Environmentally-responsible or "green" marketing is a business practice that takes into account consumer concerns about promoting preservation and conservation of the natural environment. Green marketing campaigns highlight the superior environmental protection characteristics of a company's products and services. The sorts of characteristics usually highlighted include such things as reduced waste in packaging, increased energy efficiency of the product in use, reduced use of chemicals in farming, or decreased release of toxic emissions and other pollutants in production.
Marketers have responded to growing consumer demand for environment-friendly products in several ways, each of which is a component of green marketing. These include: 1) promoting the environmental attributes of products; 2) introducing new products specifically for those concerned with energy efficiency, waste reduction, sustainability, and climate control, and 3) redesigning existing products with an eye towards these same consumers. Marketing campaigns touting the environmental ethics of companies and the environmental advantages of their products are on the rise.
Most observers agree that some businesses engage in green marketing solely because such an emphasis will enable them to make a profit. Other businesses, however, conduct their operations in an environmentally-sensitive fashion because their owners and managers feel a responsibility to preserve the integrity of the natural environment even as they satisfy consumer needs and desires. Indeed, true green marketing emphasizes environmental stewardship. Green or environmental marketing may be defined as any marketing activity that recognizes environmental stewardship as a fundamental business development responsibility and business growth responsibility. This expands, to some extent, the traditional understanding of a business's responsibilities and goals.
REACTIONS TO "GREEN CONSUMERISM"
A number of factors have caused business firms in some industries to incorporate an environmental ethic into their operations. The principal factor, of course, is the growing public awareness of the environmental degradation that has resulted as a consequence of the growth in population and natural resource consumption throughout the world during the last 50 years. The issue is particularly relevant in America, which accounts for fully one quarter of world consumption despite having only a small fraction of the world's population. This growing public awareness of environmental issues has brought with it a corresponding change in the buying decisions of a significant segment of American consumers. Many consumers, and not just the most environmentally conscious, have begun in recent years to incorporate environmental concerns in their personal buying decisions through the purchase and use of products and services perceived to be more environmentally friendly. In some cases, changes in commodity availability have been the motivation behind such shifts in purchasing patterns. For example, the gas price increases seen in 2004 and 2005 caused a sharp decline in sales of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in favor of hybrid and other flexible-fuel vehicles.
Businesses took heed of this growth in "green consumerism," and new marketing campaigns were devised to reflect this new strain of thought among consumers. Companies with product lines that were created in an environmentally friendly fashion (i.e., with recycled products, comparatively low pollutant emissions, and so on) quickly learned to shape their marketing message to highlight such efforts and to reach those customers most likely to appreciate those efforts (an advertisement highlighting a company's recycling efforts, for instance, is more likely to appear in an outdoor/nature magazine than a general interest periodical).
Ironically, the most environmentally aware consumers are also the ones most likely to view green claims of companies with skepticism. The attempt to portray oneself as "green" may fall flat if they are perceived to be false advertising, particularly among those most educated about environmental issues. Corporate reputation, then, has emerged as a tremendously important factor in reaching and keeping these consumers. A company that touts its sponsorship of an outdoor-oriented event or utilizes nature scenery in its advertising, but also engages in practices harmful to the environment, is unlikely to gain a significant portion of the green consumer market. Of course, such tactics are sometimes effective in reaching less informed sectors of the marketplace.
In their book The Green Consumer, John Elkington, Julia Hailes, and John Makower discussed several characteristics that a product must have to be regarded as a "green" product. They contended that a green product should not:
- Endanger the health of people or animals
- Damage the environment at any stage of its life, including manufacture, use, and disposal
- Consume a disproportionate amount of energy and other resources during manufacture, use, or disposal
- Cause unnecessary waste, either as a result of excessive packaging or a short useful life
- Involve the unnecessary use of or cruelty to animals
- Use materials derived from threatened species or environments
J. Stephen Shi and Jane M. Kane, meanwhile, noted in Business Horizons that the consulting firm FIND/SVP also judged a product's friendliness to the environment by ultimately simple measurements: "FIND/SVP considers a product to be 'green' if it runs cleaner, works better, or saves money and energy through an efficiency. Businesses practice being green when they voluntarily recycle and attempt to reduce waste in their daily operations. Practicing green is inherently proactive; it means finding ways to reduce waste and otherwise be more environmentally responsible, before being forced to do so through government regulations. Green promotion, however, requires businesses to be honest with consumers and not mislead them by over promising."
