The Tao of Green Marketing
by Carolyn Parrs

To the Chinese, Tao means "The Way.” A recent Google search for the phrase, "Saving the planet one (whatever) at a time" revealed more than 17,000,000 responses, with everything from “saving the planet one flush at time”  to “one hanger at a time” to “one  bag, one shower, one burger, one carpet, one idea…”  You get the idea. 

Obviously, if you want to get your green message heard, responded to and acted on, saving the planet one “whatever” at a time is not The Way to do it.  

The New York Times reported that consumers have begun to suffer from "green fatigue.” It's not hard to understand why when you can buy organic gummy bears and free-range beef jerky in a convenience store nestled between the six-packs and the rolling paper.

For your green message to get heard and get translated into sales, you not only have to
make your message relevant to the fate of the planet, but relevant to the fate of the people living on it.

The question is how?

The answers to that marketing dilemma Grasshopper is as follows:

1.  Spell green with 3 e's.
The first “e” is for ecology. Pretty obvious because that's where the green market was born. Saving the spotted owl, the rain forest and the whales are all hugely important. But that is just the tip of the melting iceberg. In today’s environment, the green message and movement needs to be much more to make a difference on a planetary level. So read on. . 

The second “e” is for economy. That might not seem so obvious because not being perceived as economical is one of the barriers to green product purchasing. The truth is that economic advantages can and should be told about any green product even though sometimes those economic advantages are hidden.

What is the cost to a family’s health from conventional, often harsh, cleaning products and paints? The off-gassing of toxins into your home’s inner environment can cause allergic reactions and lead to the increase of asthma and other respiratory issues. In other words, get personal.

A client of ours, Swaddlebees, a manufacturer of organic cloth diapers, communicates that her diapers not only are eco-friendly but can save a family over $2,000 per child from birth through potty training. When ecology meets economy, that’s really the bottom line.

The last “e” in green is efficacy. Green doesn’t only have to do good, it has to work good. Only the deepest greens among us will sacrifice product performance for ecological advantage. In short, the greater majority of people will buy your product when you move it from a cause to a because. Because it works.

2.  Know that all greens are not alike.
It’s important not to rely on sweeping generalities about the green consumer. They are not one thing. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and economic groups making them more of a psychographic than a demographic. A survey by the company formally known as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), found that 62 percent of people 55 and over buy green products. They're actually the largest audience for green products. Go figure?

Here’s a breakdown of the shades of green consumers.

Deep Greens are the most environmentally active segment of the market and the most willing to pay a premium for green products. They're going green no matter what. DG’s represent about 19% of the US population. 

Now where green meets the mainstream you meet the Medium Greens. Consider them the middle of the roaders. They embrace environmentalism more slowly. But they will go green if it makes sense to their personal lifestyle and if they see the results of what they do. Efficacy is paramount with MGs.   

Light Greens are the agnostics of the green world. They have a wait and see attitude. LG’s will buy the notion but will only buy the products if it works in their budgets and in their homes. They are 16% of the US population.

In short, make sure you know who you are talking to before you start talking.

3.  Educate, educate, educate. 
The more your customer knows about why what you do is important in their life, the more likely they will be your customer. It’s hard to sell non-toxic cleaning products to consumers if they don't understand what's wrong with toxic cleaning products in the first place.

In helping an environmental paint and flooring company educate consumers about the hazards of indoor air pollution (which the EPA says is 2-20 times worse than outdoor air pollution), we created a marketing campaign called "Beauty Without The Beast."  First we focused on the reason people paint in the first place. To beautify their homes.  So we highlighted their wide selection of beautiful shades of paint and flooring. Then we drove it home with a persuasive and factual non-toxic story by sprinkling throughout their product catalog educational messages like “A baby crawling on a conventional carpet inhales the equivalent of four cigarettes a day.” (Source: Scientific American magazine).  When this catalog dropped, their sales climbed 63%. 

Education is everything.


4.  Value their values. 
By definition, the green consumer is a values-driven consumer. So telling them about your company’s values speaks to their values. Let them know about your “Way” of doing business. How you treat your employees. The safety of your working conditions. What your carbon footprint is and your plans to reduce it. Those are the subliminal messages that tell them you are the kind of company they want to do business with.

The mission statement of Patagonia, the California-based outdoor equipment and clothing maker, is “to make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” One of the ways Patagonia puts its mission where its mouth is by implementing a self-imposed “earth tax,” a sum founder, Yvon Chouinard, feels is owed to the earth for being a polluter and user of the planet’s nonrenewable resources.

More recently, they created the Patagonia Footprint Chronicles: An interactive mini website that allows you to track the impact of Patagonia products from design through delivery - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Their transparency speaks to the value of honesty. The result: a company you can trust.

A recent study of the green market found that 77% of people feel they can make a positive difference by purchasing products from a socially responsible company.  Be one of them and your customers will be one with you.

5. Be relevant. 
Who does not want to reverse global warming? But there was nothing like the price of gasoline at $4.00 a gallon to turn up the volume on climate control and drive the sales of hybrids through the roof. Keep that in mind and bring your message down to earth.

When introducing a new line of non-toxic paints for children’s rooms and nurseries, we created a series of advertisements for our paint client. One headline read, “There really is a monster in your child’s room.”  And that is the out gassing of toxic paints, rugs and cleaning products that are commonly used in children’s bedrooms and throughout the home. That’s not only relevant but immediate. And what Mom or Dad could know that and not change their purchasing habits?     

When you remind consumers that the one environment they have control over is the one they live in and work in, when their health and the health of the family is the issue on the table, when eco meets logic at the pump, green becomes not only relevant but something most of us won't live without. 

6.  Last but not least, don’t be a Me-Tooer
Don’t be the 10th version of something 9 others have already done. Don’t get stuck on the notion that all you need is a soft shade of green and a tree or two on your package to market your green product. Those days are over.

We were keynoters at a recent trade convention. The theme was how to market green pest control products successfully. To our dismay, the message delivered over and over was “use some earth tones on your brochure and print it on recycled paper and that’ll do it.” The better message would have been, “It’s green and it works,” or even better, “It works and it’s green.”

The bottom line is it’s not good enough to just be green anymore, you have to be great.   Great products like great people deliver beyond expectation. Ask yourself if what you’ve thought of is truly an original idea. Does it do its job better, more economically, more efficiently with less ecological impact?  Is it positioned better, packaged better? Does it communicate its unique promise of value better? If you can say yes to this then say yes to your product or else go back to the drawing board and do it again.

Green is not going away soon. But your product or service will if it doesn’t break through the green clutter. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. To begin, follow these green marketing guidelines one, er, point at a time, and you are on your Way.

Irv Weinberg and Carolyn Parrs are Principals at Mind Over Markets, a strategic green marketing communications and business development company. They are frequent speakers on green marketing internationally and are the authors of The Green Marketing Blog (, as well as featured authors in Thomson Reuters book, Inside the Minds: Greening Your Business. They can be reached at 505-989-4004.