THE NEW RULES OF GREEN MARKETING
Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding
By JACQUELYN A. OTTMAN
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 J. Ottman Consulting, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter One Green is now mainstream
Back in the 1960s, trying to lead an environmentally conscious lifestyle, and especially integrating green into one's shopping, was a very fringe phenomenon. But it's now decidedly mainstream – and changing the rules of the marketing game in a very big way. Set in motion by Rachel Carson's seminal book Silent Spring (1962), the clichéd forerunners of today's green consumers lived off the nation's electric grid, installed solar-powered hot-water heaters on their roofs, crunched granola they baked themselves, and could be spotted wearing hemp clothing, Birkenstocks, and driving a Volkswagen bus. Whatever greener products were available – mostly from fringe businesses, and sometimes manufactured in basements and garages – gathered dust on the bottom shelves of health food stores for good reason: they didn't work, they were pricey, and they sported brand names no one had ever heard of. Not surprisingly, there was little demand for them. The natural laundry powders that were introduced in response to the phosphate scare of 1970 left clothes looking dingy, first-generation compact fluorescent light bulbs sputtered and cast a green haze, and multigrain cereals tasted like cardboard. If you were motivated to recycle, you lugged your bottles and daily newspapers to a drop-off spot inconveniently located on the far side of town. Green media was limited to treasured copies of National Geographic, PBS specials of Jacques Cousteau's underwater adventures, and the idealist and liberal Mother Jones, Utne Reader, and New Age magazines.
That was then. Times have changed – a lot, and with them the rules of green marketing. Today, mirroring their counterparts around the world, 83% of today's American adults can be considered at least some "shade" of green. They enjoy a lifestyle where sustainable choices are highly accessible, attractive and expected. Thanks to advances in materials and technology, today's "greener" products (defined as having a lighter impact on the planet than alternatives) and today's more "sustainable" products (those that add a social dimension, e.g., fair trade) now not only work well, they likely work better and more efficiently than their "brown" counterparts.
Moreso, the channels of distribution have changed. Today, sustainable products are readily available in conventional supermarkets such as Fred Meyer and Safeway, brightly lit emporiums such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market, and of course online. Once confined to rooftops, solar power is now mobile, fueling a modern-day, on-the-go lifestyle embedded in cellphone chargers, backpacks, and even the latest fleet of powerboats. Once confined to the tissue boxes or wrappers of days gone by, recycled content is now good enough for Kimberly-Clark's own Scott Naturals line of tissue products and Staples' EcoEasy office paper, not to mention an exciting range of many other kinds of products from Patagonia's Synchilla PCR (post-consumer recycled) T-shirts made from recycled soda bottles, and even cosmetics packaging like that made from recycled newsprint which embellishes Aveda's Uruku brand, to name just a few.
The green market is not just here to stay, it will also grow and mature, evolving the rules of engagement even further. Knowing how best to cater to today's green consumers will bring significant opportunities to grow your top-line sales and revenue growth and increase your market share among the fast-growing numbers of green consumers, as well as to save money, enhance employee morale, and recruit and retain the brightest minds. As we'll discuss throughout this book, it will also stimulate game-changing innovation, and the ability to enhance your corporate reputation. Embrace sustainability – defined as acting today so that future generations can meet their needs – and enjoy long-term markets for your products, while safeguarding the sources of raw materials on which your very business depends.
Everyone is worried
Green has gone mainstream because more people are worried about sustainability-related issues than ever before. Reflecting awareness that has been steadily building over the past 20 years, the general public is beginning to comprehend the impact these issues will have on their lives now, and in the years ahead – and is starting to act.
Historically, green marketers believed that people worried about the environment because they felt the planet was hurting – and their communications reflected as much. (Recall all the ads of days gone by featuring babies, daisies, and planets.) But today's marketers increasingly realize that consumers really fear the planet is losing its ability to sustain human life; they fret about their own immediate health, and that of their children. (Keep in mind that the planet will always be here!) That's why health-related issues such as water quality, hazardous waste and air pollution, water availability, global warming, and overpopulation top the list of environmental concerns consumers fear most (see Fig. 1.1).
