Green marketing has not lived up to the hopes and dreams of many managers and activists. Although public opinion polls consistently show that consumers would prefer to choose a green product over one that is less friendly to the environment when all other things are equal, those “other things” are rarely equal in the minds of consumers.
For example, when consumers are forced to make trade-offs between product attributes or helping the environment, the environment almost never wins. Most consumers simply will not sacrifice their needs or desires just to be green, as the case of the Ford Think, a two-seater electric car, demonstrates. Ford Motor Co. initially expected this car to be a big hit, but late in 2002 the company announced it was scrapping the vehicle. The Think, which required six hours of recharging after being driven for only 50 miles, would have required drastic changes in driving behavior by its owners. The lesson is that regardless of their environmental benefits, electric-powered cars will remain a niche product at best until manufacturers can radically improve battery life and cost.1 (This also explains why car manufacturers are now pinning their hopes on gas- and electric-powered hybrids.)
Hopes for green products have also been hurt by the perception that such products are of lower quality or don’t really deliver on their environmental promises. In a 2002 Roper survey, 41% of consumers said they did not buy green products because they worried about the diminished quality of eco-friendly versions.2 And both Procter & Gamble Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have been criticized for selling a brand of paper towels labeled as green in which the inner tube was made of recycled paper but the towels themselves were made of chlorine-bleached unrecycled paper and came packaged in plastic.3
And yet the news isn’t all bad — far from it. For example, a growing number of people are willing to pay a premium for organic foods because, whether it is actually true or not, they believe organic food to be healthier, tastier and safer.4 Likewise, some consumers have been willing to pay an up-front premium for energy-efficient, water-conserving washer and dryer units (although the price premium has diminished recently). Such consumers realize that they will actually save money on energy and water bills over the long term.
1. “Ford Pulls Plug on Think Electric Car,” Reuters, Aug. 30, 2002.
2. Roper ASW, “Green Gauge Report 2002” (New York: Roper ASW, 2002).
3. F. Cairncross, “Costing the Earth: The Challenge for Governments, the Opportunities for Business” (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1992).
4. Mintel Marketing Intelligence, “Organic and Ethical Foods” (London: Mintel International Group Ltd., 1997).
5. J. Ottman, “Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation” (Lincoln-wood, Illinois: NTC Business Books, McGraw-Hill, 1998).
6. Note that the scope of this article is marketing strategy; it does not extend to questions related to corporate social responsibility.
7. S. Smith, “Targeting the Green Consumer” (Bensenville, Illinois: Plumbing & Mechanical, 2000).
8. J. Ottman and V. Terry, “Strategic Marketing of Greener Products,” Journal of Sustainable Product Design, Issue 5, April 1998: 53–57.
9. “Investing in our Future: Packaging Operations,” Anheuser-Busch Annual Report, 1998, p. 1.
10. B. Gifford, “The Greening of the Golden Arches — McDonald’s Teams with Environmental Group to Cut Waste,” San Diego Union, August 19, 1991, pages C1 and C4.
11. M.J. Polonsky, “An Introduction to Green Marketing,” Electronic Green Journal, 1(2), November 1994.
12. P. Waldman, “Chain Sawed: Fisher Family Falls into a Credibility Gap in California Forests,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 23, 2000: A1.
13. S. Bernold, J. Cassidy, R. Gilbert, H. Mullin, P. Perreault and R. Schwemmin, “The Gap and the Mendocino Redwood Company,” at http://faculty-gsb.stanford.edu/groseclose/Papers/Gap.pdf; C. Emert, “The Rally That Wasn’t,” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 18, 2000: D1.
14. M.J. Polonsky and P.J Rosenberger III, “Reevaluating Green Marketing: A Strategic Approach,” Business Horizons, September–October 2001: 21–30.
15. J. Makower, “Follow the Leaders: How Consumer Products Companies Burnish their Credentials,” The Green Business Letter (Oakland, California: Tilden Press, 2002).
16. “Statement and Aspirations for Social Responsibility” at http://www.honestea.com/responsibility/content.
17. “Complying With the Environmental Marketing Guides,” U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 1992.
18. M.E. Marshall and D. Mayer, “Environmental Training: It’s Good Business,” Business Horizons, March–April 1992: 54–57.