Sustainability and the environmental impact are issues of great interest. In recent years, consumers have acquired greater awareness of environmental issues, so much so that sustainability has become a key factor in purchasing choices. Brands have also responded to this issue and use green marketing to communicate and promote their commitment to the environment. Read the article to find out what green marketing is and how to set up a successful strategy.
The negative impact that human activity has on nature and on the environment has become a hot topic in recent years. The numerous awareness-raising campaigns on environmental issues have ensured that our concern increased. This has also led to the need to create new ways and solutions to safeguard our planet and its natural resources. Climate change, marine and atmospheric plastic pollution are just some of the main topics that are dealt with every day worldwide.
Most consumers are no longer indifferent towards these issues and have progressively changed their habits, adopting more sustainable behaviours to protect the environment. Companies have also worked and continue to do so to minimize the environmental footprint by contributing to the protection of the environment. Consequently, since sustainability is one of the main factors that are taken into consideration by consumers during the purchasing process, it has become of fundamental importance for companies to communicate their green initiatives and processes.
Marketing is used as a tool to communicate a company’s commitment to produce goods or services that do not have a dangerous impact on the environment, to promote an eco-friendly approach or to raise awareness towards these issues. When marketing is used for such purposes, it is called green marketing.
In this article we will deepen what green marketing is, what are the advantages that can be obtained with green marketing and we will present some case studies of companies that have implemented a green marketing strategy with great success.
Table of contents
What is Green Marketing?
The term green marketing, also called ecological marketing, refers to a particular marketing strategy that consists of promoting environmentally sustainable products, processes or services or goods designed with the aim of reducing the environmental impact. Products made with sustainable, recycled, zero-kilometre materials, or that are packaged using special packaging that do not harm the environment, are an example. Green marketing is also used to encourage sustainable practices and raise consumer awareness on the most important environmental issues.
The term green marketing was born between the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s in the US even if in 1975 the American Marketing Association dedicated a workshop to “Ecological Marketing” with the aim of evaluating how important marketing is for the sustainability. Today, green marketing is a practice widely used by companies as it is in line with the trends and values of today’s society: consumers show a growing concern towards some aspects and issues related to the environment and increasingly adopt a lifestyle as sustainable and ecological as possible.
Green marketing vs Greenwashing
Becoming truly “green” requires investments, commitment, perseverance and also the satisfaction of some parameters both for productive and non-productive businesses. Captivating slogans, emphasis on numbers and percentages, green-coloured graphics and labels are not enough to actually be considered a green company. In this regard, we cannot fail to mention a rather widespread phenomenon: greenwashing. This neologism refers to a misleading marketing and communication strategy that presents as eco-sustainable activities that are not and that hides the fact that the brand has not actually adopted any concrete sustainability policy. To give an example, Shell, a British multinational operating in the oil, energy and petrochemical sectors, issued a TV commercial to present a project that consisted of extracting oil from the tar sands of Canada, arguing that this extraction process had less impact on the environment. However, it was shown that the emissions deriving from this procedure were instead ten times higher than those coming from standard extraction procedures of crude oil. For this reason, Shell has been harshly criticized by the Advertising Standards Authority in UK and forced to withdraw its advertising campaigns as they were considered to be misleading.
To avoid the greenwashing label, we need to truly commit ourselves to protecting the environment, truthfully communicating what we are doing to protect the planet and supporting our claims with evidence and numbers and not just with advertising slogans. Some aspects to take into consideration when we decide to communicate our eco-friendly approach are:
- Care for the product: what we launch on the market must be made using industrial processes with low environmental impact or produced with recycled, sustainable, or even zero-kilometre materials;
- The right attention to packaging: choosing, for example, packaging that does not pollute or that is produced with compostable and biodegradable materials;
- Product certification: affixing a label that demonstrates that the entire process by which the product was created is environmentally sustainable. There are some international certification firms we can rely on to test and certify the conformity of our products.
- The adoption of virtuous behaviour: we must be the first to promote a behaviour that is truly environmentally friendly, avoiding waste of paper, plastic, electricity and water.
