Worries over global warming and the future of the planet have seen many companies take up green marketing as part of their corporate responsibility programme, as Joseph Boateng explains.

Green marketing is a concept that involves satisfying people’s needs and desires without damaging the natural environment. It is also known as, eco-marketing, environmental marketing, sustainable marketing, organic marketing and green advertising.

Green marketing uses the four basic elements of the marketing mix – product, price, place and promotion – to offer environmental benefits to the consumers. The main focus of these product benefits is energy efficiency, reduced waste and decreased toxic emissions.

Several factors have contributed to the rise of green marketing around the world, the most notable being the growing demand for environmentally-friendly products and services. Public concerns over global warming, animal rights as well as the preservation and protection of eco-systems have also put pressure on companies to ‘think green’.

Environmental laws are on the increase in both number and complexity. Companies have identified growing opportunities in this changing regulatory environment and are modifying their marketing strategies to conform to the new legal environment in order to achieve a competitive edge.

Companies are also formulating their corporate policies towards environmentally-friendly practices and considering them an integral part of sustainable development.

Sustainable development involves meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

There are many environmental issues impacted by the production of goods and rendering of services. Therefore, there are also many ways a company can market its eco-friendly offerings. Green marketing can appeal to a wide variety of these issues: an item can save water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut toxic pollution, clean indoor air and be easily recyclable. In recent years, major companies have made it part of their policy to demand green products that reduce energy consumption, conserve resources, cut back on emissions, and are biodegradable or recyclable.

The corporate marketing focus has shifted to become cheaper, faster, better and greener. In the practice of green marketing, companies can choose to offer the following:

Green products
This means that companies offering products can initiate several programmes to improve on their green marketing credentials.
Specific action includes choosing sustainable materials, designing products to save energy and water, and making products less toxic and more natural than competitors’ goods. Greener products should also be packaged in an eco-friendly manner to enable re-cycling.

Environmental causes
Companies can promote environmental issues by embracing a particular issue and devoting resources to support that agenda. This can be achieved when a company makes the effort to donate and advertise to establish its identity as a campaigner of green marketing.

Operational sustainability
Service providers and producers can also improve on their operational sustainability by reducing everyday energy and water consumption, reducing pollution, using greener materials and processes, and properly managing waste.

Sustainable marketing
Companies should also ensure that their marketing systems are in line with green marketing programmes as distinct from operational sustainability, which emphasises manufacturing and production. This can be achieved when organisations use 100 per cent post-consumer re-cycled paper made without chlorine and plant-based dyes when printing all marketing materials.

In communicating with a green audience – the consumer – it is imperative to know the audience is key when developing an effective environmental marketing campaign. In general,
there will be at least three levels of green consumers in any industry:

Deep green consumers

This group are serious about their choices and will be looking for hard proof of the eco-friendliness of the claims been made by the company. They require verifiable proof of what the products and services are offering and whether that will truly benefit the environment.

Genuinely interested consumers
The second group includes people keenly interested in helping the planet but perhaps not as knowledgeable on the bigger environmental issues. This group may also be less willing to pay a premium for your green offerings.

Apathetic consumers

The includes people who don’t really care about the environment  or are antagonistic toward green marketing efforts.

Marketers often design different communication tools to reach out to each of these audiences.

The question often asked is, which of these audiences would be more profitable to the organisation? In effect, there must be a balance between preserving the environment as well as achieving corporate goals, that is to say, profitability.

A green marketing campaign should consist of several important factors in order to ensure long-term sustainability in the green space:

•     The green claims should be genuine and verifiable. Above
all, be transparent and explicit about any environmental
claims you make.
•     The focus of the campaign should be directed at educating
the consumers about the benefits of the products or service
for the environment.

•     Ensure that it possible for customers to give back to the
environment by choosing your service or product.

To implement green marketing, the company must be socially responsible. More companies and institutions are taking this route and positioning themselves as green buyers.

Green marketing must be considered and endorsed by top management personnel. While there are no strict guidelines for green claims, energy savings, resource conservation and reduced emissions are benchmarks of green products. Other valid platforms include: biodegradable or easily re-cycled, reduced toxins, and engineering for increased efficiency and reduced maintenance.