Life Cycle Analysis
Most analysts agree that the "life" of the product and its parts is one of the most important components in determining whether a product is "green" or not. Most people think only of the process of creating a product when gauging whether a product is green, but in reality, products impact on the environment at several additional stages of their useful lives. Life cycle analysis (LCA) and/or product line analysis (PLA) studies measure the cumulative environmental impact of products over their entire life cycle—from extraction of the resources used to create the product to all aspects of production (refining, manufacturing, and transportation) to its use and ultimate disposal. These studies are sometimes referred to as "cradle to grave" studies. Since such studies track resource use, energy requirements, and waste generation in order to provide comparative benchmarks, both manufacturers and consumers can select products that have the least impact upon the natural environment. Some detractors of LCA studies, though—while granting that they do provide useful information—contend that they are subjective in setting analysis boundaries and claim that it is difficult to compare the environmental impact of disparate products.
Perhaps no area of green marketing has received as much attention as promotion. In fact, green advertising claims grew so rapidly during the late 1980s that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued guidelines to help reduce consumer confusion and prevent the false or misleading use of terms such as "recyclable," "degradable," and "environmentally friendly" in environmental advertising. Since that time, the FTC has continued to offer general guidelines for companies wishing to make environmental claims as part of their promotional efforts:
- Qualifications and disclosures should be sufficiently clear and prominent to prevent deception.
- Environmental claims should make clear whether they apply to the product, the package, or a component of either. Claims need to be qualified with regard to minor, incidental components of the product or package.
- Environmental claims should not overstate the environmental attribute or benefit. Marketers should avoid implying a significant environmental benefit where the benefit is, in fact, negligible.
- A claim comparing the environmental attributes of one product with those of another product should make the basis for the comparison sufficiently clear and should be substantiated.
The FTC regulations apply to all aspects and forms of marketing, including labeling, advertising, and promotional materials. "When a business makes any environmental claim, it must be able to support that claim with reliable scientific evidence," summarized Shi and Kane. "A corporation trumpeting an environmental benefit that it is unable to substantiate is treading on thin ice and leaving itself open to substantial penalties if a legal suit is brought against the company."
In addition to delineating marketing claims that might be regarded as false or misleading, the FTC also provides guidance to businesses on how to make specific claims about environmentally-friendly aspects of their operation, in part by clarifying the definitions of such commonly used terms as "recyclable," "biodegradable," and "compostable."
"Organic" is another term commonly used in marketing. Its popularity has grown with the growing demand for organic agricultural products. For a company to promote and label a product as organic, that product must meet the strict guidelines established by the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The guidelines for both production and labeling of organic agricultural goods are laid out in the USDA's National Organic Program Web site located at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/indexIE.htm.
The popularity of green products created a need to regulate and standardize claims about the environmental characteristics of products. Many regulatory guidelines were issued (and remain in force) to accomplish this job. They are designed not only to curb businesses engaged in misleading advertising practices, but also to clarify the regulatory environment for companies and make it easier for the consumer to differentiate between products that are truly "green" and those that are not.
One avenue commonly used by companies to promote their specific ecological concerns (or polish their overall reputations as good corporate citizens) is to affiliate themselves with groups or projects engaged in environmental improvements. In the simplest form, firms engaged in eco-sponsoring activities contribute funds directly to an environmental organization to further the organization's objectives. Another approach is to "adopt" a particular environmental cause (community recycling programs are popular), thus demonstrating the company's interest in supporting environmental protection efforts. Sponsorships of educational programs, wildlife refuges, and park or nature area clean-up efforts also communicate concern for environmental issues. Environmental organizations charge, however, that some businesses use eco-sponsorships to hide fundamentally rapacious attitudes toward the environment.
Another vehicle that has been used with increasing frequency in recent years to convey environmental information to consumers is "eco-labeling." Eco-labeling programs are typically voluntary, third-party expert assessments of the environmental impacts of products. Two firms that are involved in such third party label verification work are Green Seal and Energy Star.
Eco-labeling programs increase awareness of environmental issues, set high standards for firms to work towards, and help reduce consumer uncertainty regarding a product's environmental benefits. Thus far, however, the U.S. government has resisted instituting an officially-sanctioned eco-labeling program.
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Hillstrom, Northern Lights
#x00A0; updated by Magee, ECDI
Green marketing is a way to use the environmental benefits of a product or service to promote sales. Many consumers will choose products that do not damage the environment over less environmentally friendly products, even if they cost more. With green marketing, advertisers focus on environmental benefits to sell products such as biodegradable diapers, energy-efficient light bulbs, and environmentally safe detergents.
People buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services every year—many which harm the environment in how they are harvested, made, or used. Environmentalists support green marketing to encourage people to use environmentally preferable alternatives, and to offer incentives to manufacturers that develop more environmentally beneficial products.
The concept of green marketing has been around at least since the first Earth Day in 1970. But the idea did not catch on until the 1980s, when rising public interest in the environment led to a demand for more green products and services. Manufacturers responded to public interest by labeling hundreds of new products "environmentally friendly"—making claims that products were biodegradable, compostable, energy efficient, or the like.