Satisfying these points requires a great commitment and an increase in production costs and consequently in the cost of the final good. However, when consumers are informed and aware of the green supply chain behind the finished product, they usually don’t mind paying a bit more for it.
An effective marketing strategy supports companies in communicating and informing consumers of these practices and processes. Digital media, including social media and the corporate website, represent the main platforms through which companies spread their messages on a large scale and testify their commitment to the environment with photos, videos and infographics.
The advantages of green marketing
Setting up the right green marketing strategy can bring numerous benefits to companies. First of all, it improves the brand reputation and image since the brand will be recognized by consumers as responsible and attentive to environment protection.
The new generations, especially Millennials and Gen Z, continue to demonstrate that they have the future of our planet strongly at heart and tend to prefer brands and products that align with their ethical values. A green marketing strategy allows companies to reach new audiences who pay particular attention to what they buy.
Implementing a green marketing strategy also means transforming our business model, innovating the company and the products so that they can be labelled as sustainable. This is linked to the last important advantage: adopting an efficient green policy allows us to reduce the negative impact that the company has on the environment, promoting a virtuous use of our planet’s resources – which is the goal that every green marketing campaign should achieve.
Some examples of green marketing strategy
Although the goal is the same, that is to make a concrete contribution to the protection of our planet, each company has its own history and can adopt a different approach to environmental sustainability. The case studies below have been specifically chosen to highlight the differences between brands and their strategies.
On the one hand, there are multinational corporations such as IKEA and Adidas which are not born as sustainable brands, but which over time have made environmental protection one of their strengths; on the other hand, there are companies such as Patagonia, which were specifically created with the mission of finding a solution to the environmental crisis by offering completely green products. Patagonia is just an example, but it is very common that companies active in the clothing sector are constantly looking for new solutions to make their products as sustainable as possible: this derives from the awareness that the clothing industry, and in in particular, the fast-fashion sector, is one of the industries with the greatest environmental impact.
Without further ado, here are the case studies.
The Swedish multinational specialized in the sale of furniture tops the ranking of companies that pay great attention to sustainability. IKEA’s green marketing initiatives started a long time ago. We will only illustrate the most significant ones and those that have had strong relevance.
In 2014, the company launched an advertisement entitled “Forest”. The setting of the campaign is just a dark forest that gradually acquires greater brightness thanks to LED lighting. The voiceover clarifies the goal of this campaign and the company’s commitment to the environment with the phrase: “By 2016 we will only sell energy-efficient LED bulbs. Sometimes the little things can make a big difference”.
Then, in April 2019, IKEA globally launched a campaign entitled “Climate action starts at home” with the aim of continuing to show corporate commitment to safeguarding the planet while at the same time empowering consumers and promoting eco-friendly behaviours to be adopted daily. The spot obviously highlights some of the Swedish company’s products (from the set of containers for separate waste collection, to taps and shower heads that reduce water consumption by up to 50%, up to low energy consumption LED bulbs) that help us in our daily routine to adopt eco-friendly practices.
In addition to the TV commercials, IKEA has developed a web page called “Sustainable everyday” with the goal of offering consumers ideas on how to improve their environmental habits and provide updated information on what the company is doing to achieve certain goals and on its green initiatives. An example could be the furniture buy-back and resale service: consumers can sell their IKEA furniture directly to the Swedish multinational, which will reuse them to produce new furnishing accessories. In 2019, IKEA gave a second life to 47 million recovered products and declared its commitment to becoming a fully circular company by 2030.
Adidas, the German multinational company active in the production of sportswear, is also strongly committed to protecting the environment. As early as 2000, Adidas published the first annual report on sustainable development. Since then, this report has been published every year in March. Through it, the company discloses its ambitions on a seven-year plan. Some of the most important activities of the green marketing strategy of Adidas are: the commitment to halve the water used in the production of clothing, the reduction of the percentage of cotton to be used in the production phase and the gradual elimination of virgin plastic from all its products, offices and shops.
