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Green Marketing: Is it Time to Start Your Campaign?

Jasmine Timar

Executive Summary

Whether or not taking on green marketing initiatives will benefit your company is entirely dependent on the amount of investment you are willing to make into three main factors: the culture your leadership is trying to grow, how willing you are to invest in at least one segment of responsible practices, and, realistically, how many negative impacts on the planet your company is producing. 

Actual changes to a company should be made in terms of three different marketing segments: strategic, tactical, and internal green marketing. Strategic green marketing involves long term and more managerial level decisions such as partnering with organizations that make environmental action a priority. Tactical orientation focuses on shorter-term product-level decisions, such as developing more sustainable products and communicating their benefits outward, while internal orientation is based around imbuing the workforce with the same ideology of sustainable practices to foster a
green culture throughout the organization.
The most important factor to remember is that having an actual belief in the green movement and fostering the mentality of making changes for the greater good, has to be rooted in your organization and not just be a way to offset having extremely unsustainable everyday practices.

Done Right? Profits. Done Wrong? Scandal.

For years, green marketing has been met with a healthy mix of skepticism, scandals, and successes. The concept first rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s as the movement for environmental protections gained traction. Once businesses realized that there may be room for profits in showing their corporate responsibility or in providing profits that let activists feel good about themselves, they started to get on the “green” train. However, when companies first jumped on board with the trend they didn’t have a strong point of reference to see if these tactics would be profitable or not. Since then there has been a range of different approaches trying to tap into the green marketplace from a wide range of companies including those whose leadership takes their commitment to the planet seriously to those who just slap green labeling on old products and call it environmentally friendly. 

What really separates the success stories from the scandals is the amount of investment that a company has in going green, and that doesn’t just mean an investment of funds. The new mentality has to be rooted through your organization and not just be a way to offset having extremely unsustainable everyday practices. With green marketing comes the ever feared “Green Washing”: giving your consumers the impression that you are an environmentally conscientious company when you really have no business calling yourself such. Consumers are more careful than ever when researching the ethics behind the marketing, and if you’re found out, you’re more likely to experience a drop off in sales than sudden profits. So what does this mean for you, a business executive, in a world where consumers are calling for corporate social responsibility? That all depends on you and your company’s values and how much you are willing to invest in change. 

Is there A Market For “Green”?

The consensus on this is a well resounding “YES” across the board. As Millenials take over the spot for having the highest generational buying power, they bring with them a strong lean towards social and environmental responsibility. A 2017 report by CONE communications, a corporate responsibility research group, stated that 87% of Americans will choose to do business with companies that showed support for issues that they care about. This goes hand in hand with the well-known factoid that Millenials are very willing to pay more for a product that they believe has a good impact on the planet. And the impact of this doesn’t just show in increases in sales, there can be very strong negative repercussions of not doing what consumers believe to be a company’s fair share in giving back. This shows itself in the same report where CONE communications relay that 76% of Americans will refuse to buy from companies that they learn are supporting issues that they believe are harmful to society. Many companies have taken this into account and have either launched or amped up their responsible activities in response. Some examples of companies that have launched strong green campaigns are:

  1. Rothy’s: A company that produces women’s footwear that was produced using recycled plastic water bottles
  2. Lush: A company that creates bath and body products using recycled, recyclable, or non-existent packaging and avoids material components in their products known to cause negative environmental impacts
  3. REI: A wilderness experience supplies retailer that makes a pointed effort to have their employees volunteer often to reduce their impact on the planet

Each of these companies has implemented different, yet effective approaches to improving their impact on the planet from having their entire product suite be beneficial, to their packaging, to their staff. The presence of these companies and their continued success make a case for there being a market for green marketing. In addition to this, they also provide good examples of the different tiers of approaches you could take when implementing a green marketing campaign in your company.

Is “Green” Profitable?