Selling green products at prices higher than the competition can dampen sales, unless the cost of consumables, such as energy, is predicted to dramatically increase in the near-term.

If you plan to sell an energy-consuming green product at a higher price than less-efficient competitors, you may want to provide customers with information about applicable utility rebate programmes and government incentives.

Above all, you should present your green message and communicate clearly to the target about the company’s green marketing issues in detail.

Keep your message focused and answer the question. A focused message that answers this question is preferable to generalities, which require the buyer to search for meaning.

Green marketing is an evolving discipline but uses similar marketing tools as more established marketing areas. Campaigns can leverage user-commentary, case studies, thought leadership initiatives and other means to attract potential buyers and establish a comfort level with the company.

Environmental certification or labeling programmes attempt to increase consumer awareness and knowledge of environmental issues. Marketers use eco-labels to convey information about a product's environmental benefits and to differentiate among competing products. Eco-labels may identify a product's contents.

Eco-labeling programmes increase awareness of environmental issues, set high standards for firms to work towards, and help reduce consumer uncertainty regarding a product's environmental benefits.

How marketers should respond to green marketing

Precautionary principle - In designing new products and services, marketers should choose a strategy providing benefits even if the environmental issue proves inconsequential. For example, improving energy efficiency reduces carbon dioxide emissions, a primary factor in global warming. It also reduces energy use and saves money, making it a "no regrets" decision, even if global warming is not as severe a problem as some environmentalists suggest.

Pollution prevention - A proactive strategy aimed at reducing waste and pollution at the source will yield both financial and environmental benefits. Indeed, pollution prevention is recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency as the most appropriate course of action for dealing with environmental problems.

Collaboration - Marketers must interact more closely with communities and governments in addressing environmental problems and communicating their respective expectations and concerns. Failure to work together on a voluntary basis may lead to additional regulations and requirements.

Impact of green marketing on profitability and corporate social responsibility

The three above issues cannot be separated because they are all key elements that are discussed at the strategic level of the company. They all can affect the long term survival of the company and must be taken seriously by any good marketing management. The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) considers the interest of society, taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, community, environment, future generations, employees and shareholders. There are many drivers of CSR including globalisation, laws and regulations, social awareness and ethical consumerism. It must be noted that all the three major factors have similar advantages such as goodwill, branding and improving perceptions about the company, which have an impact on the bottom line of the organisation.

In conclusion, green marketing is based on the premise that businesses have a responsibility to satisfy human needs and desires while preserving the integrity of the natural environment. Solutions to environmental problems can be placed into roughly three
categories: ethical, legal, and business. Long-term sustainability of the planet is likely to require some fundamental changes in people’s behavior. Legislation is a useful tool for effecting social change – it has a tremendous advantage over moral persuasion in terms of speed and efficacy of implementation, although its results are not always as intended.

It is however imperative to underline that in order for organisations to ensure the protection of the planet, people and profits, the following alternative steps can be observed or employed:

- Instead of printing your newsletter, have an e-newsletter.

- Instead of writing letters to your clients informing them of change, issue genuinely interesting press releases via email to them and the media.

- Instead of setting up physical meetings have web meetings.

- Instead of providing physical proposals, email them.

- Instead of having paper brochures, have PDF brochures available on the home page of your website.

When the above is achieved, the organisation is expected to save money on postage and petrol, printing costs, not to mention reduced labour.

There is also the likelihood that the organisation may get more business as a result of your newsflash. Positive press means that someone else is doing the work of spreading the word. Web meetings also allow for the organisation to illustrate your points online, allows you to demonstrate your skill in realtime, with both parties being on their own home-turf. It also shows that you live in the digital age.

By doing all this, the organisation saves the planet from pollution and degradation, it saves its customers from the numerous health hazards of pollution and, finally, it makes the much needed profit necessary for the survival of the company and its future operations. What is the organisation going to do with the windfall? Your guess is as good as mine!