Adidas’ green marketing campaign also includes the collaboration with Parley for The Oceans, a non-profit environmental organization that aims to raise awareness and empower companies, brands, governments and organizations on the protection of the oceans. The Parley philosophy is based on three principles “Avoid, Intercept, Re-design”. Hence the name of the strategy “Parley A.I.R.”. In particular, the term “Avoid” underlines the importance of avoiding the use of plastic bags and plastic microspheres which represent one of the main enemies of the seas and oceans because, due to their small size, they are not filtered by the purification systems of waters ending up directly in the seas, rivers and oceans. In this regard, in 2015 Adidas decided to abandon the classic plastic shopping bags and adopt paper bags (which are widely used today) and to ban the use of any object made of disposable plastic in Adidas offices, facilities and stores.
Linked to the “Avoid” concept, there is the concept “Intercept”, which refers to those practices that intercept plastic dispersed in the environment. In fact, to prevent plastic waste from contaminating the ecosystem, Adidas had the idea of using waste plastic materials to make high-performance sport items and accessories of the same quality as virgin plastic products. That’s not all. In 2015, Adidas and Parley presented a high-performance shoe prototype at the United Nations headquarters. The prototype’s upper was made from yarn and filament from recycled marine litter and illegal deep-sea fishing nets. This model was then put on the market and achieved great success with millions of sales worldwide. Later, Adidas created an entire collection of performing products made only with waste plastic materials.
Finally, with the term “Re-design” Adidas aims at promoting eco-innovation around materials and products and new ways of reinventing plastic. The company has studied a new business model that will make it possible to use 100% recycled polyester in every product by 2024.
Another initiative that has found enormous success globally is the “Adidas x Parley Run for the Oceans” project, created to fight plastic pollution in the oceans through running and sport. Every year, for about 20 days and until June 8 – The World Oceans Day -, runners from all over the world can record their running sessions on the Adidas Running app and for each kilometre they run, the company collects the equivalent in weight of 10 plastic bottles, up to a maximum of 250,000 kg.
Patagonia is a sportswear brand founded in California in 1973 with the aim of “making the best product, not causing unnecessary damage and using business to inspire and implement solutions for the environmental crisis”. Patagonia’s strategy, called “Common Threads”, is based on five principles (5 R) which aim to rethink consumerism and the clothing sector, which, as mentioned above, is one of the great enemies of environmental sustainability. The 5 Rs of Patagonia are: reduce what you buy, repair what you can, reuse what you have, recycle as much as you can and re-imagine a sustainable world.
Based on this strategy, the California-based company began producing sports clothing and accessories using only sustainable, organically grown and recycled materials.
The company has also activated important environmental responsibility programs that promote animal welfare and trace the production chain of materials and products. Patagonia also adheres to the “1% for the Planet” initiative; in fact, since 1985, the company donates 1% of its annual sales to the protection and restoration of the natural environment. More than $89 million has been devoted to environmental activist groups, both nationally and internationally, which work to make the difference in their local communities.
As of 2012, Patagonia was recognized as a B Corp, becoming the first Californian company to achieve this certification and joining the community of 500 companies already recognized as “sustainable” across 60 different industries. To be recognized as a B Corp, a company must have an explicit social or environmental mission and be willing to accept regulations that take into account the interests of workers, community, environment and shareholders.
To promote its brand, its green initiatives and to empower consumers, Patagonia mainly uses its digital channels, including the website and its social channels.
However, there have also been offline advertising campaigns.
Those who choose Patagonia, as well as the many other green brands on the market, share the values, the philosophy and the lifestyle of the brand itself, identifying themselves with it and taking it upon themselves to tackle the challenge of sustainability.
Earth is our home and protecting it is our duty. In recent years, environmental protection has become one of the hot topics in public debates and (fortunately) the number of companies and consumers who choose to adopt an eco-friendly approach is constantly growing.
Setting up a green marketing strategy is a valuable practice not only for the environment and the protection of our ecosystem, in which we all live and thrive; but also for the brand, as it allows to communicate effectively with an audience that is increasingly attentive to issues related to sustainability.
Obviously, the conditio sine qua non of being green is the real commitment (and not just words).
EOS Mktg&Communication can help you implement the green marketing strategy that best suits your company’s needs. Visit the page dedicated to our services or write to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive more information.