When the concept of Green Marketing first launched, there wasn’t any research that showed if it produced a good return on investment or not. Since then, many reports have been produced that give more tangible descriptions of the effectiveness of launching one of these campaigns. One such journal article published in 2012 saw researchers developing a questionnaire to investigate how integrating “green” products, practices, and marketing campaigns impacted business outcomes. The survey questioned marketing contacts within corporations as to what green strategies had been implemented, their current financial and market status, what the risk aversion within the company looked like, and if there was any current funding surplus. Based on their findings the authors concluded that all green strategies appeared to increase a company’s ROA, however different strategies had different effects and not all green tactics produced uniform results. Some of the significant findings also showed that money freed up by government incentives was able to create good opportunities for investing in efforts that proved to be successful. Having these slack resources are a good way to jumpstart a move into green marketing 

campaigns that can either help you develop new product lines or to change your operations providers to ones that are more sustainably. Any of these changes have the potential to grow your revenue or to reduce your overall expenses, so even if you aren’t making a green product to sell ad advertise, it can still be profitable to switch to greener practices.

Where Does Greenwashing Come In?

If you are starting to weigh the benefits and detriments of moving into greener practices, you are bound to come across the topic of Greenwashing rather quickly. Since the inception of green marketing, greenwashing has been an omnipresent counterpart to the benefits of the practice. Large corporations have been coming under one after the other for years for making a variety of misleading claims about the environmental benefits of their products to consumers. In 2013 the Danish consumer ombudsman came after Coca Cola for the heavy green imagery used on their PlantBottle packaging insisting that there were not nearly as many benefits that came from using them as were implied. Another company known amongst environmental supporters as a giant responsible for immense amounts of deforestation and aquifer draining, Nestle, continues to advertise is products as being good for the environment, fair trade, and very conscientiously sustainable. These sorts of actions and campaigns have done nothing but bring bad press to their brands, and drag their reputation in the eyes of the consumers. However, while these companies have massive teams of staff to review and judge these claims, smaller companies don’t have access to such resources, and they are the ones who make infractions more regularly according to green marketing and eco-innovation consultant Jacquelyn Ottman. In an article published in the International Business Times, a reporter was given the opportunity to chat with Ottman following the publication of her coauthored report from AdvertisingAge “How to Make Credible Green Marketing Claims,” that works to make the new FTC guidelines easier to understand for marketing teams without a legal background. The Federal Trade Commission guidelines which were updated in 2012, have been known for being difficult to understand and adhere to when a company doesn’t have sufficient resources to interpret the rules in their context. To really avoid making misleading claims, it’s advised to really drill down and analyze what terminology your company is blasting out. What are the actual benefits of your product for the environment? What tangible actions are your employees taking to support the planet? Are you trying to cover up negative actions you may have taken in the past? What have you done to acknowledge these actions? All of this and the additional content found in Ottman’s report can help to keep your company from making misleading or unsubstantiated claims in your marketing efforts.

How Does My Company Get Started?

Launching a green marketing campaign looks different for every company, and depending on where you’re starting from, it’s going to involve varying degrees of time and money invested. We’ll break it down the main components for you into three different categories based on the different primary kinds of green marketing found in the report by Papadas et al. in 2017. A company with a strong green marketing orientation will have a combination of all of these components, but you need to know where you are with them to know what your company needs to do next. These categories are strategic, tactical, and internal green marketing orientations which we will designate as partnership-based, product-based, and culture-based green marketing tactics.

Partnership Based Green Marketing

Example Company: Pet store partnering with a wildlife conservation org

Strategic green marketing orientation consists of long term and more managerial level decisions such as partnering with organizations that make environmental actional a priority. This is something that you company can do to help the planet even if they aren’t ready to launch a new product or completely revamp their corporate culture. Partnering with a non-profit organization and making regular donations, or involving you staff in fundraising activities are great ways to take your first steps into giving back to the planet.

