| The Wall Street Journal
declared recently that green marketing in practice is
fading fast. After a decade of designing marketing pitches and products
to appeal to consumers environmental sensibilities, companies
are finding that eco-marketing is simply not effective. Shoppers are
choosing convenience over ecological benefits, and waste from our
throw-away lifestyles is streaming into landfills in record numbers.
Indeed, New York Citys elimination of plastic and glass recycling
to save money symbolizes how far environmentalism has fallen off the
Has society come to perceive environmentalism as too much
of a nuisance or luxury? Many environmentalists worry that it has.
Rhetoric about our need to expand oil and gas drilling across the
country and weaken clean air and water laws for energy and homeland
security certainly confirms their fears.
Despite the grim outlook, environmentalism and green marketing are
destined to returnif in slightly different, more subtle guises.
As the nation debates how to ease our Mideast oil dependency and bolster
domestic energy and homeland security, environmentalists long-standing
advocacy for energy conservation is gaining added resonance. Despite
Detroits resistance to raising car fuel efficiency standards,
a recent J.D. Power & Associates study finds that 60 percent of
American new-car buyers would seriously consider buying fuel efficient
gas-electric hybrid cars, and theyre willing to pay $1,000 more
for thema premium thats likely to rise with the next oil
price shock. While growing demand for fuel economy is probably being
driven more by consumers wallets rather than their patriotism,
energy efficiency is a wise move for the nation. Energy security must
begin with using less energy, far more efficiently to do the same
tasks. Heres where green marketing will make its comeback. As
the environmental community re-energizes its anti-fossil fuel campaign
by promoting energy conservations triple bottom line
cost savings, greater energy security and a healthier environment,
then consumer demand for fuel and energy efficiency is likely to grow
and impact many energy-intensive products from cars to appliances
to buildings to high technology.
Rather than viewing the push for energy efficiency as a threat, savvy
companies should seize the innovation opportunities. Energy efficiency
is destined to become the green product attribute sought
by consumers in the coming years, and they will be willing to pay
for it when the benefits justify the price. To sell energy efficiency
successfully, however, green marketers will need to re-think their
traditional eco-marketing strategies.
Consumers have tended to resist environmental products, believing
they dont work as well as traditional non-green
products. To address this issue, the Boston, MA-based Alliance for
Environmental Innovation and household products-maker SC Johnson conducted
a study a few years ago to explore ways to market green products to
mainstream consumers. The study uncovered three important insights.
First, to have broad appeal, green products must function as effectively
as non-green products and avoid the quality/cost trade-off. Second,
environmental features should not be touted as the primary selling
points. Because mainstream consumers choose products primarily on
how well they meet basic needs (e.g., for a clean floor or to move
from point A to point B), rather than trying to change consumers
priorities, marketers should offer environmental features as added
selling points for already effective products.
Last, environmental product attributes should be positioned as personally
beneficial. In the study, shoppers were more likely to act on
environmental impacts that they could experience personally (e.g.,
safety, non-toxic, cost savings) as opposed to more traditional green
messages (e.g., biodegradable, biodiversity safe, ozone friendly).
The most preferred environmental product features included: safe to
use around children; no strong fumes; no toxic ingredients; and no
chemical residues. In short, green products typically offer inherent
health and safety benefits, and savvy marketers can tout these benefits
to encourage broader acceptance.
The bottom line is that to sell energy efficiency, marketers need
to pitch the right personal benefits. For gas-electric
hybrid cars, for example, fuel economy may appeal to most customers.
However, the convenience of not having to fuel up so often may interest
long commuters, while the sheer high-tech novelty may grab the attention
of techies. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported recently
that some early adopters purchased their hybrid cars because they
want to show off their cars advanced wizardry among their peers.
In short, energy efficiencys potential cost savings, convenience
and technology advances offer marketers many creative options for
crafting persuasive, personally-beneficial green pitches to varied
markets. As energy prices climb, however, money savings is likely
to become a key decision point for product decisions, and certifications,
such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys Energy Star,
may be critical for bolstering the credibility of efficiency claims
and signaling product quality.
Businesses typically have viewed environmental demands as a burden.
The new wisdom, however, is that environmentalism can drive product
innovation. When coupled with cost savings and other quality benefits
sought by consumers, green products can sell effectively. As demand
for energy efficiency strengthens, green marketing will make a comebacknew
Edwin R. Stafford, Ph.D., is a marketing professor
at the College of Business, Utah State University in Logan, UT, who
studies the diffusion of cleaner and smarter technology.