Section 10.7: Green marketing strategies

Although opinion polls consistently reflect that consumers would prefer to choose a green product over a less environmentally friendly option when all other things are equal, in reality green marketers must deal with the 30:3 rule. This ‘rule’ states that when polled, 30% of consumers indicate that they prefer green products, but only 3% actually may the switch to purchasing such products.

Often, consumers resist switching to green products because of the perceptions about green products. Consumers may perceive tradeoffs between environmental (and social) benefits of products against its functional attributes, as well as convenience, comforts, costs and quality. Collectively these act as roadblocks towards the effectiveness of any green marketing initiatives.

To counter this, companies must operate with the knowledge that its consumers are unlikely to compromise on traditional product attributes, such as convenience, availability, price, quality and performance. In other words, green products must match up on those attributes against non-green products in order to even earn consideration by a vast majority of consumers.

There is no single green marketing strategy that is right for every company, with each having its own advantages under different market and competitive conditions. Ginsberg and Bloom (2004) defined a framework of four main green strategies ranging from the relatively passive “lean green” approach to the more aggressive “extreme green” approach — with “defensive green” and “shaded green” in between.

Green Marketing Strategy Matrix (Source: Ginsberg and Bloom 2004)

Study the sections below to learn more about each of these strategies.

Lean Green
Companies adopting a lean green approach attempt to be good corporate citizens, without focusing on publicizing or marketing their green initiatives. They are more interested in reducing costs and improving efficiencies through pro-environmental activities – creating lower cost competitive advantage and not a green one.  They usually seek long-term pre-planned solutions and attempt to comply with regulations. This however means that they do not see substantial profits in the short term. Lean green companies are often hesitant to promote their green activities, products, or product attributes of out fear of being held to higher standards – and not always being able to live up to them or differentiate themselves from competitors.

Defensive Green
Defensive green companies use green marketing as a precautionary measure, in response to a crisis, or as a response to a competitor’s actions. They recognize that all levels of green consumers are important and valuable to their bottom-line. Their environmental initiatives may be sincere and sustained, but efforts to promote and publicize these efforts are intermittent and temporary. This is because they adopt similar green initiatives to their competitors, and do not typically have the ability to distinctly differentiate themselves on green initiatives.

For these companies, aggressive promotion of greenness would be wasteful, and may result in stakeholder expectations that cannot be met. Defensive green companies may also pursue actions such as sponsoring smaller environmentally friendly events and programs. They will defend their environmental records with public relations and advertising efforts if they are threatened by activists, regulators or competitors. But unless they discover that they can obtain a sustainable competitive advantage on the basis of greenness, they will not engage in any distinctive or significant green campaigns.

Shaded Green
Shaded green firms invest in long-term, system-wide, environmentally friendly processes that require both – substantial financial and nonfinancial commitment. These firms recognize green operations, as an opportunity to develop innovative need-satisfying products and technologies that result in competitive advantage. They have the capability to differentiate themselves from their competitors on green initiatives, but they choose not to do so because they can make more money by focusing on other attributes. Shaded Greens primarily promote the direct, tangible benefits provided to the customer and sell their products through mainstream channels. Environmental benefits of the product are promoted as a secondary and bonus factor.

Extreme Green
Holistic philosophies and values define extreme green companies. In these companies, environmental issues are fully integrated into business operations and product life-cycle processes. Green thinking has been the primary driving force of the company and its objectives from the beginning. Practices involve life-cycle pricing approaches, total-quality environmental management and manufacturing for the environment. These companies serve niche markets and sell their products or services through boutique stores or specialty channels.

These strategies present ideologies that dictate the path a company may take towards incorporating green marketing strategies within their operations. This path depends on the vision and motivations of the company, as well as where it stands within a global society. Management personnel who comprehend these strategies, and the underlying reasoning behind them, will be better prepared to assist their companies benefit from an environmentally friendly approach to marketing.

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