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RIP Green Marketing?

By on May 16th, 2011

That is, Rest In Peace, not Raster Image Processor…

GreenBiz has a lengthy post about a sad fact we should concede: so-called “green marketing” is dead. No, that’s not quite right. It was never really alive. Consider:

With the exception of some energy-saving devices, no green product has captured more than a tiny slice of the marketplace, at least in the U.S.

Think about it: No environmentally preferable car, carpet, cleaner, cosmetic, clothing, coffee, credit card or cell phone has captured more than 2 percent of its respective market. In most cases, sales of green products represent well under 1 percent of any given category.

Even where green products do seem to be selling, it’s not primarily because of their environmental benefits. Organic foods? It’s about what we put into our bodies. Hybrid cars? They reduce costly trips to the pump. Energy Star TVs and appliances? They cut energy costs. It’s not really about the planet.

Why is this?

consumers have made it crystal clear: They don’t want to change, at least in the name of Mother Earth or the greater good. Of course, we change our buying and lifestyle choices all the time: how we communicate (email, mobile phones, texting, Twitter), how we shop (what’s a “record store”?), what we eat and drink (“functional foods,” anyone?), and what we drive and wear and do. But those choices benefit us personally, today — not some far-off forest or future.

This is true. For all the bruiting about of how electronic media are supposedly “greener” than print (which regular readers know I take issue with most strenuously), the fact is that individuals and companies have embraced new media because they are inexpensive, convenient, and immediate.

The article also raises an important point, that consumers may not be directly supporting so-called “green” brands, but companies have simply become more sustainable in general. Not all, to be sure, and not always dramatically, but the green press is chock full of stories (many of which I post links to here or in the weekly Going Green Digest) of companies improving their environmental footprint, retooling their businesses, and making demands of their own supply chains. They don’t always advertise it, but many are moving in that direction.

How do we then evaluate these companies?

Pushing companies to be transparent and accountable for their environmental (and social) impacts. Transparency has become the new lingua franca in sustainability — a demand for companies to account for and report their impacts, commitments, goals and progress. It’s at the company or brand level that this makes sense: Why offer a few good, eco-labeled products if the organization behind them is headed in the wrong direction? Transparency is a fundamental building block of a green economy. It can build trust in companies, and ward off claims of greenwashing.

Being transparent is no longer a question for consumer-facing companies. The only question is whether they do it themselves or have it done for them.

There are several terrific examples of the latter: Greenpeace’s ranking of supermarkets on sustainable seafood; Climate Counts’ ranking of companies on their climate goals and performance (disclosure: I’m on Climate Counts’ board); the Electronics Takeback Coalition’s ranking of computer companies’ e-waste efforts; the Union of Concerned Scientists’ ranking of automakers; and Greenpeace’s (again) ranking of technology companies. Each of these compares companies and brands using rigorous and consistent criteria, helping to illuminate who’s really walking the talk. They don’t just look at product attributes. they look at the whole enterprise. This isn’t market-speak; it’s accountability.

And, by extension, printing companies that have some sort of certification from a reputable and recognized organization. Consumers aren’t going to pay a premium for special “green products,” and sales figures and poll results have borne this out. And anyone in the printing industry can tell you that few print buyers will pay a premium for “green” printing. Consumers—and even businesses—tend to be skeptical of green claims (within and without the printing industry), sometimes rightly, but often wrongly (there is a difference between being legitimately skeptical and contrarian and just being ornery). But this doesn’t mean we should all just give up.

So, yes, I agree that green marketing may in some respects be a fool’s errand, but companies can simply “be better.” We have the technology. Look at auto emissions. Improved emissions control systems have made it so that in some parts of the country (L.A., for example), car exhausts are literally cleaner than the surrounding air. Many everyday products today are simply produced more sustainably than they used to be, and recycling, reuse, and reclamation are all getting better. It’s a natural evolution, and one of those things that, Hair Club for Men-like, is happening so gradually we hardly notice. This is not to say the battle is won, but we’re at least moving in the right direction (I mix my metaphors but not my recyclables). A lot if it will also likely be generational, especially if younger business leaders grow up with a more sustainable mindset.

One of the GreenBiz blog commenters hit the nail on the head:

No, ‘marketing green’ doesn’t work

Yes, intelligently integrating social and sustainability insight into product innovation and brand positioning does.

What he said.

  1. 9 Responses to “RIP Green Marketing?”

  2. By Greg Walters on May 16, 2011 | Reply

    The current Green issue(s) is a farce.

    “…consumers have made it clear, they don’t want to change…” I suggest this is not entirely correct.

    Consumers have made it clear, they do not believe in the overall Green dogma.

    Now don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t cut down all the trees or pollute or oceans and lakes. Isn’t it clear that we have actually done quite well marshaling the Earth’s bounty?

