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. The sorts of characteristics usually highlighted include such things as reduced waste in packaging, increased energy efficiency of the product in use, reduced use of chemicals in farming, or decreased release of toxic emissions and other pollutants in production.
Marketers have responded to growing consumer demand for environment-friendly products in several ways, each of which is a component of green marketing. These include: 1) promoting the environmental attributes of products; 2) introducing new products specifically for those concerned with energy efficiency, waste reduction, sustainability, and climate control, and 3) redesigning existing products with an eye towards these same consumers. Marketing campaigns touting the environmental ethics of companies and the environmental advantages of their products are on the rise.
Most observers agree that some businesses engage in green marketing solely because such an emphasis will enable them to make a profit. Other businesses, however, 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. Green or environmental marketing may be defined as any marketing activity that recognizes environmental stewardship as a fundamental business development responsibility and business growth responsibility. This expands, to some extent, the traditional understanding of a business's responsibilities and goals.
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 50 years. The issue is particularly relevant in America, which accounts for fully one quarter of world consumption despite having only a small fraction of the world's population. This growing public awareness of environmental issues has brought with it a corresponding change in the buying decisions of a significant segment of American consumers. Many consumers, and not just the most environmentally conscious, have begun in recent years to incorporate environmental concerns in their personal buying decisions through the purchase and use of products and services perceived to be more environmentally friendly. In some cases, changes in commodity availability have been the motivation behind such shifts in purchasing patterns. For example, the gas price increases seen in 2004 and 2005 caused a sharp decline in sales of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in favor of hybrid and other flexible-fuel vehicles.
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 (i.e., with recycled products, comparatively low pollutant emissions, and so on) quickly learned 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, the most environmentally aware consumers are also the ones most likely to view green claims of companies with skepticism. The attempt to portray oneself as "green" may fall flat if they are perceived to be false advertising, particularly among those most educated about environmental issues. 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 engages 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.
In their book The Green Consumer, John Elkington, Julia Hailes, and John Makower discussed several characteristics that a product must have to be regarded as a "green" product. They contended that a green product should not:
J. Stephen Shi and Jane M. Kane, meanwhile, noted in Business Horizons that the consulting firm FIND/SVP also judged a product's friendliness to the environment by ultimately simple measurements: "FIND/SVP considers a product to be 'green' if it runs cleaner, works better, or saves money and energy through an 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 being forced to do so through government regulations. Green promotion, however, requires businesses to be honest with consumers and not mislead them by over promising."
Most analysts agree that the "life" of the product and its parts is one of the most important components in determining whether a product is "green" or not. Most people think only of the process of creating a product when gauging whether a product is green, but in reality, products impact on the environment at several additional stages of their useful lives. Life cycle analysis (LCA) and/or product line analysis (PLA) studies measure the cumulative environmental impact of products over their entire life cycle—from extraction of the resources used to create the product to all aspects of production (refining, manufacturing, and transportation) to its use and ultimate disposal. These studies are sometimes referred to as "cradle to grave" studies. Since such studies track resource use, energy requirements, and waste generation in order to provide comparative benchmarks, both manufacturers and consumers can select products that have the least impact upon the natural environment. Some detractors of LCA studies, though—while granting that they do provide useful information—contend that they are subjective in setting analysis boundaries and claim that it is difficult to compare the environmental impact of disparate products.
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