This fear has been building for a long time. Toxic waste poisoning the water and community of Love Canal in New York State and the Cuyahoga River's catching fire in Cleveland, Ohio in 1972 put air and water quality at the top of Americans' worry list. Throw in the plight of the Mobro garbage barge that in 1987 searched in vain for a port, and packaging became a worry, too. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans in the summer of 2005, Al Gore's 2006 Oscar-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth, and a steady stream of news reports that the Earth is warming and the ice caps are melting introduced the frightening prospect of climate change into living rooms. As I write, America deals with the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with projections of devastation worse than the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.
Toxics – whether they are generated far away in industrial plants or reside in cleaning products tucked under the kitchen sink – are firmly planted on the list, too, fanned by a steady spate of scares over such chemicals as asbestos, PCBs and their dioxin and hormonal effects, perchloroethylene ("perc") used in dry cleaning, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, the softening agent in plastic toys, and, most recently, bisphenol A (BPA), which was linked to fetal developmental problems, a discovery that led water bottles and baby products to be whisked from retailer shelves.
Limited supplies of natural resources and rapid population growth bring up the rear on the list of top scares. Save a watt! Save a tree! Save a drop! Consumers fret about dwindling resources of fossil fuels and increased dependence on foreign sources, depleting supplies of fresh water, and deforestation and, increasingly, its link to climate change. Gas prices in the U.S. spiked to over $4 a gallon during the summer of 2008 and many drivers fear such price increases may be just the beginning.
Every generation is green
One's behavior reflects one's values, and "sustainability" – caring for nature and the planet and the people who live here now and in the future – is now a core value of every living generation, starting with the Baby Boomers who led the green charge back in the mid to late 1960s. As important as Baby Boomers are to environmental activism as the nation's primary household shoppers and societal leaders, the potential impact to be made by the Internet-savvy Generations X, Y, and Z may be the most significant yet.
Baby Boomers: The first modern green generation
The heads of millions of U.S. households, the Baby Boomers, have long led the green movement through the values and attitudes they have instilled upon society and have imparted to their children and grandchildren. Born between 1946 and 1964, and ranging in age from 46 to 64 in 2010, the oldest Boomers, as college students and young adults, led the anti-Vietnam war, anti-big business, and pro-environment activist movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The brainchild of the then senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was first celebrated by the Baby Boomers in 1970 followed by the first Solar Day in 1971. Their demonstrations of concern gave rise to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the founding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts that same year, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Then came the Middle East oil embargo, marking the beginning of the energy crisis of 1973–75, which sharpened the Baby Boomers' focus on the need for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and renewable forms of energy. In 1979 the release of the fictional The China Syndrome, a movie about safety cover-ups at a nuclear power plant, serendipitously opened two weeks prior to the partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear-generating station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Today, over half (54%) of Baby Boomers are considered to be "socially conscious shoppers." That's 40 million green Boomers who choose organics, pluck resource-conserving products off the shelf, boycott the products of companies that pollute, and "pro-cott" the products of companies that give back to the community.
Generation X: Eyes on the world
Raised during the emergence of CNN which brought global issues into living rooms 24/7, Generation Xers (Gen Xers, also known as the Baby Bust generation) were born between 1964 and 1977 and are 33–46 years old as of 2010. Counting among them actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz as two of the most outspoken environmentalists of their generation, Gen Xers see environmental concerns through a lens that aligns social, educational, and political issues.
In 1984, the Gen Xers witnessed the fire in a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, which took over 3,000 lives and is thought to be still causing serious health problems today. In 1985, the Live Aid concert organized by musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure broadcast the need for famine relief in a desperate Ethiopia to an unprecedented 400 million worldwide – and opened the eyes of millions of Gen Xers residing in developed nations to the horrors taking place in developing countries. In 1986, Gen Xers also experienced the aftermath of the explosion in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. And in 1989, their same televisions showcased the devastation wrought by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and they were likely aware of events such as the Rio Summit of 1992.
