What Is Green Marketing?

Definition & Examples of Green Marketing

Workers in paper recycling hall with waste paper
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Annie Engel / Getty Images 

Green marketing is the process of promoting products or services based on their environmental benefits. These products or services may be environmentally friendly in themselves or produced in an environmentally friendly way.

Learn more about green marketing to see its role in business and contributions to environmental sustainability.

What Is Green Marketing?

Green marketing involves companies promoting their products or services in a way that showcases their eco-friendliness.

  • Alternate name: Eco-marketing, environmental marketing

When a company showcases its eco-friendliness, that may include products:

  • Manufactured in a sustainable fashion
  • Not containing toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances
  • Produced from recycled materials or able to be recycled
  • Made from renewable materials
  • Not making use of excessive packaging
  • Designed to be repairable and not thrown away

Green marketing is typically practiced by companies that are committed to sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. More organizations are making an effort to implement sustainable business practices. They recognize they can make their products more attractive to consumers, while also reducing expenses in packaging, transportation, energy and water usage, and more.

Furthermore, businesses are increasingly discovering that demonstrating a high level of social responsibility can increase brand loyalty among socially conscious consumers. The key barrier to sustainable business practices, such as green procurement, is the short-term cost. Going green will typically cost more upfront, but generate great rewards in the long run.

How Green Marketing Works

Green marketing begins with a company actually implementing and practicing sustainable business methods. Companies risk being labeled as dishonest if their business practices don't match their green marketing messages, so they must ensure they're practicing what they're preaching. Authenticity is essential in green marketing.

Companies generally have three angles of marketing their eco-friendliness:

  • The items used to make their products
  • The actual products
  • The packaging the products are sold in

They may choose to highlight how their products are all made from recycled material, how their products are designed to be recycled or reused, their use of biodegradable packaging, or a combination of the three. It's also common to find larger corporations that participate in various programs that aim to increase company-wide recycling, decrease waste disposal, and support community initiatives.

Both grocers and restaurants are known for their green marketing. For grocers that advertise organic produce, organic food sales have more than doubled since 2010 as consumers increasingly prefer non-genetically modified foods free of pesticides. Restaurants that promote locally sourced meats, produce, and alcohol are thriving. Local sourcing is attractive to consumers as it projects an image of sustainability and willingness to invest in the community.

The Toyota Prius is the best-selling hybrid vehicle of all time, mostly because its unique styling reflects the typical owner's passion for sustainability.

Is Green Marketing Worth It?

Green marketing can be a very powerful marketing strategy when it's done right. Consider the following:

  • Forty-eight percent of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change consumption habits to reduce environmental impact.
  • Products with sustainable attributes have been steadily taking more share of store sales, from 19.7% in 2014 to 22.3% in 2017, to an anticipated 25% in 2021.
  • Ninety percent of millennials say they are willing to pay more for products that contain sustainable or environmentally friendly ingredients.

A previous Nielsen survey looked at retail purchase statistics, and according to sales data, brands that advertised sustainability on their packaging had 2% year-over-year increases in sales from 2011–2014, as compared with 1% for those that did not. Brands that promoted acting sustainability through their marketing saw a sales increase of 5%.

Criticism of Green Marketing

The public tends to be skeptical of green claims. Companies can seriously damage their brands and sales if a green claim is discovered to be false or contradicted by a company's other products or practices. Presenting a product or service as green when it's not is called greenwashing.

For example, in 2012 a CBC Marketplace study found that Dawn Antibacterial dish soap, which featured a label showing baby seals and ducklings and claiming that "Dawn helps save wildlife," was found to contain Triclosan, which has been officially declared toxic to aquatic life.

Seaworld Orlando's introduction of its "Cup that Cares" in 2013 was another dismal example of green marketing gone wrong. The cup was marketed as environmentally friendly: Each time a person refilled the cup at a vending machine in the park, an embedded chip would display how much carbon dioxide they had saved. These claims were never substantiated. Further, the cup—and the 40 accessories that could be purchased with it—was plastic, not a favorite of environmental advocates.

For green marketing to be successful, it has to fit with your brand. Having a single green product when the rest of your products are not, for instance, can make customers wonder about your environmental commitment.

Key Takeaways

  • Green marketing is promoting products or services based on their eco-friendliness.
  • Companies may choose to highlight how products are manufactured, the products themselves, or the packing used.
  • Using green marketing while not having green practices is known as greenwashing.

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