largely to recent debate in Europe about quotas for women and about the immigration of foreign talent, the topic of diversity management appears to be a focus at most companies: 80 percent of respondents said that their company had implemented at least three measures to enhance employee diversity. For example, the measures cited most frequently included flexible working-time models and parental leave—both seek to increase the proportion of women in the workforce. However, the survey also found that most companies apply these initiatives only selectively. 

"Our research has shown that the business case for diversity is clear and that HR needs to integrate such measures into its broader people policies. A modern workplace must represent its customer base in order to be truly effective and to deliver products and services that drive it to the competitive edge in a global environment," explains Stephanie Bird, an author of the report and the director of HR capability for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). 

In addition, the survey results reveal considerable differences in how various groups of employees view the effectiveness of diversity initiatives. For example, older workers rate measures for promoting age diversity as less effective than their younger colleagues do. "In order for diversity to be successful, top management must visibly support the objectives, and the entire workforce must be integrated in the development and execution of the programs," explains Jean-Michel Caye, senior partner at BCG, expert in talent and leadership, and an author of the report. 

Diversity Is an Integral Part of HR—and the Entire Company
"Diversity is an integral element of HR work. It's a recurring theme that touches all topics, including workforce planning, recruiting, and career management," adds Pieter Haen, president of EAPM and an author of the report. 

Only initiatives that go beyond the minimum level of diversity required by legal mandates and social norms can help companies gain advantage. As a first step, companies must analyze which aspects of diversity can promote their business success. The BCG/EAPM report explains how employee diversity can be increased to advance business imperatives through several steps. 

• Create transparency. The foundation of all strategic HR work is strategic workforce planning—the quantitative and qualitative analysis of workforce supply and demand and of the individual capabilities of workers. Workforce demand should reflect overall business trends as well as a company's business strategy.
• Redefine recruiting. Tailored recruiting campaigns expand the existing talent pool by targeting underrepresented groups, such as female engineers. In addition, the employment of HR officers from outside Europe enables more efficient recruiting of international talent.
• Promote diversity. It is equally relevant to promote diversity within the company's existing workforce and among new hires. Evaluations of employee performance and potential, as well as career moves by managers, should be assessed for how permeable they make the company for new talent groups. The sooner the promotion of diverse talent is achieved at the lower levels in a company's hierarchy, the better the chance that the organization's internal diversity can be tapped and enhanced.
• Build leaders for the twenty-first century. At many companies, a 2x2x2+5 development program has proved successful. In such a program, aspiring managers are exposed to two business units, two countries, two functions, and at least five different projects.
• Retain employees. New groups of employees are presenting employers with new challenges. Financial incentives alone are losing their attractiveness—the ability to reconcile one's job with one's family is growing in importance. Modern incentive programs involve family members, for example, by providing health care for spouses or scholarships for employees' children.
• Make progress visible. Performance indicators for diversity must be anchored in a company's HR controlling function, so that proven progress can be quickly established. The HR department is responsible for setting the parameters of the framework—such as additional resources for department heads—to promote a corporate culture that is based on diversity. 

Further results of the survey will be published by BCG and EAPM in September 2011 in the latest edition of the "Creating People Advantage" report. 

For more information, please visit www.bcg.com.

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Great Minds Think Unlike: How Diversity Is Good for Business

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

Major European organizations display little diversity in the ranks of their top management. An analysis by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) of 40 randomly selected companies from the Euro Stoxx 50 index shows that, on average, 93 percent of the executive directors were male; 86 percent were native Europeans; and 49 percent were between the ages of 51 and 60 years old. By contrast, the market demands on these same companies are far less homogeneous: the purchasing power of women is steadily increasing; the companies generate, on average, approximately 40 percent of their revenues outside of Europe; and their customers are growing older. 

"Diversity must be seen as a strategic response to major business trends such as globalization, demographic shifts, and the talent shortage," explained Dr. Rainer Strack, senior partner at BCG, HR expert, and an author of the report. 

In collaboration with the European Association for People Management (EAPM), BCG has conducted its third study on the trends in people management, surveying more than 2,000 executives in more than 30 European countries. In the just-released Focus report "Hard-Wiring Diversity into Your Business," BCG and EAPM analyzed how 444 executives responded to survey questions about the challenges in diversity management.

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Summer Gardening: How to Grow Great Tomatoes

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

There isn’t a person anywhere who wouldn’t agree that no store-bought tomato can compare in flavor or juiciness to one that is home-grown—and the good news is that you can successfully grow your own delicious crop no matter where you live.

