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Environmentally responsible or green marketing is a business practice that takes into account consumer concerns about promoting preservation and conservation of the natural environment. Green marketing campaigns highlight the superior environmental protection characteristics of a company’s products and services, whether those benefits take the form of reduced waste in packaging, increased energy efficiency in product use, or decreased release of toxic emissions and other pollutants in production.

Marketers have responded to growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly products in several ways: by promoting the environmental attributes of their products, and by redesigning existing products, which are all components of environmental marketing. Indeed, marketing campaigns touting the environmental ethics of companies and the environmental advantages of their products have proliferated in recent years.

Most observers agree that while some businesses engage in green marketing solely because such an emphasis will enable them to make a profit, other businesses conduct their operations in an environmentally sensitive fashion because their owners and managers feel a responsibility to preserve the integrity of the natural environment even as they satisfy consumer needs and desires.

Indeed, true green marketing emphasizes environmental stewardship. An analyst defined environmental marketing as “marketing activities that recognize environmental stewardship as a business development responsibility and business growth responsibility.” Another analyst of green marketing defined the practice as “a holistic and responsible strategic management process that identifies, anticipates, satisfies and fulfills stakeholder needs for a reasonable reward that does not adversely affect human or natural environment wellbeing.” Such interpretations expand on the traditional understanding of business’s responsibilities and goals.

Reactions to “Green Consumerism”

A number of factors have caused business firms in some industries to incorporate an environmental ethic into their operations. The principal factor, of course, is the growing public awareness of the environmental degradation that has resulted as a consequence of the growth in population and natural resource consumption throughout the world during the last 70 years. The issue is particularly relevant in the developed countries of the world. This growing public awareness of environmental issues has brought with it a corresponding change in the buying decisions of a significant segment of consumers. As observed, many consumers, and not just the most environmentally conscious, are seeking ways to lessen the environmental impacts of their personal buying decisions through the purchase and use of products and services perceived to be environmentally preferable.

Businesses took heed of this growth in “green consumerism” and new marketing campaigns were devised to reflect this new strain of thought among consumers. Companies with product lines that were created in an environmentally friendly fashion (that is, with recycled products, comparatively low pollutant emissions, and so on) quickly learnt to shape their marketing message to highlight such efforts and to reach those customers most likely to appreciate those efforts (an advertisement highlighting a company’s recycling efforts, for instance, is more likely to appear in an outdoor/nature magazine than a general interest periodical).

Ironically, studies have shown that the most environmentally aware consumers are also the ones most likely to view green claims of companies with skepticism. Green consumers are the very segment most likely to distrust advertisers and are likely to pursue behaviors and activities that confound business people. Corporate reputation, then, has emerged as a tremendously important factor in reaching and keeping these consumers.

A company that touts its sponsorship of an outdoor oriented event or utilizes nature scenery in its advertising, but also engaged in practices harmful to the environment, is unlikely to gain a significant portion of the green consumer market. Of course, such tactics are sometimes effective in reaching less informed sectors of the marketplace.

Environmental or green marketing differs from other forms of advertising in some fairly fundamental ways.  First, unlike peace, quality, and other features, the environmental impacts of a product are not always apparent and may not affect the purchaser directly. Thus environmental claims are often more abstract and offers consumers the opportunity to act on other environmental concerns.

Second, unlike most advertised product attributes, environmental claims may apply to the full product life cycle, from raw material extraction to ultimate product disposal, reuse or recycling. Third, and most important, environmental marketing provides an incentive for manufacturers to achieve significant environment improvements, such as toxics use reduction and recycling, by competing on the basis of minimizing environmental impacts of their products.

Characteristics of a “Green” Product

To be regarded as a green product, it should not:

  • Endanger the health of people or animals
  • Damage the environment at any stage of its life, including manufacture, use, and disposal
  • Consume a disproportionate amount of energy and other resources  during manufacture, use, or disposal
  • Cause unnecessary waste, either as a result of excessive packaging or a short useful life
  • Involve the unnecessary use of or cruelty to animals
  • Use materials derived from threatened species or environments

A product could also be considered to be “green” if it runs cleaner, works better, and saves money and energy through efficiency. Businesses practice being green when they voluntarily recycle and attempt to reduce waste in their daily operations. Practicing green is inherently proactive; it means finding ways to reduce waste and otherwise be more environmentally responsible, before been forced to do so through government regulations. Green promotion, however, requires businesses to be honest with consumers and not mislead them by overpromising.

Green Promotion

There are general guidelines for companies wishing to make environmental claims as part of their promotional efforts.

  • Qualifications and disclosures should be sufficiently clear and prominent to prevent deception.
  • Environmental claims should make clear whether they apply to the product, the package, or a component or either. Claims need to be qualified with regards to minor, incidental components of the product or package.
  • Environmental claims should not overstate the environmental attribute or benefit. Marketers should avoid implying a significant environmental benefit where the benefit is, in fact, negligible.
  • A claim comparing the environmental attributes of one product with those of another product should make the basis for the comparison sufficiently clear and should be substantiated.


One avenue commonly used by companies to promote their specific ecological concerns (or polish their overall reputations as good corporate citizens) is to affiliate themselves with groups or projects engaged in environmental improvements. In eco sponsoring simplest form, firms contribute funds directly to an environmental organization to further the organization’s objectives.

Another approach is to “adopt” a particular environmental cause (community recycling programs are popular), thus demonstrating the company’s interest in supporting environmental protection efforts. Sponsorships of educational programs, wildlife refugees, and park or nature cleanup efforts also communicate concern for environmental issues. Environmental organizations charge, however, that some businesses use eco sponsorships to hide fundamental rapacious attitudes toward the environment.


Another vehicle that has been used with increasing frequency in recent years to convey environmental information to consumers is “eco-labeling.”  Eco-labeling programs are typically voluntary, third-party expert assessments of the environmental impacts of products. By performing a thorough evaluation  of a product, but awarding only a simple logo on packages, eco-labels offer consumers clear guidance based on expert information .

Government sponsored eco-labeling programs have been launched with great success in many areas of the world, including Europe, Canada, and Japan. Indeed, those programs which provide consumers with easily understandable information on the most environmentally sensitive products and services in various areas can be a potent factor in guiding the purchasing decisions of consumers. For instance, a product may have particularly low pollutant or noise emissions, give off less waste materials in its production, or be more recyclable than comparing products.

Bernard Taiwo

I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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