It's Time To Make The Next Wave

I'm hearing scary statements from marketing people lately. "Green is so last year." "Green is out." "Green is dead."

Meanwhile, several green-themed television shows have been cancelled. Sun Chips bailed on a compostable bag for most of its SKUs. The climate legislation failed in Congress even after the Gulf disaster, the worst environmental disaster in memory.

Just last week, the Harris Poll on America's Green Attitudes concluded, "Between 2009 and 2010, fewer Americans are now 'going green'." Harris found consumers less likely to engage in such "green behaviors" as using less water or buying organic and local produce and products.

Wouldn't it be great if all of our environmental problems were solved because some corporations got behind "green" for a couple of seasons? That would be great but it isn't going to happen. Business has a stake in the environmental game, and the clock is running out. All things being equal, consumers will support those brands doing the right thing for the planet over those that don't. More than simply associating with "green," driving it is essential to a sustainable economy and society and business needs to take the driver's seat.

I've seen this wave crest and fall before. Two decades ago, the environment was the topic after the Exxon Valdez and Union Carbide Bhopal disasters, only to fade out. Corporate and institutional mistrust ran high back then, and environmental groups had not made the fundamental economic arguments needed. In 2005, when the current green wave swelled, a level of public sentiment was established and the "it will save us money" argument took hold with corporations.

Now that some marketers think green is falling, it's time to start the next wave. I say this because government can't institutionalize change the way business can. We need to respond to the exceptional threats to the planet. We also need to answer to the millions of influential consumers for whom the environment remains a priority.

That means green-thinking marketers need to do three things:

1) Keep your convictions. Pollution, climate change, rainforest destruction, species extinction and fresh water shortages aren't taking a timeout while talking heads debate them or some consumers tire of hearing about it. For example, the 2010 General Accounting Office report shows that perchlorate, a main ingredient in rocket fuel and one that can cause significant thyroid issues, was found in the water supplies and soil in 45 states. There are 15 other toxic chemicals found in our drinking water right now that we need to clean up as well.

2) Repackage the conversation. As marketers, we have to do what's ultimately right for the sustainability of our brands (and companies, careers, economy and society) and to sell it however the market will buy it. If "green" doesn't excite consumers, rewrite the playbook. Take on the issues they prioritize that still benefit the environment. A campaign for local foods becomes more about fresh flavor and higher nutrients than the environmental impact of food miles.

3) Work with the government. Despite what some would have you believe, both Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson are passionately pro-business. They're looking for new ways to bolster the economy and environment together. They have mandates and budgets for green jobs and green innovation. Study their sites, make a call, and enlist their help.

The same Harris Poll that showed Americans fading on green noted that while Americans are taking fewer environmentally sound actions, a greater number of us (a 20% increase, in fact) see ourselves as "conservationists," "environmentalists" or "green."

In the perception world of brand marketing, then, green matters more than ever. While for years marketers have only had to follow consumer momentum into green, now they need to lead consumers with the subtlety that distinguishes great marketing.

Top Bottled Waters
1 Aquafina
2 Fiji
3 Poland Spring
4 San Pellegrino and Evian
5 Volvic and Perrier
6 Deer Park
7 Dannon
8 Dasani
Source: Brand Keys Customer
Loyalty Engagement Index 2011

7 comments about "It's Time To Make The Next Wave ".
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  1. Bruce Goldman from Bright Orange Advertisibng, February 8, 2011 at 1:47 p.m.

    You write that, "All other things being equal, consumers will support those brands doing the right thing for the planet over those that don't."

    But all things aren't equal. Last year saw a marked consumer revolt against products that were overpriced and underperforming in order to pay obeisance to an abstract ideal. Consumers buy products to get use out of them and fair prices, not to bask in the glory of political correctness ( see that often borders on mindless fanaticism (see


  2. Carolyn Parrs, February 8, 2011 at 2:08 p.m.

    With so many "worries" on the minds of Americans these days, no wonder "green is dead". What is really dead is Kermit though. The "it's easy being green" mentality that all we have to do is occasionally recycle a plastic bottle and change our light bulbs. The green of 2-3 years ago is dead because it wasn't relevant to the lives of most Americans. How can we think about saving the polar bear and the melting ice caps when our house is on fire? Green needs to be reframed so people care about it, so it's relevant to their personal lives. That kind of green will have an impact in the marketplace. So instead of organics being an "environmental" issue, make it a health issue. Instead of clean tech being "off the grid", make it about new jobs and easing the pain of my propane bills.

