Green Marketing Efforts Can’t Make Bad Coffee Taste Good

Coffee stirrer at a Japanese burger joint

By Pankaj Arora
Last week I was at Freshness Burger, a Japanese fast food chain. Embossed on the stirrer given with my coffee were these words: “Use the stairs instead of the elevator”. What is the connection between stirring my coffee and using the stairs? This is one of the most subtle green marketing messages I’ve come across. Beyond the stirrer, Freshness burger had good coffee and a delicious fresh, organic burger. While the green might not be totally consistent with the brand- the message stuck with me.

In contrast is Starbucks where sustainability messaging is everywhere. But here’s a confession – as much as I adore Starbucks as a company because of its leading efforts in sustainable C.A.F.E practices, I just don’t like the coffee. When we were relaxing in a local cafe, my wife recently commented on how much more satisfying a half cup of coffee with a strong aroma and a lingering aftertaste is than a milky Starbucks latte that its difficult to choke down.

When entering Starbucks, the ‘green message’ screams from all sides: paper napkins, glass sleeves, pamphlets supporting farmers, and all other paraphernalia deliver a green message.  What good does this green marketing efforts by companies’ amount to if the prime product doesn’t deliver?

Tully’s Coffee is high on my list taste-wise.  The company’s sustainability efforts in the area of ethical sourcing and coffee growing practices may not be on par with Starbucks, but they have a branded message of care that keeps me coming back.

And that’s all a consumer wants. In the end, consumers reward companies with good products and don’t care very much about what goes on behind the scenes. Green or sustainable practices might be evident throughout the company for those of us who care, but the typical consumer doesn’t go to company websites or read their sustainability reports. The typical consumer wants an ideal mix of quality, performance and price in a product which may not necessarily have green characteristics.

Companies believe that green marketing will deliver trust and loyalty – but those are coveted holy grails that don’t come by through green values alone. Green or sustainable values don’t sell by themselves, they need to be manifested in the final product – if an organically grown shade coffee supports farmers but doesn’t taste good, or if a face wash that helps communities but doesn’t do much to the face, or if an organic clothing line is costly and out of synch of the current fashion trends – then there’s a disconnect between the values and product.

Green marketing is a differentiating strategy which can be an effective tool to the already converted. But for the masses, green messages are extra work to read through.

Agreed – taste of a coffee is a personal choice but a store that will let me enjoy my latte without the guilt is the one I want to frequent.

Pankaj Arora is an Engineer and has worked in the automotive sector for 12 years. To expand his understanding of Sustainability he is studying online MBA in Sustainable Management from Anaheim University. He writes for his blog at

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One response

  1. No doubt, any product should first meet the customer needs than green marketing messages. But to be successful, a company needs to fulfil customer needs,and starbucks is no tastes good to many..and they are its target customers.. perhaps with different taste buds.. you or for that matter anyone should product that suits them!
    As far as making feel guilty..well no organization make us feel guilty more than or even equal to, what this generation is! (this means… we all present on earth-old..not so old…young!!)

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