Does green work as a marketing tool?
Two hundred per cent! Surely, unquestionably, without doubt, indubitably, absolutely, undeniably, unmistakably, plainly, clearly, obviously, patently, unequivocally.
Kiran Khalap, Co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt Ltd
In that hyperbolic answer lies the secret of why green is working as a marketing tool…and will continue to do so for years to come.
Green is exaggerating to dupe us…and how!
First, let’s find out whether green is in all over the world. Let’s begin by googling “green businesses”: 143,000,000 results!
There are sites for green jobs, green business tourism, green entrepreneurs, green…everything. For example, as Tom Szaky (the founder of TerraCycle), you would have invented a new form of capitalism called eco-capitalism, where waste is the raw material. Or if you were in San Francisco during Earth Week, you could get paid for your (head) hair, since a non-governmental organization (Matter of Trust) would use recycled hair to make mats that soak up oil spills.
So is green in? It certainly is for consumers around the world!
More shoppers in North America, Europe, China and Japan systematically purchased green products in 2008 than in 2007, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group.
In the US, 16% of consumers—one in six—were systematic shoppers for green products in 2008.
But is green in for marketeers? Certainly not!
Green is the colour of deception. So widespread is the practice that there is already a term for it: greenwashing!
TerraChoice, a Canadian research firm that operates the Canadian government’s EcoLogo programme, sent its researchers into retailers in the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
Their findings? Only 25 out of 1,000 products or services had not made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences!
So, on the one hand, more consumers are choosing greener options and, on the other, most companies are marketing products that are fake green!
In the absence of:
(a) guidelines that can be easily comprehended by manufacturers and consumers both;
(b) transparency in communication right down to the packaging level and;
(c) a watchdog that can act as a deterrent, green marketing is converting gullible consumers into golden-egg-laying geese.
Apply these three facilitators of falsehood to any other trend and you will see the parallels.
Turn to the desi version of green: ayurveda. When excise on ayurvedic products was reduced, famous brands of pain balm and cough lozenges turned “ayurvedic” overnight. Why? Because the guidelines for claiming that a product is ayurvedic are mind-numbingly vague: that the ingredients find mention in one of the 20-odd treatises on ayurveda! Several Indian ayurvedic products exported got banned in those countries. Why? Because there are no GMP (good manufacturing practices) guidelines for ayurveda. And in the absence of a watchdog, anybody with an industrial-strength leaf crusher can produce anything called ayurvedic.
Is the situation really so bleak?
I don’t believe so. For every 10 marketeers using hyperbole to attract unquestioning consumers, there is at least one who is using that very old and trusted ally: truth.
Today, thanks to the Web, consumers and customers talk more about companies and brands and products among themselves than the company or brand can ever talk to them. A Nielsen Global Survey, with a sample size of 26,000 people, proved that 78% consumers trusted “recommendations from consumers”. This is 15% higher than the second most credible source, newspapers.
Organizations and brands can hide behind fig leaves of half-truths (as the faux greenies are doing right now) only for a short while. The 21st century is going to be characterized by stark naked organizations.
So what the truly green companies are doing is using that very medium to make their goals and behaviour transparent.
For example, ITC India is among the first 10 companies in the world to adopt the revised reporting procedure as per the G3 guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative. On their website, you can read micro-details of The Triple Bottom Line.
Excel Industries Ltd-India, a leader in agrochemical intermediates, actually acknowledged the harm that man-made fertilizers cause to earth and then went ahead and invested heavily in sustainable solutions instead.
The Shell Sustainability Report acknowledges that environmental and social data will have its own limitations, and yet shares as much as it can. Ditto for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
And finally, my favourite example: Patagonia. Read their revolutionary corporate purpose: “To use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” To be able to live up to that ideal, Patagonia actually committed itself to a lower rate of growth as early as 1996.
So yes, the answer is clear: There are several charlatans and exploiters in green marketing. Yet, as this market matures, as knowledge deepens, the true winners will be the green champions such as ITC and Patagonia, who committed to the cause before it became a cause célèbre.
Kiran Khalap is co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt Ltd