Product Based Green Marketing

Example Company: LUSH

Tactical orientation focuses on shorter-term product-level decisions such as developing more sustainable products and communicating their benefits outward. If you’re ready to launch a more sustainable product line, you need to be all in. An environmentally friendly product shouldn’t just be a slightly tweaked version of one of your other products that have been rebranded, it needs to be designed with the planet in mind. Take a good look at your supply chain, and try to find areas where your suppliers and distributors aren’t being ethical. Find other companies that make significant efforts to reduce their impacts and use them for your primary services. Design packaging to either be sourced from recycled materials or to be easier to recycle. Change your product components to ones that are sustainably sourced or that will have less of an impact once they are out in the world. And then price these new products accordingly. Don’t forget that the main buying power that Millennials are now carrying is willing to purchase more expensive products if they actually do something good for the planet. These product level changes have the potential to improve the amount of profit you make while also improving the reputation of your brand.

Culture Based Green Marketing

Example Company: REI

Internal orientation is based around imbuing the workforce with the same ideology of sustainable practices to foster a green culture throughout your organization and supporting more environmentally friendly initiatives in your internal operations. Think of this as what messaging you are spreading among your employees, and how the tools you are giving them impact the planet. Look to companies like REI for inspiration with mobilizing your employees for the planet. Encourage and require volunteer work and always provide incentives for strong performance in these areas. Make helping the planet something they can be excited about, not just another chore in their list of things to do. On the operations side of things, it is good to look at your energy and utilities providers to see where they source your power from. Analyze your company’s carbon footprint and make payments to organizations like Cool Effect to offset it. Switch as many of your processes to paperless and include easy to recognize labeling for proper recycling and trash disposal within your company. Being conscientious about all of these things and any other weak areas you identify within your operations will give you pride in knowing you are making a difference, and more to write about on your about pages.

Broadcast

Based on current research, whether or not a green marketing campaign will be beneficial company depends on three main factors, the culture your leadership is trying to grow, how willing you are to invest in at least one segment of actually responsible practices, and, realistically, how many negative impacts on the planet your company is producing. If your executive team is invested in developing a culture of corporate responsibility and willing to spread that belief throughout your organization, you’re off to a good start. Having your employees practice what you preach both improves the external reputation of your company, as well as fosters a positive internal environment with happier employees. If you are willing to grow the culture and work on your standard operating practices, next is developing relevant sustainable products. Just attaching green branding is not enough, and putting significant efforts into using responsible production means, packaging, or outside investments is necessary for moving into the world of corporate responsibility. Sit down with your full executive suite and see what makes sense for you within your company. Making the move into a new product, changing distributors, or investing in nonprofits that 

your consumers believe in is a huge decision and needs to have the engagement of your full team. Finally, if your company is responsible for large amounts of actual environmental damage, if you aren’t willing to change those practices it will do more harm than good to advertise being environmentally friendly. We would still recommend investigating the different steps of your process to make positive changes, and you can mention these in the about section of your website but it is necessary that you acknowledge your negative impact. Breezing over it will only bring bad press to your doorstep and potentially drive your customers away. If you take all of these factors into consideration, and your team is ready to make some big changes, then it’s time to get ready to blast it out. Have your marketing team run dedicated campaigns, and measure the results as they come through. Happy Marketing!

Papadas, K. K., Avlonitis, G. J., & Carrigan, M. (2017). Green marketing orientation: Conceptualization, scale development, and validation. Journal of Business Research, 80, 236-246. 

 

Leonidou, C. N., Katsikeas, C. S., & Morgan, N. A. (2013). “Greening” the marketing mix: Do firms do it and do it pay off? Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41(2), 151-170. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/10.1007/s11747-012-0317-2

Zara, Christopher. “Green Marketing Without Greenwashing: AdAge Report Aims To Demystify FTC Green Guides.” International Business Times, 16 Sept. 2013, https://www.ibtimes.com/green-marketing-without-greenwashing-adage-report-aims-demystify-ftc-green-guides-1406558.

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