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The good and the bad of “green” marketing

The good and the bad of “green” marketing

Like many Americans, I have made a conscious effort to be more responsible consumer. I’ve taken full advantage of our township’s single-stream recycling system, and find myself analyzing each piece of trash my household creates to search for something that can be recycled. I also try to research the companies I buy from, finding out how they produce their products, how they treat their employees, etc.

Getting the complete picture of a product or a company, though, is incredibly difficult. And so-called “green” marketing doesn’t help the decision-making process.

What is “Green Marketing”

We’ve all seen packaging the claims the product is “all natural” or “healthy.” Or even packaging or advertising that simply looks natural. All of these things can influence a purchase either directly or indirectly. The problem is that many of these claims require nothing to back them up. In the case of “natural,” well, dirt is “natural,” but you wouldn’t want it in your food or your cosmetics. Likewise, a shirt made of 100% cotton can be “natural,” even if the cotton was sprayed with pesticides and processed with plenty of other chemicals.

But green marketing doesn’t simply refer to marketing having to do with environmental concerns. Every time you purchase a product that claims to donate a portion of the proceeds to a particular charity (think of all the “pink” items you see for sale during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October), that company is using green marketing to influence your decision. And indicating that a portion of the proceeds will go to charity doesn’t have much meaning either. After all, a penny for every $100,000 in sales is a “portion,” albeit a very small one.

And green marketing is often used to promote products that are substandard. After all, an oven cleaner may be made of non-toxic, natural ingredients; but if it doesn’t clean your oven, it’s pretty much useless.

A good consumer does her research

It’s probably not possible to research every product you buy and every company you do business with. But learn to avoid the temptation to make a purchase based simply on a product or companies claim of social responsibility. After all, such a claim is almost impossible to verify or dispute.

And don’t fall for false “certifications” that may appear on packaging. While some companies will invent an official looking symbol with the word “natural” or “organic,” there are actually certifications companies can obtain to get the right to use legitimate green product labeling. Recognizing some of the more commonly used symbols will go a long way toward helping you determine which products meet socially responsible standards.

If you’re marketing your product, think long and hard about using green marketing tactics

If you’ve invented/discovered the most amazing, all-natural, all-purpose cleaner in the world, and you’ve chosen to manufacture it in the safest possible way, packaging it in bottles made from 100% post-consumer materials, paying and treating your employees well, while still donating 10% of your profits to charity, that’s great. Go after the certifications that prove your product and company’s status, and own it. But even the most seemingly responsible company can get caught if they’re less than up-front about their practices. There is nothing wrong with touting the “greenness” of your company if it’s truth; just be sure to set standards you can continue to meet and/or exceed.

If you’re the consumer looking for socially responsible products and companies, do the research to find out which companies you can trust. If you’re the company using green marketing to sell your products, be the company your consumers can trust.

Oct 19, 2015
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