On green marketing

By ,

The following is one of series of excerpts posted here from the business book Good to Green: Managing Business Risks and Opportunities in the Age of Environmental Awareness, by John Phyper and Paul MacLean (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Paul MacLean is President of ÉEM, a Nimonik affiliate partner.

Green marketing is about success in driving sales of one or more of the following:

  • Corporate virtue/performance. Companies whose activities directly or indirectly impact the environment, including populations near and far, seek to counter or mitigate this perception. These companies have reputations to defend that, if adversely affected, can have financial repercussions. Wal-Mart’s proactive drive to green its supply chain (e.g., reduce product packaging, seek certification of forest products) successfully repositioned the firm as a sustainability leader.
  • Design/technology. As consumers seek next-generation products that are more and more energy efficient, companies seek to be perceived as design leaders. For example, in the current competition among the major automobile manufacturers to cleanse motorized transportation, they compete in parallel on communicating their progress to the marketplace.
  • Products. Consumers seek products that do not entail massive environmental and social impacts along the supply chain. Companies whose activities are known to impact the environment (e.g., paper-making, oil and gas production, metal mining) seek to be perceived as leaders in preventing, mitigating and compensating for these impacts.

However, the path to achieving success in green marketing is not easy and false claims have led to deep cynicism about green claims among consumers, and apparent general misunderstanding among marketers about the nature of this quickly evolving and young marketplace.

So, armed with an understanding of the strategic importance which green has come to assume in all facets of business, what does the business leader need to remember when preparing a green marketing strategy? Above all else, he/she should remember that the market is ready for truly green products, but also, that it has, in recent years, become informed and cynical.

Focus on product, not green. Green should become normal. Maturing of the green marketplace will help this happen. Consumers will always be sold on the ensemble of benefits that a product presents, with green being only one of these. It must be part of the thinking from the design stage. A good product is one that meets sustainability requirements. The manufacturer should therefore attempt to join non-green with green benefits in its messaging, e.g., sell the benefits of performance, longevity and cost efficiency, alongside reduced environmental impact.

Sustainability does not equal sainthood. Business leaders should be clear that there is dual motivation for going green: profit and sustainability. There is no need for pretense to sainthood or being the planet’s savior; in fact that position is ill advised, as it can have unintended consequences. Profit and sustainability are necessary and worthy goals when pursued together. Ultimately, companies should be thinking about competitive advantages enabled by taking a leading position on sustainability in their sector, such as the opportunity to drive or influence government regulatory agendas.