Green Marketing: Hype or Hope?

This weekend, a pal asked me if I thought “green” was going to fall off soon from too much hype. Interestingly, today, a reporter-friend asked me the same question. So, here’s my usual two cents on the subject.

Greenwashing is definitely in overdrive right now and without a doubt, “green” will soon be a throw-away word about as meaningful as “innovative” and “cutting-edge.”

That said the reality behind the hype is not going anywhere. Fact is, study after study shows consumers will happily pay more for green products – particularly in the under 30 market. And, it’s no secret that many consumers see large companies as “evil empires,” so demonstrating genuine concern for and care of the environment could soften a big bad corporation’s image.

But, as is true with any campaign, success lies in the details.

At its core, Green really isn’t anything new: it’s corporate social responsibility; instead of adopting underprivileged kids, corporations are adopting the environment. Companies can launch a green campaign highlighting their recycling policies (paper, cans, hardware, etc.) or by spotlighting telecommuting employees. There is some hay to be made around these kinds of activities. Wal*Mart and Target received some favorable press when they introduced reusable shopping bags, for instance. And, Wal*Mart took it a step further with solar-powered stores, LED-lit product displays, and hybrid shipping fleets – which has done well to offset some negative PR created from labor and health care issues.

The real power of green, however, lies in potential profits. Creating products that favorably impact the environment or encourage environmentally-friendly action can attract new customers and generate new revenue. According to a 2007 ImagePower Green Brands study conducted by three WPP companies, consumers expect to double their spending on Green products and services in the next year, totaling $500 billion annually or $43 billion per month.

And, for start-ups, Green could be the difference between funded or not. According to a study from Allianz, 71% of VCs saw Green as a “buy” option. And, IDC’s Green Study found that half the respondents said they look at Green IT credentials when choosing a supplier and 80% of executives said Green IT is a growing importance for their organization.

But, before you draft that press release announcing client recycling, do the proper research. Know the science behind the Green efforts and know the regulatory atmosphere. Know how your target customers view Green and make sure you communicate your efforts on their level. And, above all, be truthful. Fake Greenwashing can be deadly to a brand when exposed. I refer to the excellent essay from TerraChoice on the “The Six Sins of Greenwashing” (sins outlined below.)

Hidden Trade Off, in which companies highlight one eco-friendly attribute, and ignore their product’s other (potentially more significant) environmental concerns.

No Proof, which, just like it sounds, involves claims that can’t be verified (the report found 26% of environmental claims fall into this category).

Vagueness — terms like “chemical-free,” or “non-toxic,” which are both universally true, and universally false depending on your interpretation.

Irrelevance, when companies make claims that — while true — are unhelpful (like “CFC-free,” when CFCs have been banned for almost 30 years).

Lesser of Two Evils — like “green” herbicides, which ignores the fact that herbicides in any form aren’t good for the environment.

Fibbing. The most obvious, in which companies flat out lie (less than 1% of companies make this mistake, but does happen).

So, good luck in earning some green for your clients with a creative Green campaign.

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