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Sustainable marketing: strategies and best practices for Green Marketing

Green Marketing only works credibly if the company truly lives sustainability.
Image: © Koelnmesse GmbH / Michael Berger

All my clothes are green… green… green…: Green Marketing vs. Greenwashing

Sustainability is all the trend. One gains the impression that almost every company and brand is now advertising sustainable and fair production – even power producers, fast food giants and mineral oil companies responsible for huge CO2 emissions. Not to mention the automotive industry. Green works – the marketing strategy behind it would appear to be as simple as that.

In general, simple greenwashing is quickly seen through, and not a strategy that promises long-term success; Green Marketing, by contrast, is the art of credibly marketing your own products as a truly sustainable company. Particularly among the younger generation, a profound change in values can be observed, which is permeated by the idea of sustainability.

45%
of consumers pay attention to the environmental footprint in their purchasing decisions.

For your brand to achieve a broad market reach, customers not only need to be convinced by price and quality, but also by environmental awareness.

What is Green Marketing?

Green Marketing is not just about the products, but about the company as a whole. Sustainability marketing or sustainable marketing, as an evolvement of eco-marketing, combines a company’s economic success with environmental and social added value for employees, customers and all of society.

A green veneer and an illustrious selection of quality seals and certificates on the packaging are therefore anything but sufficient. The definition of Green Marketing encompasses every individual aspect of every product – from production and packaging to advertising to distribution. This includes for instance:

  • Sustainable manufacturing
  • CO2-neutral footprint
  • Water-conserving production
  • Use of recycled materials
  • Renewable materials and raw materials
  • Product recyclability after use
  • Zero-waste and zero-plastic production and packaging
  • Local or regional production
  • Fairly produced at fair wages, without the use of child labour

Tangible environmental responsibility is therefore a must for authentic Green Marketing. Furthermore, the following concepts should ideally be part of the lived corporate reality:

  • Corporate Social
  • Corporate Responsibility
  • Sustainable Development
  • Corporate Citizenship

And last but not least, high human-rights, social and environmental-protection standards should apply to every single link in the value chain. Only then can you communicate them so they’re credible in the sense of Green Marketing and convincing for the target group – which you should do!

What’s in it for me? How does Green Marketing pay off?

33 percent of buyers already consciously consider sustainability criteria when deciding on a product – and the trend is rising. And this does not yet include the number of those who subconsciously take these criteria into account in their purchase decision. Consequently, those who fail to capitalize on Green Marketing not only miss the opportunity to win new customers, but also run the risk of losing existing ones.

Three strategies for Green Marketing

As diverse as marketing can be, so diverse are the possible strategies for Green Marketing. Here are three popular strategies:

#1 Cause-Related Marketing (CrM)

For every product sold, a sum of money or a product goes to an NGO or is used for a clearly defined environmental or social purpose. To establish a clearly recognizable link to one’s own brand, the cooperation partner or charitable purpose should be consistent with the donor’s own portfolio and the commitment should be documented and communicated transparently. Only in this way can brand trust be built up.

The Krombacher campaign should still be in everyone’s minds: One square meter of rainforest for the purchase of a crate of Krombacher. Another example is Pampers: The company donated a tetanus vaccination for every package of diapers sold – Green Marketing at its finest.

#2 Transparency and responsibility

True to this motto, a company should provide for transparent sustainability reporting that surpasses the legal requirements, and discloses, for example, its cooperating suppliers, and the origins and means of obtaining the raw materials for its products. This fosters customer confidence both in the company and its products. Those with a clear conscience have nothing to hide – and appear customer-focused and trustable.

#3 Campaigns and initiatives without branding

The strategy aims to initiate a campaign that promotes the common good or sustainability, but which at first glance has nothing to do with the company, and could even harm its product sales. The outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, for example, has committed itself to the sustainable use of clothing by advocating the repair of damaged, and reselling of worn, clothing.

Such an approach fosters simpatico and credibility, which ultimately contributes to winning new customers and the long-term loyalty of existing ones. Furthermore, such campaigns offers plenty of opportunities to create personal touchpoints with the target group.

Best practices in Green Marketing: Credibility is trumps!

There’s a very narrow line between Green Marketing and greenwashing. Even if unintended, the slightest mistake in brand communication can cause a considerable loss of trust among the target group. Consequently, a number of factors need to be considered to ensure sustainable marketing is received as intended.

  • Truthfulness is the absolute baseline: Does your company really act sustainably? Check where there’s room for improvement and first of all validate that your resource consumption really does meet the requirements of sustainable production and sustainable management. Social, human-rights and environmental-protection standards must be demonstrably observed across the entire value chain.
  • Practice what you preach: Sustainability cannot simply be a self-imposed stamp to let you jump quickly on the Green Marketing bandwagon. Rather, it must become an integral part of the corporate philosophy, which all employees live and advocate, both inside and outside the company. For this, you must communicate your sustainability strategy internally and, ideally, develop it jointly within the company.
  • Open communication: Communicate your company’s values and fill them with content and illustrative examples from your product manufacturing or other relevant aspects of everyday business life. Your website provides the space to present your understanding of sustainable business without unnecessary self-adulation.
  • Skip the moral sermons: Sustainable corporate culture and value creation must not be the subject of moral superiority over other companies or online commentators. Don’t try to convert others or kick off discussions, but take a clear position, communicate it and answer questions with this philosophy in mind.
Katja Schulz
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