New Report: Green Marketing Brings in the Dough

Green forest
Many direct response marketers report that Green messaging is effective.

How effective is Green marketing, really?

That’s what the authors of Green Marketing: What Works; What Doesn’t – A Marketing Study Of Practitioners asked in a recent study by Watershed Publishing.  The report summarizes the real-life results of Green marketing by the audiences of five industry publications.

Some of the findings were predictable.  For instance, the most popular medium used was overwhelmingly the Internet.  No surprise, since online messages eliminate the need to generate the solid waste associated with print media, and because of the strong growth of online marketing overall.

Does Size make a Difference?

Perhaps it wasn’t particularly surprising that large and small companies (defined as having marketing budgets above $10 million and below $250,000, respectively) displayed differences in their attitudes toward and implementation of Green marketing.  Small companies were more likely to target consumers directly with Green messages, while larger companies tended to direct their Green messages to their own employees.

Smaller companies in general were far more likely to report that their Green marketing was effective.  (Does this have anything to do with the fact that small companies spent an average of 26% of their marketing budget on Green marketing, vs. 6% for the largest (over $50 million) companies?)

The Surprising Results

Other findings surprised even the researchers:

“The indication that green marketing is likely not a fad, frankly, surprised us.  When staff from the various participating publications – especially those hailing from ad agency backgrounds – opted to poke into the subject of green marketing, most felt a certain amount of cynicism, expecting to see similarly cynical opinions among the surveyed marketers. With that in mind, we set up the survey with certain “traps” built into the questions, to see if the industry would reveal the skepticism some of us felt.

That we didn’t see the level of cynicism we expected surprised and intrigued us.”

A respectable 28% of marketers reported that they thought Green marketing was more effective than other types of messages, vs. only 6% who thought it was less effective.

Great Green Returns

But wait – there’s more.  The numbers swing strongly in favor of Green messaging when you ask marketers who are really on top of things – that is, the ones actually bothering to monitor their results by using trackable methods.  Amongst direct-response marketers, a whopping 48% reported their Green marketing had increased response.  Those using the Internet, too, reported that Green messages were more or much more effective (43%.)

And here’s another tidbit that should perk up the ears of any marketer wishing to maximize profits: marketers using trackable methods were also much more likely (42-46%) to believe that consumers would pay more for Green.

Have you tested Green vs. conventional in your marketing messages?  What were your results?

Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.

8 thoughts on “New Report: Green Marketing Brings in the Dough”

  1. Hi Anne,

    Interesting results, thanks for sharing. I started in “Green Marketing”, a term I hate personally, in 1989. I was the first Environmental Marketing Director at P&G. I co-chaired environmental marketing committees for GMA, and co-chaired the Environmental Marketing and Advertising Council. This group wrote voluntary industry guidelines on environmental marketing principles that later were taken nearly as written into FTC guidelines you can still find active on the internet.

    Key things I’ve learned along the way:

    1. Being environmentally responsible is a long-term, continuous improvement commitment. No company can ever be “green”, and this idea of different levels of “greenness” is a ridiculous discussion point. It’s like trying to have a single measure of “greenness” for a company’s product or operations . .. who sets the factors equating the environmental impacts of a company or product on solid waste, water, or air emissions? Of the degree of biodegradability or recyclability in various communities? Of the environmental impacts of manufacturing, transportation, disposal, etc?

    2. The focus should be on implementing actions to reduce all impacts. In other words, actions first, messaging second. Actions about intentions are really exploitative and probably fall into the area of “misleading” under the FTC guidelines. AFTER taking action, it’s important to talk about those actions in an educational and informative way that helps consumers not only make choices, but helps them understand how their actions and habits impact the system. For example, if consumers don’t choose to separate solid waste at home into garbage and recyclables, we will never have a system that minimizes the impact on landfills. Manufacturers can change packaging materials and designs, but if the consumer throws away “green” packages in the garbage instead of using the recycling systems available in their community, the impact is pretty much wasted.

    3. So a package that contains 25% recycled material and is in itself recyclable, is it “green”? It’s an improvement over a package that has no recycled content, because it helps create demand for recycled materials. And obviously recyclable is better than not recyclable. But what about a product that is identical but has 40% recycled content? Are they both “green”? Is one more “green” than the other?