    Mt. St. Helens 1980.

    How many trees were destroyed and how many tons of toxic, carbon dioxide was spewed into the atmosphere ? By mother nature herself…

    Jus sayin…

  3. By Pat Berger on May 16, 2011 | Reply

    Green Marketing is awashed in BS. With over 1,000 green registrations systems the appearance is that no way can all of these be true.
    I would guess that over 98% of the certifications are a self sustaining nonprofit group looking for a meal ticket. Their existence along is contrary to what green as all about.
    After 25 years of being involved in green this and that just about nobody believes it’s real. Green has become the cried wolf once too many times.

    Even at Earth day 2011 I picked up a brochure that reeked of petroleum and the vendor said it cost less and that he didn’t really didn’t care if it smelled.

    When you get into the chemistry, science and physics of why you are green your words fall on mostly incoherent ears. Preaching green anymore is virtually useless.
    Green Rip is here now.

  4. By Kate Olsen on May 17, 2011 | Reply

    We have also moved our company from printing company to green printing company by working with the forest stewardship council.
    We have Envirostar Five star rating. Certified EnviroStar businesses are given a two-to-five star rating based on their commitment to reducing hazardous waste.

    Good to hear!

  5. By Jeff Baird on May 17, 2011 | Reply

    Green marketing is not dead, as NGO’s and Government agencies continue to use “smart building”, sustainable development, rezoning, and are transforming the landscape. So, perhaps “green marketing” on retail shelves is doing poorly, but the bigger picture is here: http://www.rightsidenews.com/2011040713216/links/links/2011-04-07-10-02-16.html
    and is actually about the forceful movement of people and resources. NOW from a PRINTING perspective, green marketing is not a factor, really, it is technology that drives it. Printing companies that don’t offer e-publications, e-news, mobile marketing, online marketing and all those marketing channels in todays market….they will not make it

  6. By Joseph Mergui on May 17, 2011 | Reply

    4 days ago
    As written on LinkedIn
    RIP Green Marketing, but here RIP is Raster Image Processor!!!


    Joseph Mergui • I loved all the $ft2, $ml and all the great calculations made by all great people in this forum. This allows me to look good in the eyes of my R&D director at Caldera who told me once that nobody needed these data in a RIP!!! I am happy that I have insisted to get the CostView and CostProof module as a world first in a RIP. And now with CarbonProof, another world premiere, we are the first to allow Carbon footprint calculation directly in a RIP! All it takes now is to get the real data of ink, media, energy carbon footprint and process it in Caldera CostView. I know that it will piss a lot of people to make these data available one day, but if we want to be serious about CO2 or ECO-responsibility it will have to happen one day. And maybe also include the Carbon footprint of whatever it took to bring media/ink from China or Your local hardworking media/ink manufacturer… or get energy to your printer from a greener source. I have a dream (bad, good?) that one day, someone at the government will tax that CO2 information and force us all to stop talking and start acting, or will it be just one way to squeeze more money from our activities!? Start use CostView in Caldera and let’s build a better future. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for… Caldera.

  7. By Robert Piller on May 17, 2011 | Reply

    Interesting article. As I have written about many times, green will be the cost of entry for most companies within a decade.

    Many customers do want to go green and a percentage of them are even willing to pay a small premium for these items.

    However, it is the work of Wal-Mart and other large volume customers, that are demanding that their vendors become more sustainable, that is really driving the green revolution.

    Many of these changes seem to be taking place behind the scenes–which is a good thing.

    Chest thumping is not necessary. Action is.

  8. By julia on May 17, 2011 | Reply

    It’s not entirely dead yet, though it’s yet to be determined if it’s effective for certain companies. For example, check out this alarm company in MA that used their latest press release to highlight how they’re “going green”; http://simplisafe.com/blog/simplisafe-says-no-styrofoam

  9. By Pat Berger on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    Styrenated starches are used in many papers as a filler and at various concentrations. Ask your paper supplier if that is the case. If so, you will have answered the question of why do I have ink adhesion and drying problems with some stocks and not others.

  10. By Gary Jones on May 20, 2011 | Reply

    I agree with the comment by Robert Pillar in that for the printing industry,green is more a business to business issue than it is a business to consumber issue. Since printers are part of the supply chain, they have to respond to their customers demands and those printers who embrace sustainability become a much more valuable partner to thier customers. In addition, printers embracing sustainability have also enjoyed significant cost reductions as well.

    Regarding the number of ceritifcation programs, the best and most creditible one is the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (www.sgppartnership.org) and printing companies that are looking to have their green creditionals accredited should become certified under the program.

    Lastly, Suzane Shelton had a very insightful response to the article at Green Biz (www.sheltongroupinc.com/blog/?p=2506)that puts the discussion in perspective. She has some great observations about the entire Green Marketing issue at the retail level.