Green Marketing 2.0

Issues relating to IT and energy are often the primary focus of sustainability efforts within a corporation. Much has been documented and continues to be every day. But what about the impact of a company’s communications, like advertising, direct mail, websites, blasts, webinars, tradeshows and more?

One of our prime focuses is to keep abreast of this sector and inform our clients and the business world in general through speaking engagements, blogging, interviews, article writing and in other forms of communications about the movements being made to green the media supply chain. Walk your talk, right?

Here are a few environmental wake-up calls for corporations to consider concerning their communications:

Printing 10,000 bumper stickers equals 1.6 tons of CO2
Printing a 10,000 piece mailing equals 2.1 tons of CO2
Printing 10,000 yard signs equals 10.7 tons of CO2
The impact of these activities have been largely overlooked but websites such as are in the forefront of our industry providing research and awareness in this arena. They found out the 10% of the companies they surveyed had not even considered reporting on the carbon footprint of the publications they advertise in. In an effort to create meaningful change in the greening of the media supply chain, they publish articles, newsletters and produce tradeshows in order to move the needle for marketers and business owners towards true sustainability in the marketing field.

The challenges are certainly unique in the world of green marketing. From the media carbon footprint to the lack of standards for determining what it means to be a green product to communicating a message truthfully, authentically and credibly. This always brings us back to the Golden Rule. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. It can’t get any greener than that.

(Exerpt from upcoming book, “Inside the Minds: Greening your Business” by Thompson Reuters. Green Marketing chapter written by Carolyn Parrs and Irv Weinberg)

Gen Gray is Gen Green

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the biggest purchasers of green goods are not the youngest among us but the oldest. According to a recent study by the American Association of Retired Persons, better known as AARP, 62% of consumers 55 and over buy green products.

Their reason? A sense of responsibility to give back to society and make the world a better place.

Whether this decision is guilt or gut, as marketers we should celebrate these finding in all our communications. For many years, marketers focused heavily on the 18-24 demographic and usually ignored the 55+ consumers. All that needs to change.

These 55 plusers have shown the willingness and the consciousness to opt for greener, healthier and better products that not only benefit them but the planet — and the rest of us. Their vibrant purchasing patterns show how easily they adapt to a changing marketplace and how significantly they have changed it.

How we portray this group is of maximum importance. Make them as alive as the products they overwhelmingly buy and support their wisdom in doing so.

How do you spell green? G R E E E N

Even though the dictionary says there are only two E’s in green, when speaking about green marketing, there are actually three.

The first “E” stands for ecology. Ecology and planetary concerns. It’s the initial engine that got the whole movement started in the first place.

The second “E” and equally important is economy. There isn’t anyone standing with a gas nozzle in their hands that isn’t thinking hybrids and alternative energy sources. Just the other day, there was a package of $2.99 corn I saw in Trader Joe’s that made me think that the price of corn is spiking as quickly as oil. Then there’s the unknown effects this year’s weather will have on the fall crop yields that we’ll all be paying for soon.

Take note green marketers, the economic benefits of green products is the great story that needs to be told as bank accounts shrink faster that glaciers.

The last “E” in green is efficacy. Green doesn’t only have to do good, it has to work good. Think of the clever naming of the new line from Clorox called ”Green Works”. That makes sense because many early adapters to green products gave up a lot of performance for their conscience. But that’s no longer true.

If you want to successfully sell green products in a market governed by today’s realities, you have to get your priorities in order and balance your message accordingly. Grand-dads in trout streams, Kermit the frog, lofty lyrics and make-believe messages aren’t going to do it.

Tell me how you’re going to respect my needs, my values and my intelligence first. Then we can talk.

Five fatal flaws of green communications

In the green world, miscommunication is often worse than no communication at all. If you’re going to communicate with this demographic, here are five “no-no’s” no green communicator should ever commit.

1. Underestimating the intelligence of the audience.

According to the New York Times, the green consumer is more inquisitive, less trusting, more experimental and better informed than any group of consumers have ever been before. They think about their values every time they make a purchase. Make sure you appeal to their head as well as their heart if you want your message to appeal to them.

2. Making and disseminating vague or misleading environmental statements.

When Ford launched its “Kermit the Frog” advertising campaign a couple of years ago for their Ford Escape Hybrid, they tried to convince the public of their commitment to the environment. One print ad read, “Green vehicles. Cleaner factories. It’s the right road for our company, and we’re well underway.”

Meanwhile back at the plant, Ford only planned on producing 20,000 of its Hybrid SUV’s per year, while continuing to produce almost 80,000 of their gas guzzling F-series trucks per month. That campaign backfired and the term “Greenwashing” became synonymous with their name. Greenwashing is a term describing misleading instances of environmental advertising. A definite “no no”.

3. Relying on sweeping generalities about the green consumer.

The green demographic is not one thing. It ranges from deep greens (19% who are totally committed) to medium greens (33% who are open and willing) to light greens (16% who will buy green only when it makes economic as well as ecologic sense). Make sure you know who you are talking to before you start talking.

