By Gail Nickel-Kailing on May 14th, 2010
(This article first appeared on the blog of the Green Marketing Coalition. Reprinted with permission.)
In the larger scheme of things, marketing is set of activities, functions, and processes for creating and communicating products and services that deliver value for customers, clients, and partners. Unfortunately, for many companies, “green marketing” has become a label that describes the way they tout their sustainability efforts and flaunt the responsibility of their products and practices.
Perhaps we should consider using the term “marketing green” to more realistically describe how marketing practices are applied to not only improving the environmental and social performance of products and services, but also to communicating those values and impacts.
By moving from green marketing to marketing green companies can also avoid “green washing.” A quick check of Wikipedia gives us this excellent definition of green washing: “Significantly more money or time is spent advertising being green, rather than spending resources on environmentally sound practices. This is often portrayed by changing the name or label of a product, to give the feeling of nature; for example, putting an image of a forest on a bottle containing harmful chemicals.”
To ensure that you are marketing green, you can take some solid steps that will result in defining, developing, and delivering truly green products and services.
First, look inside your company and assess your corporate mission and values. Are you committed and actively working to reduce your environmental impacts? If not, any efforts you make to describe your products and services as “green” will simply be green washing. And today’s consumer is leery of anything that looks like touting and flaunting. Here are some steps you take:
- Understand your products’ lifecycles. Where can you make the biggest environmental impact? Sometimes the biggest dollar spent does not give you the best impact, so look closely.
- Add or improve the availability of environmentally friendly products. And – from the other side – eliminate any that are not. Now is the time to look at ways to improve your products. For consumer products, the biggest reduction in environmental impact can come in how your customers use your products.
- Examine your procurement, production, and packaging to understand their environmental and social impacts. Reach up and down the supply chain to understand how your suppliers’ suppliers’ affect the environment and society.
- Search for third party verification to ensure that any claims you make are valid and accurate, such as those from Green Star, Forest Stewardship Council, and other certifications and registrations.
- Become active in trade programs that shape the rules about how your industry sector both measures and improves the environmental performance of products and services.
Then communicate your green message to all your stakeholders: customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and your community. Here are some of the ways you can ensure that your message is marketing green without green washing:
- Ask yourself if the initiative you are communicating is a significant environmental or social achievement. If not, don’t communicate it.
- Make sure your initiatives address an issue that is related to your core business and is of interest to your stakeholders. If not it may be perceived as an attempt to distract your audience.
- If you have not invested considerable resources (time and/or money) in the initiative, it probably won’t have a significant impact nor will it be worth communicating.
- Have you spent more money on the activity itself or on communications about it? There is generally an inverse relationship when the effort is on the message rather than the impact.
- Work across multiple functions in your company; an initiative that has significant impact takes collaboration.
- “Do as I say, not as I do.” If other activities in your company conflict with the message you’re delivering about any initiative, your audience will be confused. Consistency is critical.
- Measure your impact, document it and validate it. When you have data measuring performance and you can measure it against objectives, you can communicate the impact clearly.
- Use a wide range of communications channels to reach all of your stakeholders, from those who are most eco-conscious to those who are less committed.
- Take full advantage of new technologies and new channels to give your stakeholders environmental information; ranging from social media and to QR (quick response) codes to mobile applications.
To ensure that your green marketing IS marketing green and not green washing, be introspective. Make sure you are “walking the talk” and have implemented social and environmental initiatives that truly have impact.
And when you have those in place, use all the most marketing sophisticated tools and methods to get the message out, to communicate your efforts – and your successes – honestly and effectively.
For more thoughts from Gail Nickel-Kailing, see www.business-strategies-etc.com