As I asserted to hundreds of attendees at the Sustainable Brands ‘11 conference last week, greenwash is not the real problem holding consumers back from getting more involved in sustainability. Greenwash is merely a symptom of what I believe to be the real problem—an immature industry ‘eco-system’. The ‘eco-system’ of stakeholders that supports us is not broken—it just hasn’t matured around us. We have marketers who are inadvertently greenwashing because they don’t know better and more importantly, green claims are not being enforced by government or retailers.
How to Build Holistic Support
I then went on to suggest specific steps that I think are necessary to build the holistic support we need from retailers, government, and especially consumers, in moving sustainability forward. These steps are:
• Marketers who are more knowledgeable about the technical subtleties of greening one’s processes and products;
• Retailers and government who can enforce the FTC Green Guides and ensure that claims made on products and packages at the shelf are not misleading;
• Industry self-regulation, via bodies such as the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau;
• Products that address all life cycle stages;
• Products that can sell themselves without the use of clichéd imagery and green claims; and
• Engaged consumers who can make more informed choices among competing “green” and “brown” products and who can share responsibility for impacts during product use, after-use (recycling, reuse), and disposal.
How to Engage Consumers
I then offered several success strategies for engaging consumers, among them:
• Provide easily understood feedback (e.g., Toyota Prius dashboard);
• Peer pressure (e.g., comparative electricity usage and “smiley faces” on utility bills);
• Visualize life cycle impacts, thereby making intangible green impacts more tangible to consumers;
• Provide “consumer-friendly” information, especially total lifecycle costs that can motivate consumers to buy greener goods (The new fuel economy labels that include fuel costs in addition to greenhouse gas and smog ratings are a model in this regard);
• Make the learning process fun, (e.g., the quizzes and games offered by RecycleBank).
Research shows consumers are ready and willing to do more about sustainability, but they don’t know how —So let’s teach them!
Green Paper Available With More on This Topic
If you are ready to help move sustainability forward, feel free to download my new ‘green paper’ entitled, “Moving Sustainability Forward: A Road Map for Consumer Marketers” at our website. Let me know what you think, and I’ll summary your comments with others and continue the discussion. It’s our time to move!
Jacquie Ottman is founder and principal of the New York City-based J. Ottman Consulting, Inc. An expert adviser on green marketing to Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government, she is the author of the newly released,The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools, and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, February 2011, 252 pp.) For more information or to download a free chapter, click here