Green consumers are hard to define because each has his or her own individual characteristics. However, they can be defined by their common characteristics. Citing the Institute for sustainable development, Ryan observes that some of the characteristic common in all green consumers include: their commitment to leading green lifestyles; the critical approach to environmental issues; their tendency to overstate the green behaviour; their yearn for easier way to protect the environment; and their tendencies to distrust companies which claim to uphold green practices (1).
The demographic characteristics of the green consumer are identified as: young adults, who are mainly women. They are also financially stable. The most likely group of consumers to adopt green practices are those aged 60 or more years (Ryan 1).
Laroche et al. However defines green consumers are the group of people who demand to purchase products, which have a higher potential of improving not only their individual health, but also has little or no risk of harming the environment (503). Accordingly, their demand for products is based on four principles namely: (I) Environmental thrift; (ii) Regionality; (iii) Joint Utilisation; and (IV) Durability.
In regard to environmental thrift, the green consumers shop for products that use nature sparingly. Regionality on the other hand refers to products made locally, thus meaning that the consumers consider the distance covered by the distribution channels. This is intended to reduce the use of fuels used in product distribution. The consumers also use this principle in order to reduce their own length of travel.
The joint utilisation feature seeks to reduce the impact that human activities have on the environment, while durability means that the consumer seeks to purchase products that wont wear off easily thus preventing repurchase of the same kind of product and hence increased production of the same by the manufacturers. Overall, Laroche et al. states that the aim of the green consumer is to buy products which “do not cost the earth” (505).
The consumers therefore seek purchasing avenues where they can buy products which can improve environmental, community, family and personal health. Such products would have to be natural and made of biodegradable materials and to add on, “the said goods also need to be made of recycled of recyclable materials, while their packages need to be made of less environment-polluting materials. Preferable the production and packaging system not need be energy-intensive” (Laroche et al. 506)
As stated by Polonsky (25), “Environment friendly, Ozone friendly, Phosphate free, refillable, and recyclable are some of the common terms used by markets to push their products to the consumer as green”. According to Polonsky however, no individual terms as currently used by marketers can fully capture the essence of green marketing (1).
This is because the concept of green marketing is far broader and covers services, industrial and consumer goods. “The concept incorporates activities such as modifications, changes in the production processes, modified advertising as well as different methods of product packaging”.(Polonsky 25).
A more detailed description of green marketing indicates that “Green marketing consists of all activities designed to generate and facilitate any exchanges intended to satisfy human needs or wants, such that the satisfaction of these needs and wants occurs, with minimal detrimental impact on the natural environment”( Polonsky 2).
Notably, the definition of green marketing must incorporate the conventional components of marketing. Such indicates that the marketing activity should be designed to make possible exchange of goods and services for the purposes of satisfying consumer needs. According to Polonsky, green marketing can only be successful if the buyer and the seller benefit from the process.
Notably, human consumption cannot loose it destructive nature easily. So how then do marketers propose that their products do not cause as much harm to the environment? According to Polonsky, green marketers would appeal to the green consumers as more genuine if they claim to be less harmful to the environment rather than stating that their products or services are friendly to the environment (2).
This argument is informed by the fact that the human species can make deliberate efforts to reduce the amount of harm caused to the environment, but cannot engage in activities that successfully eliminates any form of environmental degradation.
The question is; why is the concept of green marketing so well-liked? Well, Polonsky gives five reasons cited by other scholars (3). They include: marketers perceive green marketing as a viable opportunity to achieve their marketing objectives; organisations assume that consumers expect them to socially responsible; governments in different countries are forcing organisations to be more caring to the environment; the tough competition is pressurizing organisations to adopt more responsible marketing activities; and finally, the cost if waste disposal or waste reduction forces many firms to change their production and marketing behaviours (Polonsky 3).
According to the EPA, successful green marketing needs to involve the improvement and endorsement of products and services that satisfy the needs and wants of the consumer for quality, affordability, convenience and durability (1). This should however with minimal damaging effects to the environment. Green marketers should especially note that the modern consumer wants to do the right thing in regard to conserving the environment.
As such, the responsibility of the marketer should be geared towards ensuring that people find it is to be environmentally responsible when using their products. Notably, EPA argues that though environmental responsibility is more talked about than practical in the business world today, marketers who “walk the talk” will most likely realise healthy profits and enhanced shareholder value in the not-so-distance future.
According to EPA, the green marketers must address the 4Ps of the marketing mix just like their conventional counterparts (2). Unlike earlier times however, green marketers need to be creative in order to ensure that environmental conservation is top on the agenda of green marketing.