Generation Y: Digital media at their command
The likely new leaders of the modern-day green movement are the Generation Ys, born between the early 1980s and the early 1990s, and in 2010 ranging in age from 20 to 30 years old. This tech-savvy generation of Gen Ys (also known as Millennials) grew up with computers and the Internet. Distrustful of government and authority, they are quick to challenge marketing practices they deem to be unauthentic or untruthful. With the ability to express their opinions through blogging, texting, and social networks, they are capable of mustering immediate responses from millions around the globe. The offspring of the Baby Boomers whose social and environmental values they share, today's young adults lived through the Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and share awareness of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of plastic trash whose exact size is estimated to be bigger than the state of Texas. Like their counterparts in other generations, Gen Ys believe that global climate change is caused by human activities and they are almost twice as likely to buy more green products than those consumers who think climate change is occurring naturally.
Green is an integral part of this generation's college experience. Many schools have signed the American College & University President's Climate Commitment, and legions of students are engaged in newly created environmental studies programs and in campus sustainability initiatives. Reusable water bottles and coffee mugs are ubiquitous on college campuses where many savvy companies are reaching out with sustainability messages to students who will soon become householders with significant incomes. Not content to sacrifice all for the almighty dollar, Gen Ys seek to balance "quality of life" and the "quest for wealth"; they seek to work for socially conscious employers.
Generation Z: Green is a natural part of their lives
Suggesting that green is here to stay are Generation Z; the first generation to be brought up in an environmentally conscious world, green is a part of their everyday life. Generation Zs, those currently under the age of 16, think nothing of living in solar-powered homes with a hybrid car in the driveway. Learning about environmental issues in school, they were likely exposed to The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute animated video that divulges the environmental impact of our daily consumption. For Gen Zs, sorting paper and plastic for recycling is as natural a daily activity as taking out the trash was for their parents. In school and at home the 3Rs of waste management, "reduce, reuse, and recycle," are as common as the 3Rs of "reading, writing, and 'rithmetic." Environmentally sensitive cleaning aids, locally grown produce, and recycled-paper goods top their parents' shopping lists. Clothes made from organically grown cotton and biobased fibers are part of the Gen Z uniform.
Green behavior: A daily phenomenon
With every generation now espousing sustainable values, environmentally considerate behavior is becoming the norm. As detailed in Figure 1.2, in 2009 nearly all (95%) of Americans are involved in various types of, albeit mostly easy, environmental activities they can do at home, from dropping empties in the recycling bin (recycling is now accessible to 87% of Americans), to replacing an incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), or light-emitting diode (LED). (A scheduled phase-out of incandescent bulbs will begin in the U.S. in 2012.) They turn off the lights, nudge the thermometer down a degree or two, and turn off the tap when brushing their teeth.
Driven by higher gas prices and corporate carpooling programs, as of 2009, 23% of U.S. adults now claim to share rides to work (thanks in part to corporate rideshare programs), nearly one in four consumers takes the bus or subway, and 31% now claim to walk or ride a bike instead of driving a car. Thanks to new awareness of the harm caused by plastic shopping bags that choke marine life or wind up as litter, and incentivized by monetary rewards at the checkout, peer pressure, and even a desire to make a fashion statement), as of 2009, nearly half (48%) of U.S. adults claim to regularly take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, up 30% from 2006. Importantly, almost half (46%) of consumers maintain that they regularly boycott a brand or company that has environmental or social practices they do not like, up 17% since 2006. Big-name companies have become easy targets for activist groups. Exxon, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and Kimberly-Clark are just a few of the big brands that have all been castigated by Greenpeace and other activists for deficient environmental or social practices, including excess packaging, high sugar content, unfair labor practices, and unsustainable forestry operations. Once negative perceptions are created, they are almost impossible to reverse. Who still fails to link Nike to unfair labor practices or Exxon to the Alaskan oil spill?
Green voters and citizens
Concern over the state of the environment has swayed an unprecedented number of voters and has prompted citizens to volunteer in their communities. Broad swaths of citizens voted with the environment in mind when they supported Barack Obama in 2008 for taking even greener positions at the heart of his platform than had Al Gore. Support for such issues as mitigating global warming, curbing nuclear power, limiting offshore drilling, reducing ethanol production, and improving food and product safety have helped to propel green Congressional candidates in both the 2006 and 2008 elections. To boot, since 2006, over 80% of candidates endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters have won seats in the House or Senate, while 43 out of 67 candidates identified as anti-environmental were defeated.
Excerpted from THE NEW RULES OF GREEN MARKETING by JACQUELYN A. OTTMAN Copyright © 2011 by J. Ottman Consulting, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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