What we know as green marketing is best thought of as an umbrella term, covering a wide range of marketing approaches, some rigorously ethical and ecological; others green in name and branding, but decidedly grey in practice.
Green marketing or marketing greenwash?
It was as long ago as the 1990s that the world’s attention began to turn to the increasingly urgent problems of climate change and global warming, and pioneering marketers, keen to stay ahead of the curve, started to rethink their strategy to accommodate and exploit the market’s new-found environmental sensibility.
Twenty years on, green marketing is a (usually) well respected discipline in its own right. But approaches still vary considerably. Some companies are less keen on overhauling their operations in order to reduce their environmental impact than they are in merely jumping on the green marketing bandwagon, seeking out spurious or downright fabricated associations to convince consumers of the green credentials of their products.
Taking a holistic approach
Other organisations have proved to be far more committed to the green marketing ideal, conscientiously avoiding marketing greenwash, and attempting to bring about a more holistic change in the way they do business.
Jacquelyn Ottman, one of the founding experts of the green marketing movement, proposes that, if a business’s green marketing strategy is to be effective and sustainable, environmental concerns should be vertically integrated into all aspects of marketing, from new product development to communications strategies.
Green marketing leaders have also suggested that, in order to avoid accusations of marketing greenwash and ensure that the principles of green marketing are meaningfully applied to every level of a company’s operations, businesses should consider the nature of their involvement with suppliers, franchisees and other partners, as well as potentially pursuing new relationships with NGOs, regulatory bodies and educators.
A realignment of priorities
Ideally, a company whose commitment to green marketing goes beyond the superficial should be constantly working to balance two dynamic sets of needs:
- Customer requirements: Ultimately, the relationship with the consumer, and the company’s ability to fulfil customers’ needs without compromising on fundamentals such as profit, is one of the cornerstones of doing business.
- Environmental considerations: These may at times directly clash with customer requirements, which is one of the greatest challenges of green marketing. More often though, it will be possible to find a middle way between environmental concerns and customer needs – and indeed, there are times when consumers will be positively attracted by the green marketing credentials of a company.
Speaking the green language
As consumer awareness of contemporary environmental issues grows ever more urgent and more nuanced, it is no longer enough either to ignore this marketing discipline or to fob customers off with marketing greenwash that doesn’t stand up to detailed scrutiny. The public is increasingly fluent in the debates and details surrounding today’s environmental issues, and now more likely than ever before to be receptive to an intelligent, respectful and scientifically rigorous green marketing campaign.