Product: the development of green market-friendly products is not the responsibility of the marketer. Rather, the business owners have to take the responsibility of designing and producing suitable markets for the emerging green markets. The entrepreneurs are also responsible for producing products that have less environmental impacts than those manufactured by competing firms (EPA, 2).
According to EPA (22), “Price: Just like conventional marketing, pricing is a vital component of green marketing”. Luckily for green marketers, the modern consumer is willing to pay more for a product which has more value to oneself and the environment. Still (Polonsky 3) notes that, “More to this, green products should have improved performance, visual appeal, design, taste or function as some of the value addition components that appeals to the consumer”. According to EPA, however, Green products are less expensive than initially perceived because they usually last longer and do not cause as much harm to the environment like the non-green products (3).
Place: To get to as many consumers as is possible, green marketers need to position their products in normal retail outlets where the products can be accessed by the green consumers quite conveniently. EPA notes that consumers do not usually decide that they are going to purchase green products (4).
However, finding the products on the shelves during shopping can encourage them to purchase green. Marketers should be wary of placing green products in retail shops or stores that contradict the green image they would like to portray to consumers. According to EPA successful marketers should know how to negotiate for good placement positions with the retail stores such that their products are differentiated from their competitor’s (3).
Promotion: Similar to marketing tactics used by conventional marketers, green marketers must be employ marketing promotion tactics such as onsite promotions, product give-aways, public relations, advertising and discounts in promoting their products in the market. However, green marketers need to uphold the credibility of their products by using sustainable promotion campaigns.
As EPA notes, the essence of a green marketing promotion campaign is the credibility of its communication and practices (3). Some of the ways that green marketers can successful engage their target markets include publicizing their green achievements or credentials and promoting the company’s green initiatives.
As identified elsewhere in this paper, the green consumer is most likely a well educated, young woman who has enough money to spend. To the green marketer, this would mean that he/she would need to target the marketing efforts to women, who presumably do the shopping on behalf of their children and husbands.
The green marketers would also need to devise ways of appealing to the children, because as Ryan, notes, children have the capacity to affect their parent’s purchase behaviour (2). Besides, creating environmental consciousness in the young children means that the marketers are grooming the future buyers for their products. Also, the marketers would try offering incentives or product samples to the target consumers.
To add on this, EPA (34) notes that “Green consumers also expect that greener products are just as effective as non-green products or even better”. As such, they do not foresee a situation where they are forced to sacrifice the quality of the product just because the product is green. To the marketers, this raises the need for effective communication to the target market, whereby assurances about the product’s quality, performance, durability, comfort, feel and other characteristics are offered.
“The green consumers are always on the look out for convincing products that not only meet the environmental requirements, but also promises to meet their immediate needs” (Ryan 2). As EPA noted, consumers won’t purchase a product based on its green qualities alone; rather, they will need to purchase products that meet their basic needs and wants.
To the marketers, this means that they will need to link the green attributes in a product with other benefits that consumers can get from the product (Ryan 2). Notably, consumers are also likely to respond to attributes in the green product that hold a promise of great benefits to them.
This means that marketers need to learn the art of emphasising benefits that appeal to individual consumers by using terms like “cost effective”, “safe” and “non-toxic “ among others. More generalized terms like bio-degradable might be effective in getting the message through to the consumer, but are less effective in appealing to individual consumers (EPA 4).
According to EPA, green consumers, though aware of the need to contribute to environment conservation through purchasing the appropriate products have little tolerance for inconveniences caused by green products. In addition, most consumers do not make deliberate efforts to go to specific green stores, but will willingly purchase a green product from their local store. More to this, the green consumers are analytical but can also be cynical to claims by producers about green products.
Luckily however, most consumers in this category are eager learners. They also do not expect firms to possess faultless green credentials, but expect firms to be committed towards improving their participation in environmental issues (EPA 4). Ryan (2) indicates that, “To beat these challenges, the green marketers must among other things have open and clear lines of communication to the consumers”.
This will enable the marketers to communicate their commitments processes and activities to the consumers. In addition, proper communication will allow the marketers to reinforce the benefits of products, educate the consumers, provide endorsements and convey detailed and precise product information through proper labelling.
Notably however, Ryan argues that green consumers are more patronising on the manufacturers, and will make deliberate efforts to know just how the raw materials were purchased or how they were grown in order to establish the effect that the processes may have caused the environment (2). This therefore means that a catchy advertisement may not appeal to the green consumer like it would the ordinary consumer because her purchase decisions are informed by prior research about the product.