From the gardening experts at Sunset Magazine, here is all you need to know to get on the right path to summer tomato heaven:

• Full sun is best – You’ll get sweeter tomatoes from plants in full sun than from those in partly shaded areas.
• Move the plot – Avoid growing tomatoes in the same spot each year, as diseases can build up in the soil and spoil future crops.
• Sure-fire varieties – Check with gardening centers in your area, but you can generally rely on ‘Early Girl’ varieties for a medium-slicer that does well in all regions, or cherry tomatoes like ‘Black Cherry’ or ‘Sun Gold.’
• Pots are fine – Cherry tomatoes, especially, do fine in pots and are a great choice for apartment or condo-dwellers. Choose a container at least 16 inches deep and wide and prepare to feed and water a bit more frequently than tomatoes growing in the ground.
• Growing time – It takes about three months from planting to harvest, sometimes faster with short-season varieties. Fruit may take longer to ripen—up to 50 percent longer—in cool summer climates.
• Pruning tips – In cool summer climates, you may want to prune thick foliage to expose the fruit to more sun. In warmer climates, prune minimally if at all. You want lush foliage to protect against sunburned fruit.
• Picking time – Pick ripened fruit only when fully colored. In the fall, if night temperatures dip below 55 degrees, you may pick tomatoes when partially colored and finish ripening indoors on a sunny windowsill. Fully green tomatoes will never ripe, so think about fried or pickled green tomatoes!

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How to Manage Money as a Couple

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

Combine the expectation of divorce for new couples hovering around 50 percent with a variety of studies that suggest money is the most divisive topic for couples, and you get a formula for disaster. But one expert thinks it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jane Honeck, CPA and author of The Problem With Money? It’s Not About the Money!, believes that while a SmartMoney Magazine survey revealed that 70 percent of all couples talk about money at least once a week, the communication isn’t very effective. Honeck has some good advice that can help couples make arguments about money a thing of the past.

“Focusing on an overall vision and money plan will keep both of you moving in the same direction,” she says. “Once you have done that, the small everyday decisions about what to spend your money on take care of themselves with little or no effort. When we have clear communication and know why we do something, the ‘what to do’ with our money is easy.”

Honeck’s tips include:

• Talk: Talk, talk talk.
Money—like sex—is still a taboo topic and we often don’t have a clear idea about how our partner thinks or feels.
• Find Balance: Balance power around money. One person making all the decisions and having all the control is a recipe for disaster. Find ways for you both to be equally engaged in all money decisions.
• Make Decisions: Decide together what is mine, yours and ours. Most couples have their own hybrid system for what works best. Find the one that is best for both of you.
• Define Your System: Have a clearly defined money management system all the way from who handles the mail to who sends out the checks. Without a well thought-out operational plan, things fall through the cracks.
• Address Problems: When things get tough, address problems immediately (no secrets allowed). Avoiding the issue only makes it more toxic and drives a wedge in the relationship.
• Perform Checkups: Schedule an annual money checkup with each other. Things change and just like our physical health, money management needs an annual checkup to keep it healthy and relevant.
• Talk a Little More: Talk, talk and talk some more. The most important thing is to have open communication with no blame or shame. We all have hang-ups around money. Treat your partner with compassion.

“At the end of the day, couples need not argue about money,” she adds. “And it’s not just about communication. It’s about making a plan, and sticking to it together. Information gives you power over your finances. Not talking about them, not making a plan and not coordinating as a team makes you a victim of your finances. If you control your finances, they will never control you or your marriage.” 

Jane Honeck, CPA, is a money coach who specializes in tax and financial planning for professionals, small businesses and individuals. She is also a Certified Empowerment Trainer and has developed Cent$ible Living financial workshops and money coaching sessions to help her clients make meaningful and lasting change in their financial lives.


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Question of the Day

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: Is it possible to buy a home below market price?

A:
Certainly, but do not hold your breath. It takes a lot of determination and time to find a real bargain. But if you are adamant, here are some likely targets to pursue:
• foreclosed property
• a fixer-upper
• hard-to-sell new homes in a housing development
• tenant-in-common partnerships.

With the latter, you may be able to buy a partial interest in this form of title to property owned by two or more individuals because the partners often sell at a discount.

However, bargains are easier to come by in a soft real estate market, when the economy is in a recession, and when homeowners, builders and sponsors of condominium conversions are desperate to move unsold units.

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Word of the Day

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

Annual percentage rate (APR). Combines the interest rate with other loan costs—such as points and loan fees—into a single figure that shows the true annual cost of borrowing.

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When Choosing a New Air Conditioner—Bigger Not Necessarily Better

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

As the summer heat beats down and energy prices are on the rise, many homeowners are seeking to trade in their old air conditioning units for more energy efficient models in hopes of controlling costs. MXenergy, one of the nation's leading independent energy providers, cautions people to choose wisely when selecting their next unit. 

"The common perception seems to be bigger is better," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy Managing Director. "In fact, recent studies suggest that one third to one half of home central air units are actually oversized. Rather than leading to greater cooling it results in greater inefficiency and higher costs."
MXenergy counsels its customers to take three factors into account when shopping for a new cooling system. 