    What if the recycled content is the same but one type of materials can be recycled at curbside in 40% of homes while the other can be recycled at curbside in 80% of homes? Same questions about levels of “green”.

    4. We found simple statements of fact are more powerful than slogans. In fact, if you read the FTC guidelines, you’ll see simple slogans are essentially classified as “illegal” because they are considered “misleading”. If there are not clear definitions of what “green” means, or what “better for the environment” means, then those are de facto misleading messages, if the consumer cannot take away an understanding that is supportable by facts the marketer can provide.

    One classic example we worked on, the old debate of cloth versus disposable diapers. Which is “green” or “greener”? You have to understand how to quantify on a common scale the environmental impacts of the disposable product in manufacturing, use and disposal, versus the cloth diaper from growing cotton to manufacturing to washing. That’s the equivalent of counting angels on the head of a pin, isnt’ it? I can manipulate inspecific data on all factors to make the case either way, probably.

    As regards the study you refer to in this blog entry, it doesn’t say what percent of respondents were actually engaged in “green” marketing. But it does state at the end that only about 50% admit they’re taking action to reduce impacts. So does that mean, if 100% are using “green” marketing that a full 50% are doing so without any actual reduction programs in place? THAT’s a finding worth understanding!

    Finally, a note about “effectiveness” . . another term with a wide variety of possible meaning. Does it mean new business and an ROI greater than 100? Or does it mean more sales than non-green marketing? Or does it mean more repeat customers, or greater share of wallet, or higher satisfaction scores? I find any study which touts “more effective” without specific discussion as pretty useless for those seeking to make decisions about what to do and how to do it.

    This area has been a passion and avocation of mine since 1989, so please excuse the strong points of view and inarticulate expression. My last key learning is, trying to “sell” via green marketing is starting from the wrong mindset. The focus should be simply on educating multiple audiences, including employees, consumers, suppliers, vendors, partners, share holders, the public interest groups and the government regulators regarding what actions are being taken, to what benefit, and how others can help those actions have maximum benefit on improving some aspect of the environmental impact involved in producing, using and disposing of the product.

    I’d be interested to hear if you are aware of the FTC guidelines, and what you’re point of view is on the points raised.


    Bob Viney

  2. Perhaps you should step back and take a look at what you call green marketing. In fact, saying that internet marketing is green is like saying putting a fan in a refrigerator is an efficient means of cooling a room on a hot summer day. Although using the internet to communicate saves paper (trees and global warming from manufacturing) and fuel (global warming from transportation) the internet is not green. Why? Most of the power generated in the US (57%) is from the 110 coal-fired powerplants in the US giving off are responsible for 93 percent of the sulfur dioxide and 80 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated by the electric utility industry.

    These emissions spawn the acid rain that is eating away red spruce forests in the Northeast and Appalachia, and rob previously pristine streams of brook trout and other fish species in the Adirondacks, upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains.
    Coal emissions also cause urban smog, which has been linked to respiratory ailments, and coal-fired power plants also contribute to global climate change. Coal plants emit 73 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from electricity generators. By releasing the energy stored in coal, large quantities of carbon dioxide that have been stored in the coal for millions of years are released back into the atmosphere, increasing the threat of global warming. Coal plants are also a major source of airborne emissions of mercury, a toxic heavy metal.

    Federal law requires that air pollution be kept within limits. However, these limits are significantly lower for older coal plants than for newer ones. Even when kept within the air emission limits set by the Clean Air Act, state-of-the-art coal power plants still produce significant damage to human health, public and private property, and ecosystems.

    The mining, processing, and transporting of coal also insults the environment. In the West, about 87 percent of coal is removed from the earth through strip mining, which can contaminate soils with heavy metals and destroy near-surface aquifers. In the East, coal is sometimes mined by removing entire mountain tops to more easily extract the subsurface mineral reserves.

    Coal combustion also results in huge quantities of solid wastes. Enormous quantities of waste heat require large amounts of water for cooling. The collection of this water from major water bodies threatens local aquatic life, including the killing of fish on the screens designed to keep such organisms out of the power plant.

    Internet marketing is HARDLY green.