In January 2010, Seventh Generation, manufacturers of detergents and cleaning products launched an advertising campaign that sought to integrate the superior product quality and their social responsibility status towards the environment. The Campaign dubbed “protect planet home” is running concurrently on print, TV and web platforms and strikes me as a well though strategy.
Apart from championing the effectiveness of the green products, the advertising campaign goes a step further and uses safety as a core message to the consumer market. Overall, the advertisement’s appeal lies in reminding people that earth is their home planet and making it a healthier place to live in should be everyone’s objective. More so, the advertisement champions the use of natural products instead of chemical-laced products in order to make planet earth a better place.
In the energy sector, Green Mountain Energy Company- a renewable energy producer in Texas launched an ad campaign in March 2010. The Advertisement is running on billboards, radio, TV and on the Web and features testimonies from eight existing customers.
In the Advertisement, the customers state their reason for choosing Green Mountain as their energy supplier. Three reasons come out through the testimonies; that customers choose pollution free electricity based on their need to conserve the environment; concerns about the future generation and for economic reasons.
A Chevrolet commercial is also worth noting. The green commercial lasts for 30 seconds and seeks to convince the consumer that the environment and one’s daily commute can finally agree about something. The advertisement also seeks to convince the consumer that one can drive the Chevrolet for longer without using as much fuel.
According to Reinhardt, green marketers use a combination of strategies, tactics, issues and themes in order to champion the green case (45). The greenness of an advertisement (which in this case means the convincing ability of the advertisement that it in deed cares for the environment) seems to vary in different products.
In my opinion, the first advert by Seventh generation is more credible, because it convinces the consumers that the daily products he or she uses or routine cleaning exercises contribute either negatively or positively to the environment. According to Iyer et al., advertisements are less green when there is a profit motive involved (295).
This means that advertisement placed in the media by non-profit organisations are greener and credible as opposed to advertisements filed by commercial firms. Since all three featured advertisements in this paper are from commercial firms, the scope of the argument can only be based on other characteristics of the featured advertisements.
With the exception of the Green Mountain power advert, the rest two have emotional appeals, which is cited by Iyer et al. as a common tactic used by advertisers (296). Green Mountain on the other hand sought to use social responsibility through consumer testimonies as its main tactic.
Notably, both tactics work just as well because consumers are willing to actively participate in making the environment a better place, and organisations who succeed in creating advertisements that portray them as socially responsible usually win a lot of consumers over.
A research by Iyer et al., found out that corporate organisations were more likely to use moderately green advertisements, while producers of household consumable were more likely to produce shallow adverts (296). Gauging the Green Mountain Advertisement against the Seventh generation advert confirms this because while the message in the latter is communicated through consumers, the message in the former is purely from the advertiser. To an analytical mind, the Green Mountain advert would appear more credible than the seventh generation advert.
Though measuring the extent of a firm’s greenness is a tough call for most researchers, the Green consumers and the need to conserve the environment seems to have awakened corporate organisations to the fact that they are part of the bigger community, and therefore needs to actively participate in conservation efforts that seek to prevent further deterioration of the environment. More so, firms are now more aware that social responsibility is just as important to their bottom lines as is profit-related objectives. In such cases, firms are increasingly integrating environmental issues.
The awareness creation that has taken place courtesy of non-governmental organisation championing the environmental case as well as respective governments has made the consumer more aware about her responsibility to the environment. As such, consumers are now more likely to purchase products that have green properties. However, A Ginsberg & Bloom notes, consumers do not want a situation where they will be forced to sacrifice some values in order to push the environmental agenda (1).
That means that in order for green products to perform well in the consumer market, all other things (quality, price, convenience, performance, availability and value) should hold constant. As established herein, consumers who are knowledgeable about environmental issues are at times more willing to pay some more money just to purchase green products.
The mass market may however contain just a fraction of such thus raising the need for firms and marketers to ensure that environmental issues are considered during product development, packaging and distribution. While advertising may not have always the desired effects, ensuring that green products are easily available to the consumer may increase the chances of purchase.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Green Marketing: the competitive advantage of sustainability. 1-4. March 2006. 23 April 2010.
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Laroche, Michael, Bergeron, Jasmin & Barbaro-Forleo, Guido. “Targeting Consumers who are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products.” Journal of Consumer marketing. 18.6 (2001): 503-520.
Polonsky, Michael Jay. “An introduction to Green Marketing.” Electronic Green Journal 1.2 (1994): 1-10.
Reinhardt, Forest. “Environmental Product Differentiation: Implications for Corporate Strategy.” California Management Review 40.4 (Summer 1998): 43-73.
Ryan, Bill. Green consumers: “A growing market for many local businesses.” Let’s talk business 123 (November 2006): 1-2.