Even in an age of widespread and often impressive corporate social responsibility, the environmentally forward Red Leaf Project spearheaded by beer-maker Molson Canadian is striking in scope and bottom-line results. It’s also pretty darn clever.
Begun in 2011 and currently underway for a second consecutive year in partnership with national environmental charity Evergreen, the Red Leaf Project essentially enlists regular folks as a de facto greening workforce. The company fans volunteers out in parks across the country for one-day blitzes to plant trees, mulch, weed, clean up and otherwise enhance green spaces in local communities.
“Originally, this idea just came out of research that we did which suggested that Canadians wanted more than just a cheque-writing exercise. They wanted to come out and get their hands dirty and play a role in giving back to the land. And with ‘made from Canada’ being such an important part of Molson Canadian’s brand mentality, it made sense for us to get involved in something like this,” Cam MacNeil, assistant marketing manager, Molson Canadian at Molson Coors Canada, and chief steward of the campaign tells Samaritanmag.
For their efforts, volunteers get healthier parks, a sense of camaraderie and the satisfaction of a job well done. Oh yes, they also get free concert tickets to hot music events in their area, one of which – happening next month and featuring the Tragically Hip – is for Red Leaf Project volunteers exclusively.
It’s hard to quibble with the numbers or the concept which is unique to the beer category. Last year, more than 900 Canadians volunteered (via online registration) to restore 10 green spaces across Canada, eventually helping to plant some 100,000 trees thanks to a 2011 partnership between Molson and Tree Canada. (Molson employees helped plant trees, too).
The 2012 campaign has seen a ten-fold increase with 100 greening projects slated for communities from B.C. to PEI between late-May and mid-September. To date, more than 1,100 volunteers have participated in this year’s program, which sits at about the halfway point. Plans for the 2013 initiative are already afoot.
“I’ve been to park projects right across the country and it’s just a feel-good event,” offers MacNeil. “It’s low-commitment in the grand scheme of things — you come outside for a few hours on a nice sunny day, plant some trees or do some mulching, hang with your friends and at the end of it, you go have a beer at a local Molson partner account (a.k.a. bar) and you automatically get a free concert ticket to an event that we’re sponsoring in your area.
“It’s a cool program and it’s encouraging to see more and more people turning out to support it in 2012 and hopefully in years to come.”
So far this year, Red Leaf Project volunteers have been granted free tickets to Alberta’s Big Valley Jamboree, PEI’s Cavendish Beach Music Festival, B.C.’s Live at Squamish and Saskatchewan’s Craven Country Jamboree.
Ontario residents participating in the Red Leaf Project will get tickets to the above-mentioned Hip show in September which, unlike the festivals in the other provinces, is not open to the general public.
Less physically inclined consumers can also support the Red Leaf Project through a PIN program at retail. With the purchase of a specially marked case of Molson Canadian, consumers receive a PIN code which, when entered online, brings a chance to win concert tickets. Molson Canadian also makes a donation to a park project on the consumer’s behalf.
Interestingly, the PIN code is printed on a seed-infused coaster that can be planted — yes, planted in the ground — and with care will grow into a black spruce tree. “We’ve printed a million of those for distribution in cases of Molson Canadian and at select bars and restaurants,” MacNeil says.
“We’ve also given them away at events. That’s been one of the nicest surprises this year – consumer feedback on the coasters has been phenomenal. I think the reason for that is, we’ve really been able to put a beer lens on the environment and it ties nicely to what we’re all about.
“In my experience, park project volunteers don’t regard the work as a chore or just as a means to an end to get that concert ticket,” MacNeil says. “That’s a great bonus and people are thrilled to have that access, but a huge part of the incentive for people is just to help out for the day. I think that’s a mentality a lot of Canadians have and we’re offering an accessible way of doing that.”
Plus, as MacNeil explains, every Red Leaf Project regime is unique.
“It’s a huge variety of parks. I mean, in Toronto we have Humber Bay, Centennial Park, Trinity Bellwoods, Evergreen Brickworks, Christie Pits… the list goes on and on,” he says, adding that Evergreen helps with organizing permits and commandeering necessary tools for the work such as shovels, gloves, trees etcetera.
“That cross-section of parks shapes what the tasks are. There might be one day where all we do is mulching. Another day might be devoted to collecting bags of litter. We do what’s right for the specific park and what will offer the best environmental benefit in the long term.
“Corporately,” he adds, “we understand there can be polarizing issues within the environment. But what we’re focusing on – basic improvement of the land – is a hard issue to debate. No one doubts the need to plant more trees or to keep the health of our parks intact. This is about giving back to nature and it fits with our passion for the land where our beer comes from.
“This is all about momentum and evolution,” MacNeil adds. “We’ve applied the learning from 2011 to 2012 and we’ll do the same with 2013. We’re really excited to start planning for next year.”
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