Today’s Brand of Green Marketing Requires New Rules

Today’s Brand of Green Marketing Requires New Rules

Green has gone mainstream—and bringing with it new rules for reaching today’s green consumers. What used to be a fringe market has grown over the past two decades into a $290 billion industry encompassing products from natural food and pet care to hybrid cars and now plug-in cars, ecotourism and solar panels and windmills for residential rooftops.

Since 1989  Jacquelyn Ottman, founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc.  (LINK TO, has been watching this transition from her unique perch as green marketing pioneer and adviser to over sixty Fortune 500 companies.  In her new book, The New Rules of Green Marketing (Berrett-Koehler; February 2011; $21.95), Ottman provides insight into the issues consumers care about today, how companies large and small are responding with fresh green marketing strategies, and what it takes to appeal to now mainstream consumers.

As green products have begun to rival their “brown” counterparts in quality and ubiquity, savvy marketers have moved beyond targeting “deep green” consumers with a “save the planet” pitch. Instead, they appeal to today’s newly mainstream consumers by promoting the added value their products provide: better health, superior product efficacy, better tasting food, cost-effectiveness—and even the “cool factor”. In The New Rules of Green Marketing, Ottman argues that emphasizing these primary benefits is critical to winning over today’s broad swath of mainstream consumers.

New Rules of Good Green Marketing to Mainstream Consumers

As both the products and the consumers continue to change, it makes sense that the rules of green marketing itself must change along with them. Below are seven of Ottman’s 20 new rules of green marketing discussed in the book. 

  1. Green is mainstream. Not too long ago, just a small group of deep green consumers existed. Today, 83% of consumers – representing every generation, from Baby Boomers to Millennials and Gen Ys – are some shade of green. Moreover, there are now finely defined segments of green consumers. According to Ottman, consumers can be segmented according to specific green interests. For instance, there are “Health Fanatics” (who opt to purchase natural foods and non-toxic cleaning products), “Resource Conservers” (the folks who are quick to recycle cans and bottles, and turn off the water and lights), “Animal-lovers” (members of People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the first to “rescue” lost animals), and “Outdoor Enthusiasts” who attempt to minimize the impacts of their hiking and camping by buying biodegradable soaps and reusable water bottles. 
  2. Green is cool. Once a faddish preoccupation of the fringe, green is not only mainstream, it’s chic. In fact, green consumers are early adopters and leaders who influence purchasing behavior. Celebrities and other cool types generally are espousing green causes. People show off (and self-actualize) by tooling around in a Toyota Prius (or soon, we predict, in a Nissan LEAF electric), and carry cloth shopping bags—or just make the scene at The Whole Foods Market— to “look the part”.
  3. Greener products work equally or better — and are often worth a premium price. Thanks to advances in technology, we’ve come a long way since the days when greener products gathered dust on health food store shelves because they didn’t work as well and were not a good value. Organics, hybrid cars, and safer cleaning products now command a premium price and, to boot, are among the fastest growing categories of greener products, dispelling the myth that green consumers won’t pay more.
  4. Green inspires innovative products and services that can result in better consumer value, enhanced brands, and a stronger company. Savvy managers no longer consider the environment to be a burden that represents added cost and overhead – but an investment that can pay back handsomely.  That’s why GE has invested to heavily in its Ecomagination line-up of products and accompanying marketing campaign, and why Procter & Gamble, has pledged to develop and market by 2012 $20 billion in “sustainable innovation products”.
  5. Values guide consumer purchasing. Historically, consumers bought solely on price, performance, and convenience. But today, how products are sourced, manufactured, packaged, disposed of – and even such social aspects as how factory and farm workers are treated – all matter.  Representing a sea change in the history of promotion, marketers need to move beyond sheer product benefits in their messages and tell the whole story behind their offerings. 
  6. A life-cycle approach is necessary. Single attributes such as recyclable, organic, or energy-efficient matter greatly, but don’t mean a product is green overall.  Recycled products still create waste, organic strawberries can travel thousands of miles, and CFLs contain mercury.  To avoid accusations of greenwashing —likely the greatest pitfall of would-be green marketers, a more thorough, life cycle or carbon-based approach to greening is necessary.
  7. Manufacturer and retailer reputation count now more than ever. In addition to looking for trusted brand names on supermarket shelves, consumers are now flipping over packages, saying, “Who makes this brand? Did they produce this product with high environmental and social standards?” For this reason, marketers must tell establish their corporate green bona fides with consumers. That’s the reason why S.C. Johnson is to quick to remind us that they are “A Family Company”, and why messages from revolutionary corporate founders such as Tom Chappell (Tom’s of Maine), Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farm), and Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia) are especially effective. Timberland’s Jeff Swartz has over 3245 Twitter followers. 

Link here to learn more about The New Rules of Green Marketing (Berrett-Koehler, February 2011, 252 pp.) 

Christopher Menone is a NYC-based writer and educator specializing in environmental issues. He can be reached at this email