    As the owner of a green marketing communications company and the creator of Women Of Green, I (and other green marketers) have been in this conversation for a while now. So when I hear that certain marketing people think green is dead, I say they know nothing about green anyway. The proof is in that "saving the polar bear" commercial by Nisson Leaf. How off base was that? If you want to listen to a conversation about how to make people care about green, check out this podcast with Simran Sethi on the psychological barriers to green on Women Of Green. We're just serving it up all wrong. At least some of us anyway...

    Carolyn Parrs

  3. Chris Corbett from KMA Direct Communications, February 8, 2011 at 3:26 p.m.

    @ Bruce -- I agree with you 100 percent.

    @ Carolyn -- With all due respect, the polar bear commercial is exhibit A for why green may be fading. Survey after survey shows that the "climate change" gambit was an overreach. The science is shaky, if not bogus, and consumers don't like to be taken for a politically-motivated ride. They hate being forced to purchase lousy CFL light bulbs and underperforming, overpriced cars because of politicized junk science. And they hate to have fingers wagged in their faces telling them they need to panic over "climate change" or else they are bad people, as the polar bear ad did.

    Green marketing hitched its wagon to apocalyptic global warming prophecies, and as global warming is perceived as a rouse, the entire green marketing endeavor is tainted.

  4. Carolyn Parrs, February 8, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.

    Bruce, Your points certainly reflect some of the mind set out there. But certainly not all of it. I guess is depends on what news channel you're listening to -- especially if you think climate change is "bogus" (with all due respect). At least we agree on the polar bear thing.

  5. Carolyn Parrs, February 8, 2011 at 5:39 p.m.

    PS: My last comment was meant for Chris, not Bruce.

  6. Julie lundy Purser from Prophet, February 10, 2011 at 1:24 p.m.

    Prophet recently conducted its 2nd annual corporate reputation study and through that study we measured the impact of attributes related to environmental and social responsibility on corporate reputation. Across the board, attributes around being environmentally responsible or "green" to do not have the biggest impact on reputation. Things like products and services, as well as corporate ethics and leadership still play the biggest role. However, in certain industries, like Automobile, you do see environmental and social responsibility playing a role - that's just as important, if not more important, than it played when we conducted our study in 2009. In 2009, being "environmentally responsible" in the auto industry was 27th of 33 attributes we tested. In 2010, that same attribute rose to #17. Being green has a greater impact now on automobile companies reputations than it did just a year ago.

    The study tells us that being "green" isn't the end all, be all. If it were, Toyota wouldn't have taken the plunge in our reputation rankings that they did (dropping to 139th in 2010 from 18th in 2009) But in certain industries like the auto industry, if you can get the products and services right, and you act as a fair and ethical company, being "green" still plays a role in how your company is perceived by consumers and can help set you apart from your peers.

  7. Todd Troha from Red Button Consulting, February 14, 2011 at 12:34 p.m.

    While I agree that consumers revolt against lousy, overpriced products (eco-friendly or not), the articles cited as “proof” are from only one author (an n of one is never good enough for a professional marketer). On top of that, the first article is a selective rewrite of an Ad Age article published the day before ( ). That Ad Age article had significant holes in the logic and still didn’t come to the same conclusion as Mr. Goldman did. If you’d like more information on the original article and where it missed the mark, please let me know.

    @ Chris and Bruce - All that said, are you saying that working to take chemicals out of your drinking water is wasted effort? What about pollution and trash in your rivers, lakes and parks? The extinction of species in your backyard (it isn’t only polar bear that are disappearing)?

    At what point in time does it become personal enough for you to get engaged as a consumer (outside of climate change)? That is what the new wave of “green” marketing is about. That is the challenge that is being thrown out to all the smart marketers out there. Like it or not, “green” is another factor in the decision process. It appeals to some more or less (like any factor) but it is there. You may chose to embrace it or not but to ignore is something done at your clients peril.

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