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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Strategic CSR - Greenwash

The article in the url below calls for an end to green marketing. The primary reason, the author argues, is because the increased focus on sustainability-related issues has not generated the scale of change necessary (Chapter 4, Greenwashing, p108):

For more than 20 years, consumers haven’t been willing to vote with their dollars. … With the exception of some energy-saving devices, no green product has captured more than a tiny slice of the marketplace, at least in the U.S. Think about it: No environmentally preferable car, carpet, cleaner, cosmetic, clothing, coffee, credit card or cell phone has captured more than 2 percent of its respective market. In most cases, sales of green products represent well under 1 percent of any given category.

Ultimately, the author feels that even where green products are somewhat successful, it is because of individual benefit rather than a broader ecological concern, “It’s not really about the planet”:

Hybrid cars? They reduce costly trips to the pump. Energy Star TVs and appliances? They cut energy costs. … But those choices benefit us personally, today -- not some far-off forest or future.

Now that green marketing is ubiquitous (and tarnished through multiple examples of greenwashing), it has lost much of its impact. As such, partly due to uninspired ad campaigns by firms, poor product quality, and price premiums associated with green products, consumers have not been willing to significantly alter their behavior. In other words, because everyone is now a sustainable company, no-one is a sustainable company—“Green Marketing is Over. Let’s Move On.”

Most of these criticisms, however, refer to business to consumer marketing. Business-to-business marketing, in contrast, provides reason for hope. Here, the push to develop and sell more environmentally-friendly products has been much more successful because it has focused on the business argument:

A wide range of things companies buy -- building products, industrial cleaners, IT equipment, paper and forest products, appliances and some industrial feedstocks -- are being marketed effectively for their environmental attributes. Companies and other buyers (like government agencies, hospitals and universities) are more willing to change their buying habits, and their buying power can make for attractive economies of scale. Witness the continued market growth of green buildings, biobased packaging, alternative-fueled fleet vehicles and more.