In spite of its growing popularity, the green marketing movement faced serious setbacks in the late 1980s because many industries made false claims about their products and services. For instance, the environmental organization CorpWatch, which issues annually a list of the top ten "greenwashing" companies, included BP Amoco for advertising its "Plug in the Sun" program, in which the company installed solar panels in two hundred gas stations, while continuing to aggressively lobby to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Without environmental labeling standards, consumers could not tell which products and services were truly beneficial. Consumers ended up paying extra for misrepresented products. The media came up with the term "greenwashing" to describe cases where organizations misrepresented themselves as environmentally responsible.
In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped in to prevent further deception. The FTC created guidelines for the use of environmental marketing claims such as "recyclable," "biodegradable," "compostable," and the like. The FTC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defined "environmentally preferable products" as products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to other products and services that serve the same purpose. The label "environmentally preferable" considers how raw materials are acquired, produced, manufactured, packaged, distributed, reused, operated, maintained, or how the product or service is disposed.
Today, special labels help the public identify legitimate environmentally preferable products and services. Several environmental groups evaluate and certify products and services that meet FTC standards—or their own tougher standards. One popular product that has received certification is shade-grown coffee, an alternative to coffee beans that are grown on deforested land in the tropics.
During the late 1990s, green marketing received a large boost when President Bill Clinton issued executive orders directing federal offices to purchase recycled and environmentally preferable products. Some industries adopted similar policies.
Examples of environmentally-beneficial products and services:
- Paper containing post-consumer wastepaper
- Cereals sold without excess packaging
- Shade-grown coffee beans
- Cleaning supplies that do not harm humans or environment
- Wood harvested from sustainable forests
- Energy-efficient lightbulbs
- Energy-efficient cars
- Energy from renewable sources of energy such as windmills and solar power
ottoman, jacquelyn, and miller, edmond shoaled. (1999). green marketing opportunities for innovation.new york: mcgraw-hill.
federal trade commission bureau of consumer protection. environmental marketing claims. available from http://www.ftc.gov.
Green marketing is the production, promotion, pricing, and distribution of products and services that are environmental friendly. The concept of green marketing has its roots in the three distinct environmental movements that have occurred since the 1960s. These various environmental movements have become known as environmentalism. Environmentalism is the action of government agencies, for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, and others seeking to both protect and improve the environment.
The first movement occurred during the 1960s and 1970s when citizens and environmental groups became concerned with ecosystem damage such as clear-cut logging and human health problems resulting from polluted air and water. The second movement occurred during the 1970s and 1980s when environmentalism was driven by federal, state, and local governments that passed various laws and regulations designed to reduce the negative impact on the environment from business practices, products, and services.
The third movement of environmentalism is driven by businesses. During this stage, business has accepted responsibility for not causing harm to the environment. This acceptance of responsibility is known as environmental sustainability. Businesses practicing environmental sustainability seek to do no harm to the environment while at the same time remaining profitable through the products and services they sell. One strategy that businesses use to remain profitable is green marketing.
Examples of environmental sustainability and green marketing abound as more and more businesses continue to adopt environmentally sustainable practices. Dell, for example, understands that its responsibility for the computers it produces does not end when they leave the factory. As such, Dell has created the Dell Recycle program in which it attempts to lessen the impact of obsolete computers, keyboards, mice, monitors, and printers that might otherwise end up in landfills. By recycling obsolete computers, Dell is able to keep toxic chemicals out of landfills and to reuse useful materials.
Another example of environmental sustainability and green marketing are the forest management practices adopted by International Paper. International Paper practices sustainable forest management by administering and conserving all forest resources for current and future generations. As such, International Paper's environmental sustainability and green marketing encompasses the complete forest environment: air, plants, soils, trees, and wildlife. International Paper also partners with academic institutions, environmental groups, and government agencies to develop new ways of promoting responsible forest resource management. As such, International Paper's sustainable forest practices demonstrate that the planting,
growing, and harvesting of trees and a healthy forest ecosystem can go hand in hand.
Further, the concept of environmental sustainability and green marketing has been extended by retailers of forest-based products. For example, Home Depot established a wood purchasing policy in 1999 that gives preference to the purchasing of wood products originating from certified well-managed forests, when practical, and to eliminating the purchase of wood products from endangered regions such as the Amazon. In addition, Home Depot practices and promotes the efficient and responsible use of wood products and the development and use of alternative environmental-friendly products as wood replacements.
see also Environmental Protection Agency; Marketing
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Ottman, Jacquelyn A. (1998). Green marketing (2nd ed.). Lincolnwood, IL: NCT Business Books.
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Allen D. Truell