It's the reason Home Depot was targeted for sustainable harvested wood, Nike for child labor practices, McDonald's for Styrofoam clamshells and now obesity, and why Coke is similarly a target for sugar and packaging. What does this all mean for your business? Simply stated, if you don't manage your business with respect to environmental and social sustainability, your business will not be sustained.
A strong commitment to environmental sustainability in product design and manufacturing can yield significant opportunities to grow your business, to innovate, and to build brand equity. As with any other major business endeavor, it is easier said than done. Protect your company from common pitfalls and start taking advantage of new opportunities by heeding my "Rules of Green Marketing":
1. Know your customer. If you want to sell a greener product to consumers, you first need to make sure that the consumer is aware of and concerned about the issues that your product attempts to address.
2. Empower consumers. Make sure that consumers feel, by themselves or in concert with all the other users of your product, that they can make a difference. This is the main reason green products sell.
3. Be transparent. Consumers must believe in the legitimacy of your product and the specific claims you are making. Caution: There's a lot of skepticism out there that is fueled by the raft of spurious claims made in the "go-go" era of green marketing that occurred during the late '80s/early '90s - one brand of household cleaner claimed to have been "environmentally friendly since 1884."
4. Reassure the buyer. Consumers need to believe that your product performs the job it's supposed to do - they won't forego product quality in the name of the environment. (Besides, products that don't work will likely wind up in the trash bin, and that's not very kind to the environment.)
5. Consider your pricing. If you're charging a premium for your product - and many environmentally preferable products cost more due to economies of scale and use of higher-quality ingredients - make sure that consumers can afford the premium and feel it's worth it.
The 'Rules' In Action
Tom's of Maine
Founded over 25 years ago by the husband and wife team of Tom and Kate Chappell, this wildly successful market of natural personal care products is now owned by Colgate-Palmolive, (representing just one of many "deep green" brands that are increasingly being purchased by mainstream marketers. Others include: Estee Lauder's purchase of Aveda, Danone's partial purchase of Stonyfield Farm, and Unilever's acquisition of Ben and Jerry's ice cream are just a few other examples.)
Tom's of Maine has garnered great market share by being transparent; each tube of toothpaste has a letter from Tom and Kate stating their company's mission. On another panel is a list of all the ingredients in the toothpaste - all-natural spearmint oil for instance, and next to each ingredient is the role each of the ingredients plays in the toothpaste. There's even a third column that lists each ingredient's source.
For lots of good reasons, Toyota's Prius is likely the most successful "green" product in the U.S. It's got attractive styling, fuel efficiency, no battery to recharge, and, due to the electric engine, a super-quiet ride. To boot, the car's dashboard even comes with a screen that lets the driver know how much fuel efficiency is being gained at any given moment; anecdotes report that Prius owners try to beat their previous record each time they drive.
Introductory ads focused on superior performance evidenced in a quiet ride, while supplemental ads touted its environmental bona fides. With energy prices on the rise, the Prius is now being marketed for its superior fuel efficiency, and a PR machine links the car to environmentally conscious celebrities and causes. Some owners, it is reported, even buy the car for what is being called "Conspicuous Conservation" - letting all know that they are environmentally astute.
Method Line Of Products
The environmental movement is about doing things differently. Method is a brand that is trying to express this "different-ness" in nearly every way possible, starting with how the product looks and smells. The bottle for the dish soap looks like an upside down teardrop, a feature that makes consumers feel comfortable leaving it right at the kitchen sink, while projecting a sort of status to visitors. Consumers are also attracted to the unique coloring of the product inside, and although the product may look expensive, it actually sells at competitive prices at Target, Office Depot, and Safeway.
In addition to a unique product and package, Method attracts customers via a campaign called "I Fight Dirty." (Note the "anti" tone.) This campaign empowers users to not only fight against dirt itself, but also dirty practices by industry. Thus, its captures the essence of what the brand is about from both the functional as well as emotional standpoints. (Another breakthrough.)
Putting The 'Rules' To Work For Your Business
To start capitalizing on the many market opportunities represented by sustainability, consider the following:
1. Think and act holistically. It is no longer enough to focus on functional benefits alone. ASK: What are we making (product or service? Green or not?) How are we making it? Who are we working with?
2. Engage consumers on an emotional level and thus, build brand equity. ASK: how can we make...our passion and vision relevant and engaging? our consumers into advocates? How can we empower consumers to make a difference by providing them with education, infrastructure, events and experiences?
3. The way you communicate will be critical to success (and will help you avoid "greenwashing"). ASK: How to ensure that our approach is viewed as authentic? Transparent? Are all stakeholders aware of our intentions and progress? Is our vision embedded into the fabric of our company?
4. Eco-innovation represents new ways to grow top line sales. ASK: How can we inspire consumers? What technology and partners do we need to gain access to?
5. Strive for an ideal goal of "zero" environmental impact. Eco-innovate rather than simply eco-design. ASK: What would it take to achieve zero environmental impact and still meet our consumers' needs? Can we make consumers more "responsible"? It's one thing to design better products and technologies. But at some point, industry's efforts will only go so far. Achieving "zero" environmental impact will only come about if changes in consumer behavior can be made; thus the genius of Toyota's dashboard.
Jacquelyn Ottman is president of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., a New York-based firm that advises businesses on positive strategies for eco-design, eco-innovation, and green marketing. Clients include Nike, GE, IBM, and the U.S. EPA's Energy Star label. She is the author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation, 2nd Ed.