4. Committing sins of omission.

Transparency is everything in this market. When Horizon Organic Dairy advertised happy cows, the green consumer found out they weren’t so happy and they organized a protest against them. All the great PR in the world won’t undo that.

5. Underestimating the power of the Internet.

News spreads like a virus on the internet. In a nano-second, millions of consumers can reach each other. Be sure what you say (and don’t say) you want everyone to know because with the click of a mouse, they will.

The green market is estimated to reach $1 trillion in the next five years. If you want to be part of that growth, you have to be as smart, as aware and as authentic as the consumers you want to reach. Not being is the greatest flaw of all.

Does greenwashing begin in the marketing room?

An intriguing statement regarding green and corporations was sent out into cyberspace from a green business community we belong to. ”Does the ‘green’ come from the board room or the marketing room? If it comes from the marketing room, it’s greenwashing.”

Our marketing minds lit up on this one. So much so we simply HAD to respond to this blanket comment that we feel is detrimental to the forward movement of green in the world. As a co-owner of a marketing company that is dedicated to bringing green to mainstream, greenwashing is not and will never be one of our marketing tactics. And we’re not alone.

Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to sit in the “marketing room” of a large corporation that was trying to figure out this whole green thing. To our surprise, we found the conversations authentic, honest and transparent.

Yes, transparent.

At the end of the day, is guidance needed? Yes. At the end of the day, was the ultimate focus still the bottom-line? Yes. But for me this is the great challenge and opportunity. Even our beloved Paul Hawken says that if economics and ecology aren’t joined, we’re in deep trouble.

As a green marketing coach, one of my greatest pleasures is helping green business owners grow their business through sound and viable marketing strategies and tactics. When I ask my coaching clients, “What is your vision?” — nine times out of ten I hear: To EDUCATE the public in order to bring permanent, positive change in the world. Their products are simply a means to an end.

This always humbles me and energizes my dedication to each and every one of them — and ultimately to the advancement of green in the world. These business owners are the ones we’ve been waiting for. They’re the ones that will influence and educate the consumers. And it’s the consumers that will ultimately influence the corporations.

For me, here’s the real bottom-line: What we need as a movement and a market is to adopt the attitude of inclusion, not exclusion. And that includes corporations. Gary Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Yogurt, said that he could do more positive change on the inside of a corporation than on the outside.

So let’s quit the blanket statements about marketing and corporations and greenwashing. Not all “green” from the marketing room is greenwashing. Instead, let’s join forces (no one said it would be easy) and create the world we all want to live in. Let’s help ALL people do their part so they can begin to become a part of something, well, GREAT.

Teach don’t preach

Scientific American magazine reported that a baby crawling on conventional carpet inhales the equivalent of four cigarettes a day. When helping a natural floor covering company, we didn’t have to say much more than that to stop people in their tracks — especially mothers thinking of decorating their baby’s room.

On our eco-podcast, America the Green, we started each show with an Eco Wake-up call such as, “If we recycled all of the newspapers printed in the U.S. on a typical Sunday, we would save 550,000 trees or about 26 million trees per year. (Source: California Department of Conversation).

What can you teach your potential customers about your green product or service that has stopping power? One that lays out a solid “because” that’s not necessarily attached to a cause? Hint: Tell them something they don’t know.

For an organic winery, we helped spread the message about the heavy pesticide load of grapes found in conventional wines. Here was their wake-up call, “The EPA considers that 60 percent of all herbicides, 90 percent of all fungicides and 30 percent of all insecticides are carcinogenic. In California, where 90 percent of domestic wines are produced, grapes receive more pesticides than any other crop.” (Source: Californians for Pesticide Reform).

A green building store in Florida created shelf talkers, little signs strategically placed on the shelf underneath their products. These signs conveyed the benefits and “green facts” of their environmental products versus the conventional choice. This was her version of an Eco Wake-up call.

Tell your potential customers something they don’t know and tell it in a simple, effective way, backed up by reputable sources, and you’ve come a long way in making your green message reach not just preach.

What’s worked for you? We’d like to know. Send us your views, stories or wins.

Marry ecology and economy

Green is for everyone. It’s not fringe or “‘off the grid.” It’s mainstream and Main Street. Imbue every message your business communicates with something for everyone.

The package of energy-saving light bulbs that we opened yesterday had a little sticker on it that said these bulbs can save you $184.00 per year. A client of ours that manufactures cloth diapers communicates that her diapers not only are eco-friendly (appealing to the heart) but can save you over $2,000.00 per child from birth through potty training (appealing to the head). When ecology meets economy, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Do you have an ecology meets economy story or tip you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it and share it!

The head and the heart of the green consumer

The green consumer is a thinking consumer. They think about their values every time they make a purchase. It’s not just their emotions that drive them; it’s their intelligence as well. Because of this, it makes sense to tell a thinking consumer something that makes them think and something that makes sense.

