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Green Advertising And Marketing

Green advertising and marketing


In the last decade growing consumer interest in environmental issues has significantly impacted how advertisers market their products and companies. The evidence regarding this greater concern for the environmental impact of commercial goods has been documented by several marketing groups. A 1989 survey by Michael Peters consultants found that 53% of the Americans asked had refused to buy a product in that year because of the effect of the product or package on the environment ; 75% indicated that they would purchase a product with biodegradable or recyclable packaging even if it meant spending more money. In 1990 an Abt Associates study of American consumers showed that 90% of those interviewed were willing to pay more for environmentallyfriendly products. For many years, German, Scandinavian, and Dutch consumers had shown a willingness to buy phosphate-free detergents and other so-called environmentallyfriendly products. Indeed, a German business was saved from bankruptcy by offering a washing machine that consumed less water, detergent, and energy than its rivals. In England, The Green Consumer Guide, by John Elkington and Julia Hailes, was a best-seller for four weeks after its publication. Generally, the most environmentally-concerned consumers were well-to-do with the most discretionary income and the highest educational level. In short, they were trend-setters that advertising and marketing people could not ignore.

Marketers began to commonly use the terms "environmentally friendly," "safe for the environment," "recycled," "degradable," "biodegradable," "compostable," and "recyclable." Cause-related marketing also became popular as companies promised to support moderate environmental organizations such as World Wildlife Fund . While the advertising practices of many companies went uncontested by environmental groups, concerns arose regarding the claims of certain companies. For example, the Mobil Oil Corporation was sued for misleading advertising after claiming that its plastic Hefty garbage bags were recyclable. After suffering much embarrassment, British Petroleum was forced to withdraw its claim that its new brand of unleaded gasoline caused no pollution . Reacting to these and similar findings, 10 state Attorney Generals issued a report in 1990 calling for greater accountability in "green" marketing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Trade Commission also devised standards to evaluate the claims made by advertisers.

Often, the issue has been whether one product is really better for the environment than another. For instance, phosphate-free detergents created a controversy when they were introduced in France. Some companies claimed that they were no more environmentally benign than detergents that had phosphates . Rhone-Poulenc, the French producer of the detergents with phosphates, ran ads of dead fish apparently killed by the substances in the detergents which did not have phosphates. Proctor & Gamble launched a campaign which claimed that disposable diapers actually had less negative environmental impacts than reusable diapers. They pointed to the detergents, hot water, and energy used in washing cloth diapers, the energy needed to bring them to consumers, and the pesticides that were in the cotton out of which they were made.

Life-cycle assessments came into vogue as companies argued about the relative environmental merits of various products. Assessments exam the total environmental impact of using the product and how it ratesenvironmentallyto other similar products. Migros, the large Swiss retailer, has developed an "eco-balance" or life-cycle program to analyze the impact of its packaging in terms of the resources used and how they are disposed of.

Green labeling programs exist in Germany (Blue Angel ), Canada (Environmental Choice), and Japan (Ecomark). They are run by the governments of these countries, but the United States government has not been willing to give this kind of endorsement to commercial products. Instead, various environmental groups have seals of approval which they have applied to selected goods that pass their tests of environmental acceptability.

See also Environmentalism; Green packaging; Green products; Recycling

[Alfred A. Marcus ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Cairncross, F. Costing the Earth. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1992.

Elkington, J., and J. Hailes. The Green Consumer Guide. London: Gollancz, 1988.

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