Eco-Marketing for the Future
What really is green marketing? In one source, it was reported to be “the marketing of products that are presumed to be environmentally safe; thus green marketing incorporates a broad range of activities,” which seems about as broad as you can get. However, the move towards green marketing draws on rising levels of public knowledge regarding our environment and how industry negatively impacts ecosystems. As a reflection of growing concern for the future of the planet, businesses have begun to grow in the “eco-sphere,” marketing themselves and their business practices as environmentally friendly. But what does this really mean?
“Eco-friendly” is a fairly vague label easily adopted and supported in just a few ways. Paper, water, or electricity conservation is one way to reduce the company’s footprint. Additionally, companies can create a more environmentally conscious product through factory or packaging choices. Sweet Green, for example, has switched all their plasticware from petroleum-based to corn-based plastics so their products can be composted. They are not alone: startups are showing themselves very willing to adopt green practice, much quicker than business and building owners who may have a larger economic hurdle to jump to make the transition.
So how, then, can a green company or organization market itself as environmentally conscious?
The Federal Trade Commission Act states that “advertising must be truthful and nondeceptive. Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims and advertisements cannot be unfair.” All great rhetoric, but how can companies be sure they comply, and how does marketing ensure their truthfulness?
Greenwashing, a term coined by Jay Westervelt in 1986, refers to practices that put forth more effort to market themselves as “green” than actually being green. Westervelt introduced the term and the concept in reflection of hotels that began to leave cards asking guests to, in the effort of energy and water conservation, save their towels from one day to the next. Although the hotel’s true motivation was economic, through tactful marketing, the hotel was able to sway guests to adopt a more environmentally friendly option which would also benefit the company.
The distinction is subtle but present. Whereas greenwashing has a negative connotation – a company dishonestly marketing themselves as a green company – there are many instances of companies that adopt environmental practices for a dual benefit of environmental and economic reasons. In fact, according to a 2010 study, more than 90% of companies that implemented green programs have seen economic benefits, mainly in energy, paper and water costs. The marketing trick then, is to honestly portray a company’s green practices to consumers.
So a company is considered “green.” What about the marketing practices themselves? Traditionally, marketing can involve a lot of waste, but there has been a recent emergence of “eco-marketing” which utilizes more environmentally conscious methods. Internet and the subsequent social media boom is one clear way that marketing has been shifting away from paper advertisements and newsletters towards more environmentally friendly technological marketing.
Does the motivation for adopting green practices matter? If, at the end of the day, both the company and the environment benefit from honest environmentally conscious practices, does the initial drive for change matter? Thankfully, in the marketing field, we don’t have to delve into the deeper philosophical discussion of right and wrong, but we do have a responsibility to honestly illustrate a company or organization’s efforts to lessen their environmental footprint.
The way the world is going now, green companies and organizations will only grow in popularity, so it is the responsibility for eco-marketing’s parallel growth to highlight the good practices of an organization without stretching the truth.
This is a guest post from Loken Creative, an Austin-based marketing agency for cause-based organizations.
Photo courtesy of OpenSource (Flickr).