It’s important to educate them with the logical part of being ecological. Of course, it’s important to appeal to their sense of honor and caring. But it’s equally important to appeal to their sense of savings.

You can’t just tell them that you’re saving the planet one light bulb at a time. They’re too smart for that. We’ve found that consumers relate best to issues they feel they can actually have an impact on and ones that have an immediate impact on them.

The rapidly increasing sales of Hybrids in today’s marketplace will increasingly be driven by the prices at the pump, not just the softer footprint on the earth. A poll by the Associated Press in June 2007 stated 46 % of Americans said soaring gasoline prices would cause them “serious hardship” and 66 % said they planned to reduce driving. And a whopping 47% said they have plans to buy a new fuel-efficient car. Economy meets ecology.

It really is a circle of savings that does good for everyone. The economic saving in the green world can often be as important as the ecological savings. And that’s a message every shade of green can understand and relate to. Those of us in the green communications world need to open up our approaches to marketing green products. The more mainstream we make our messages, the less lofty the promises, the wider the audience there is to listen and respond.

After all, that’s what we really want to accomplish, isn’t it? Getting more green goods into the world for the good of all. And that’s something we can all profit from.

You’ve got to be a “see-through” company

Transparency is everything. It’s seeing through what you say to what you do. It’s having business practices you want, and don’t want the world to see.

The mission statement of Patagonia, the California-based outdoor equipment and clothing maker, is:”To make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” One of the ways Patagonia puts its mission where its mouth is is by implementing a self-imposed “Earth Tax.” A sum founder, Yvon Chouinard, feels is owed for being a polluter and user of the planet’s non-renewable resources.

More recently, they created the Patagonia Footprint Chronicles: An interactive mini-site that allows you to track the impact of five Patagonia products from design through delivery. It’s part of a new enviro-section called “Leading the Examined Life.”

That’s transparency in action.

On the other side of the fence – when Ford launched its “Kermit the Frog” advertising campaign a couple of years ago for their Ford Escape Hybrid, they tried to convince the public of their commitment to the environment. One print ad read, “Green vehicles. Cleaner factories. It’s the right road for our company, and we’re well underway.”

Meanwhile back at the plant, Ford only planned on producing 20,000 of its Hybrid SUV’s per year, while continuing to produce almost 80,000 of their gas guzzling F-series trucks per month. Well, the campaign backfired in their face, and the term “Greenwashing” became synonymous with their name.

Greenwashing is a term describing misleading instances of environmental advertising. But as more and more corporations are stretching their eco-efforts, the term is expanding to include a wider range of corporate activities, like environmental reporting, distribution of education materials, event sponsorship and more.

Green talk has to exist side-by-side with green walk. You have to be willing to let the green consumer know not only what goes into the products you make but what goes into the values you uphold. How you treat your employees, the health of your plant and business offices. Do you provide fair wages? Do you employ subcontractors who use child labor or toxic working conditions?

Green is more than a slogan. It’s actions that speak louder than words.

Education is everything

There’s one thing you need to know about the green consumer. They want to know.

According to the Roper Green Gauge, over 50% reported they would do more if they only knew what and how. So moving your communications to educate and inform can do a lot to grow your green business.

While representing an eco-friendly paint company, we raised the issues of indoor air pollution which is caused in part by the out-gassing of toxins in conventional paints, stains and cleaning products. We built into their quarterly consumer catalog an educational component called “Did You Know?” Sprinkled throughout the pages were various statistics that enlightened consumers.

For instance, using EPA statistics, we informed them that “indoor air pollution is two to twenty times worse than outdoor air pollution even in a heavily industrialized city.” A few pages later, a statistic from Scientific American stated, “A baby crawling on a conventional carpet inhales the equivalent of four cigarettes a day.”

These eye-opening facts broadened their audience considerably, bringing many mainstream people into their consumer base who now understood the close-to-home benefits of their products. Then we launched the branding line for their non-toxic paints, “Beauty without the Beast.” We struck the balance between the reasons people buy their products: To beautify their homes AND avoid unnecessary toxins – the real reason for that “just painted smell.”

Most of us trust the marketplace to bring us products that are safe, useful and effective. Consumers have not trained themselves nor felt the need to examine everything that’s out there before they purchase. But that’s beginning to change.

The thousands of recalls of everything from children’s toys to chopped meat are beginning to wake up and energize a more informed consumer. They’re demanding to know more before they buy and that has profound implications for marketers.

You can build a viable base by telling an educational story. By informing how your product or service does the job well and helps the environment at the same time. That way the message is not just about saving the planet out there but improving their life right here.

No one, whether they’re an environmentally-conscious consumer or not, wants to bring unnecessary toxins into their homes, or buy unsafe toys, or use potentially harmful products. They just didn’t know they were.

When you educate, you marry emotion to intellect, the heart to the head, the planet to the person. The more you educate your customer, the more you build trust. The more you build trust, the more likely you are to win their business.