As environmental issues steadily gain importance, the vaguely defined field known as “green marketing” is gaining more traction. Green marketing, however, has been around for decades but has only recently seen a major resurgence due to the tangible effects of the various issues that are forcing the public to carefully think about their everyday choices and subsequent impact.
Unfortunately, green marketing today has evolved into a jumble of ideas, ethics, and principles with no definite indication of what a “green marketing campaign” looks like or what a “green product” really is. With non-centralized standards, varied global regulations, and labeling that lacks much significance, the ability to call a product “green” is limitless, and often misleading. In fact, a survey by European polling outfit Eurobarometer showed that Europeans were very divided about the claims made about sustainable products — 49 percent said they trusted these claims but 48 percent stated the precise opposite.
What Does Green Marketing Involve?
So how does one effectively analyze whether a marketing campaign and its resulting products really are “green”? According to environmental marketing specialist Emily McClendon, in an article published on Environmental Leader, “One of the few true determinants of a sustainable product is a demonstrably lower carbon footprint compared to competitors. Carbon dioxide, despite controversy, is widely considered to be one of the most common and detrimental greenhouse gases (GHGs) contributing to global warming.”
However, for a green marketing strategy, several other factors come into play. As stated in The Saylor Academy’s Sustainable Business Casebook, any marketing strategy is based on what is known as the “marketing mix,” or the four Ps of marketing. These are Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Aside from this, sustainability guidelines, like the ones McClendon refers to, must be kept in mind. For a marketing campaign to be both effective and green, the principles of sustainability need to be incorporated throughout every step of the marketing mix.
Sustainability in Packaging
As an example, let us consider packaging, a part of the first P — product — of the marketing mix. Packaging plays a critical role in the campaign’s sustainability. Because the packaging is the first interaction any customer will have with the product, making sure it adheres to sustainable guidelines is integral to the success of the campaign. Business leaders should ask themselves whether their choice of packaging materials and methods is truly green or simply cost efficient. In most cases, materials used in packaging a product (recycled pallets, recyclable boxes, etc.) can greatly reduce environmental impact while still being efficient enough to meet with broader business and financial goals.
Consumers are becoming more and more discerning about environmental packing choices, resulting in a change of purchasing behavior. Consider the example of water bottles. Many consumers now use refillable water containers (such as BPA free bottles, infusible water bottles, etc.) rather than single-use water bottles. Even though consumers’ need for the product — clean water — remains the same, the mode of consumption has evolved due to increased awareness about plastic packaging and its detrimental effects. The slow decomposition rate of plastic bottles means years of stagnation in landfills or litter in the ocean. Thus, alternative water consumption methods have gained preference.
But, don’t be fooled!
While the effects of plastic waste are obvious, other packaging materials have environmental disadvantages that often remain hidden. That’s why it’s important to not be fooled by “greenwash” when it comes to analyzing the product packaging.
Greenwashing, the deliberate use of language that promotes sustainability for products that are not sustainable, is becoming less of an issue. Additionally, business leaders must watch out for planned obsolescence (the business strategy of producing consumer goods that become obsolete on a schedule, therefore requiring replacement). Avoiding planned obsolescence insures that products last longer, reducing the impact of manufacturing, packaging, and transporting new parts and materials.
Distribution is the same as the third P – place – of the marketing mix. Place is not just where the product can be purchased from, but also includes distribution processes and how the product ended up at a particular place. Due to this, it is also one of the main areas where marketing campaigns can successfully reduce their impact.
From installing more efficient energy methods like solar panels to using alternative fuels in trucks that ferry items cross-country, there are many ways to incorporate the principles of sustainability within distribution processes. For example, McClendon states that “one of the masters of efficiency, IKEA, uses Optiledge for shipping. Optiledge utilizes recyclable plastic pallets rather than the traditional wood pallets.
The reduction in weight requires less fuel for transportation, and the recyclable nature of the pallets allows them to be reused several times, therefore removing the need for continual manufacturing (a big carbon producer).”
Buying and selling locally is one place-related area of sustainable marketing. According to a global consumer survey cited in the The Saylor Academy’s Sustainable Business Casebook , North America has the highest belief in the positive impact of buying local goods, with 65 percent of consumers choosing to buy locally over other options. In general, consumers are becoming more aware of the high carbon emissions involved in transporting goods over long distances.
Local buying and selling doesn’t just lower the impact of these emissions but also boosts the local community both socially and economically. As larger companies begin to realize this trend, they are shifting to alliances with local supplies — Whole Foods is one such example, where produce is sourced from local farmers and fisheries.
And be sure to scrutinize!
As a business leader with a vision to lower environmental impact, it is key to scrutinize suppliers and demand the products they sell meet higher sustainability standards.
Similarly, as a consumer, it is important to be aware of where products are sourced from and make smarter choices to encourage retailers to follow suit. Since the distribution channel plays a significant role in green marketing practice, companies are constantly looking for ways to reduce their carbon-footprint.
Practices like transportation with fuel-efficient loads, using alternative energy sources, and optimizing distribution routes are a few methods that can favorably impact the distribution channel in a sustainable way. That being said, in the case of distribution too, one mustn’t be misled by the “greenwash.” Asking questions and doing thorough research is the way forward.
With increasing consumer knowledge of current environmental issues, hastily created sustainable campaigns will no longer suffice. Thus, analyzing a green marketing campaign for its worth can be tricky and takes a fair share of due diligence.
The first step is to recognize an organization’s current impact, then carefully re-evaluate its campaign goals to meet with sustainability guidelines. Thankfully, due to the many innovative methods to combat environmental problems in today’s world, green campaigns, if properly planned out, can be very successful.
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