Green Marketing

Green Marketing is a process comprised of many interdependent activities designed to communicate a message of environmental sustainability to a general or specific audience for the ultimate purpose of an exchange.
Credit: John Gollings

Examples of such an exchange include providing money for environmentally friendly goods or services and contributing time and/or money in order to be involved in a meaningful cause for an emotional feeling, psychological need or perceived benefit. An exchange does not have to involve physical goods for the process to be valuable to the parties. However, the parties involved must have something of value to offer the other, and be able to communicate in some way for an exchange to occur.

To effect such exchanges, integrated green marketing strategies involve communicating a message via coordinated personal selling, advertising, promotion and/or public relations. The goal of marketing strategy is to develop a meaningful relationship or a connection, establishing the foundation for immediate or future exchange.

Green Marketing Strategy

Organizations that wish to exchange their products or services in a marketplace should develop a strategic marketing plan that dovetails with their overall organizational or business strategy. Indeed, the most successful sustainability-focused organizations transcend mere profit-seeking and create multiple types of value including economic, ecological, social, cultural, emotional, ethical and spiritual. In effect, the organization’s “higher purpose” is woven into its marketing strategy involving stakeholders (investors, customers, suppliers, neighbors, employees, etc.) at every point in the organization’s operation. Companies that have succeeded in this regard include Interface FLOR (product) and Waste Management (service).

Green Marketing Frameworks

The concept of sustainability or “green” is often difficult to grasp because of its breadth and potential for complexity. Environmentally-focused marketing strategies must consider, or at the very least be aware of, established and broadly accepted sustainability frameworks, such as the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Green Guides” or U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) green building certification systems as models to follow. The FTC’s “Green Guides” were established to protect consumers who seek to purchase environmentally friendly products from false or exaggerated claims (aka “greenwash”) by product manufacturers. LEED has developed a series of rating systems which consist of six major categories of sustainability, five of which are focused on environmental aspects, and the sixth focused on technological and other innovation in green building. These existing frameworks offer broadly accepted contexts through which environmentally friendly products, services and processes may be viewed or defined.

The Green Guides provide a list of common claims made in advertising, and the requirements that the organization selling them must meet, in order to safely make such claims without threat of legal liability for misleading or making false statements:

  • Non-Toxic: If a product claims to be non-toxic it must have proof that it is safe for the environment and people.
  • Free Of: If a green company plans to market a product as being free of a harmful material, it must not contain any trace of it. The product must also be free of any other ingredient that may cause the same type of harm.
  • VOC-Free: Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, can cause a negative effect to the health of people and the environment.
  • Biodegradable: Items that are biodegradable are capable of decomposing into the same elements that are found in nature. Companies marketing products as biodegradable must have proof that products are capable of decomposition to use the term.
  • Compostable: This means that the product can be broken down and used as compost. Compost is a material that can be returned to the earth and help return nutrients to the soil.
  • Recyclable: If a product is recyclable it can be recycled according to local regulations for use (post-consumer) by future manufacturing processes.
  • Recycled: Products containing post-consumer or pre-consumer recycled material.
  • Made with Renewable Materials: Renewable materials, or rapidly renewable materials, are agricultural products that may be harvested sustainably for use in manufacturing processes.
  • Made with Renewable Energy: Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar energy, are not depleted by use. The FTC accepts the use of non-renewable fossil fuels if they are offset through the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs) to balance out the non-renewable energy.
  • Ozone- Friendly: The item must have proof that it does not cause any damage to the upper ozone layer and the air at the ground level.
  • Less Waste: A company must be able to provide specific information on its comparison to another product to show that it produces less waste.
  • Carbon Offsets: Companies may refer to using carbon offsets it can prove that they take precautions and actions to reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Seals and Certifications: Seals from the Better Business Bureau, Green America Approved, TerraPass and EPA WaterSense Partner can help organizations establish credibility in making green claims.

A full list of FTC guidelines may be found here.

Green Building Marketing and LEED

The field of green building marketing is broad and can be considered a microcosm of almost all marketing within the U.S. economy. As such, developing a green marketing strategy and analysis requires targeting, segmenting and positioning an organization’s products or services to each specific market.

Players in the green building market include the following business segments: commercial and residential construction firms, building owners, national building supply chains, real estate developers, professional property and asset management firms, investors, architectural, engineering and design firms, brokers, contractors, manufacturing companies and products and services companies. However, understanding the needs of these groups may be difficult to grasp without further considering the types of buildings that these players may respond to. Specialty players who focus on retail, hospitality, office, mixed-use, industrial, residential multi-family, single family residential, etc. exist within each business segment.

All of these players hunger for information, certification and professional credentials that they may use to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Because LEED's six major categories of sustainability do a good job of articulating how to start a sustainability business, LEED is becoming increasingly standard as a green building marketing tool. Buildings may be LEED certified, while people may hold LEED professional credentials. Holding a LEED credential can be helpful in establishing credibility in the personal selling of green building products and services. Indeed, architecture and design firms positioning themselves as knowledgeable in green building are expected to have all, or at least a large portion, of their staff be holders of LEED Accredited Professional, or LEED Green Associate credentials. Real estate agents, or brokers, are finding that having an understanding of sustainability can be helpful to them in closing a deal or identifying an undervalued property.

LEED certification Architecture and design firms that pursue sustainability projects may use outside consulting firms are expected to have worked on multiple LEED certification projects and be conversational in the major categories of green building construction and design.

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