1. High Efficiency
Customers should look for in-room units with an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) greater than 10 and for a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) higher than 12 in central units. 

2. Proper Sizing
Contractors should consult the manuals produced by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America which examine a home's size, insulation, direction and window placement to determine proper unit size. Oversized units turn on and off more frequently actually creating greater inefficiency and higher costs for the homeowner. 

3. Proper Installation
Homeowners need to make sure new units are installed by trained, licensed contractors to ensure proper installation and therefore proper efficiency. 

Kass reminds customers the quest for lower cooling bills doesn't end simply with the purchase of a new air conditioner. 

"No matter how energy efficient your home air conditioner is," says Kass, "there are still simple actions you can take which will further boost your energy savings and reduce your carbon footprint." 

Installing a programmable thermostat, insulating the roof and attic, choosing and using quality window blinds and awnings, and providing shade for outdoor units can also significantly increase energy saving
For more information about MXenergy please visit www.mxenergy.com.

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Ways to Keep Cool and Manage Energy Costs This Summer

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

The demand for electricity rises as the weather gets hot and people turn on fans and air conditioners. PSE&G is offering the following tips to help customers reduce energy use and control costs.
• Install a programmable thermostat. If health conditions permits, raise the setting from 73 to 78 degrees. You can save 3 to 5 percent on your air conditioning costs for each degree you raise the thermostat.

• Close doors leading to uncooled parts of your home. If you have central air conditioning, close off vents to unused rooms. Keep filters clean.

• Plant shade trees close to the house on the south and west sides.

• Seal holes and cracks around doors and windows. Eliminate air leaks between window air conditioners and windows with foam insulation or weather-stripping.

• Turn off power sources. TVs, computers and other electronic devices draw power when they are in standby mode or turned off but still plugged in. Plug electronics into power strips and turn off the power switch when the items are not in use.

• Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use 75 percent less electricity and burn more coolly than incandescent bulbs. CFLs are especially handy in hard-to-reach fixtures and won't need to be replaced for about five years.

• Use timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.

• Delay heat-producing tasks such as laundry until later in the day. Wash full loads, using cold water whenever possible.

• Run the dishwasher at night, using the shortest cycle that will get the dishes clean. If manufacturers' directions permit, turn the dishwasher off before the dry cycle or use the air dry feature if your machine has one.

• Take short showers. They use less hot water than a bath.

• Replace old appliances with new energy efficient Energy Star appliances.

• Unplug the extra refrigerator in your garage or basement and use it only when necessary. Refrigerators that are only 10 years old can use twice as much electricity as new Energy Star labeled models.

• If possible, install whole-house fans that bring in cooler night-time air that can pre-cool a house and reduce energy use in the daytime if heat is kept out by closing windows and shades.

• Take advantage of PSE&G's Home Energy Toolkit. It helps you analyze your home energy use and then provides customized energy saving tips. To access the Home Energy Toolkit, log in to My Account at pseg.com.

For additional ways to save energy and money, visit www.pseg.com/customer/home.

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Great Finds Offers Tips for Staging a Home to Sell

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

San Francisco interior design specialist Christine Reddy, owner of Great Finds, a service that sells luxury brands of furniture samples at up to 80 percent off retail, is often consulted for her expertise in staging a home for sale. She offers steps homeowners can take to improve the look of their home—and explains why small investments like hiring a professional and purchasing a few, quality, discount furniture pieces can make a home much more attractive to potential buyers. 

“Try to think of your home almost like a nice hotel—beautiful, light-filled, inviting and comfortable, without being too crowded or reminding you of other families and their personal tastes,” advises Reddy. She urges sellers to store away personal items like photos of trips and relatives, souvenirs, and excessive amounts of accessories. “You won’t believe how much larger your space will feel,” she promises. 

Reddy also advises sellers to remove anything with lots of strong color or very busy patterns like rugs, draperies and artwork, and either leave an open space (remember less is more) or replace it with simple patterns, solids and neutral colors. “Color is subjective. Overuse of bold colors, uncoordinated color schemes, too many conflicting patterns, etc. is confusing and takes away from the message you are trying to send. People will be attracted to your home when they are able to envision their belongings there, which is the main objective, after all,” explains Reddy. 

Another tip she offers is to cover up those dingy walls. “Paint, paint, paint! It’s inexpensive and covers so many minor flaws, visually and in terms of wall texture. A simple design solution for tired walls. If you don’t have time, hire a professional. It will pay off.” 

For those who need to remove dated and worn furniture, Reddy advises replacing old pieces with current styles that will be enjoyed in the next home. Just a few key pieces that are well-made will enhance the space and play up the great “bones” of a room. 

For more information on staging a home or professional design services, visit http://www.greatfinds-bayarea.com.

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