  3. And, the remaineder of the electric power (except about 1% for Renewable Energy) is generated by nuclear power plants. In addition to all the environmental implications associated with using water from lakes and rivers to cool the reactors, we have this radiaoactive waste that is harzardouse to the environment and humans for 100s of thousand of years. Again, hardly green.

    Does anyone even have half a brain who promotes and reads this fallacious information.

    Green is a self aggrandizing rationalizaton that people use to assert that they are living well for the common good of their fellow man and the planet earth. Sorry folks, this posture ended with Plato’s Republic.

  4. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. I have to say I agree with you on nearly everything you say – especially your point about environmental responsibility being a long-term, continuous improvement commitment, and where you point out that the nuances of “green-ness” are mind-bogglingly complex.

    “Green marketing” really can be seen as something of an oxymoron, especially given how depressingly far our society is from anything sustainable. The complex understanding of systems required to intelligently discuss environmental issues is polar opposite to the more simplistic approach most marketing takes in order to persuade and avoid confusing the prospect.

    I think the biggest problem is a matter of mindset. We have such a short-term-profit outlook ingrained into the thinking of our entire society. As you say, “The focus should be simply on educating…” But it’s pretty hard to educate about solutions when people can’t – or won’t – even see there’s a problem.

    I agree with your statement on action, but sometimes you’ve got to message first. The Natural Step identifies an A-B-C-D procedure for implementing change. This stands for Awareness (forming a common understanding of sustainability), Baseline (taking stock), Creative solutions (a shared vision/brainstorming) and Down to action. I think that ideally, marketing messages can serve to bolster awareness of sustainability issues as well as to sell product.

    As far as the FTC guidelines are concerned, I think any ethical green marketer would follow them as a matter of course. Transparency is an absolutely crucial element in the marketing of any eco-friendly product.

    Thanks again for your comments – you’ve certainly opened up a whole bevy of thought streams!

  5. Hi David,

    Yes, you’re right.

    Marketing is not green. The entire military-industrial-corporate society we live in is completely unsustainable. But I think one has to start somewhere. There are companies and organizations out there that are working to change it for the better. I’m privileged to work with some of them.

    This post was simply intended to report on some interesting research. The conclusion I draw from the research is a heartening one. It’s that Americans are finally concerned enough about sustainability issues that “green” (yes I admit it’s a trite and overused word) messaging actually has proven effective.

    Whether or not the messages in question were honest and worthwhile, or whether it was all greenwashing, and whether it’s even ethical to use green messaging is beyond the scope of this post – good topics for another day, for sure.

    Yes I know the whole issue of marketing and business and how it relates to the environment is a sticky one at best. It’s amazingly complex and there are few if any straight answers. I welcome your thoughts.



  6. Personally I find that people are inundated with too many “Green” messages. Our business (ecojot) produces sweatshop free, Canadian made paper products made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper for which the paper mill is powered by biogas. Really cool and unique statements – so I thought!

    During the 3 year life of this brand, no-one has questioned my claims and have have sold hundreds of thousands of these products! I have now changed our marketing emphasis from a green message to one that promotes philanthropy. With our new “Buy 1, we give 1” initiative, we are donating school workbooks to kids in need to help with literacy and education. Its similar to the Toms Shoes model. So far the response has been excellent. Its early days for this, but I think that people will respond to a human story more readily than an environmental one.

    In the 3 years that we have produced our

  7. Hi Mark,

    How interesting. It reminds me of a conversation I had last November with Jim Bowes of GreenGraffiti. His company is based in the Netherlands. He says that while their product is an eco-friendly one, they discovered that just being “green” wasn’t enough. People wanted to know that the company was giving back in a socially responsible manner as well.

    I recall Jim’s commenting that Europe is so much farther ahead than we are in North America in terms of eco-consciousness. Here, people are just starting to wrap their minds around what it means to be earth-friendly. There, sustainability has been a popular issue for much longer. (I remember the first time I went to Germany as a high school student way back in the 80’s being very impressed at seeing recycling bins virtually on every street corner.) He figured that people have internalized being earth-friendly to a larger degree than here, and are starting to connect the dots as far as realizing that there can be no true sustainability without social equity.

    Perhaps since you’re working with an informed, already eco-conscious clientele, you’re experiencing a similar trend?

  8. Wow, Bob and David. Very insightful comments–and very useful. So glad I stumbled upon this site.

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