Green Marketing: Going Beyond the Product to Target Behavior Change

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Kara Scharwath

Have you ever gotten really excited about buying a new green product only to realize later on that simply having it isn’t enough? Sometimes I find it a challenge to get the sustainability benefits from a product because it requires me to alter my habits and that’s not always easy. Take these RuMe reusable shopping bags, for instance. They are extremely practical, but they don’t do me any good when I forget to bring them with me to the store. Wouldn’t it be nice if RuMe could somehow help me remember? Instead of just trying to convince me to buy its product, RuMe could also help me get more out of it.

According to a recent article from the folks over at MarketingProfs, companies are starting to use green marketing to do exactly that. Some leading sustainable companies are beginning to recognize that by itself, reducing the resource consumption of their business is not enough. In order to reach their sustainability goals, companies must make efforts to minimize the environmental impacts associated with how consumers use and dispose of their products.

Many companies sell products designed to minimize resource use. However, sometimes the sustainable features of these products aren’t immediately obvious, or consumers aren’t aware of the actions they can take to get additional benefits from a product. For example, if you were lucky enough to find this Herman Miller chair on Craigslist someday, you might never realize that it was designed to be disassembled and recycled. And if you knew that you had to use your stainless steel coffee mug 369 times in order for it to be more environmentally responsible than using paper cups, you would probably make more of an effort not to lose it.

The MarketingProfs article points out several examples of companies who are using marketing tactics to educate consumers on how to reduce the life-cycle impacts of the products they purchase. One of my favorites is “A Care Tag For Our Planet,” a campaign partnership between Levi Strauss & Co. and Goodwill designed to teach consumers how to care for and dispose of their jeans in a more sustainable way.

Here are a few tips for how to use marketing to encourage consumers to alter their behaviors and act in more socially responsible ways:

  1. Focus on the benefits of the desired behavior. In order to motivate customers to engage in the new behavior, emphasize what’s in it for them. To get consumers to wash their clothes in cold water, for example, tell them how much it will save them on their electricity bill.
  2. Apply traditional marketing principles. Look at the customer’s current or preferred behavior as your competition and concentrate on changing the perceptions associated with that competing behavior.
  3. Incentivize the desired behavior. Offer customers a little something extra to get them to go that additional mile. Like Apple, who gives a 10% discount on a new iPod to customers who take their old one back for recycling.
  4. Encourage a little friendly competition. One public utility put smiley and sad faces on customers’ bills to indicate how their household was performing in comparison to the rest of the neighborhood and an efficiency competition ensued.
  5. Think carefully about your marketing tactics. Try to anticipate the time and place where customers need to see your message the most and think creatively about how to put it there. If RuMe included a bright colored refrigerator magnet with their bags that said “Put your RuMe bags back in your purse!” I would see it every time I put my groceries away and would remember!

By thinking creatively about how to apply marketing tactics to the challenge of affecting consumer behavior, companies can take their sustainability initiatives to a whole new level. What are some other examples of products or companies that could benefit from this type of marketing?

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