Expert lays out the seven key rules of green marketing

Port of Spain, Trinidad – It is not enough to simply be green. You must be seen to be green. 

That’s the message from Hugh Hough of the Green Team, which was founded in 1993 and now has offices worldwide. The company is a strategy and communications agency specialising in the field. 

He noted that in 2011, US brands alone spent $40 billion on green marketing, but 56 per cent of consumers did not believe in their “green claims”. However, 71 per cent of consumers considered the environment when shopping, but only 22 per cent could correctly identify green products, according to the 2013 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker. Mr. Hough was speaking at the Sustainable Tourism Conference and explained that according to the 2011 MRI Doublebase, there were 58 million “awakening” customers in the US alone, and in general, 20 to 25 per cent of the world’s population. 

These travellers were demographically diverse and well-educated, with high numbers engaged in activities from blogging and publishing to fundraising and writing or calling their elected officials. If the price was the same for two similar products, the awakening customer would graduate to the one that shared his or her ethical values. 


The trends 

There were seven global consumer trends, Mr. Hough explained, in green marketing. 

First thing to remember was that transparency was king. 

Words stuck with people because they were true. He gave a number of examples including shoe company Timberland, which found great success putting labels on their products showing environmental provenance and eco-impact, sourcing and so forth. This was similar to the nutrition labels found on food, and led to a huge boost in sales. Secondly, he noted, bad news travelled faster. He pointed to the various woes suffered by Carnival ships of late as an example but also counselled that Mexico had successfully increased its market share by managing reputation. Mexico, he noted, had the tendency to be perceived as somehow dangerous as a destination, but a special taxi camera promotion showed the stories of ordinary travellers who had found it safe. This campaign had boosted tourism, he said. 

The third trend was that even the awakening customer “occasionally nods off,” according to Mr. Hough. Therefore it was important to continue to provide a benefit for them. One story he flagged up was that of a Danish hotel that encouraged its guests to use exercise bikes to generate electricity. For a 15 minute stint, they received a free meal, which drew great publicity. 

Fourthly, customers were “deconstructing your secret sauce,” which often was the supply chain. The analyst cited the example of Dove, which had been criticised by Greenpeace for using palm oil in its products and therefore destroying the habitat of the endangered orangutan. However, the truth was that Unilever, which owns Dove, only purchased 3 per cent of the world’s palm oil at the time, with 50 per cent of that sustainable and now, in 2013, 100 per cent is sustainable.  

Knowing your supply chain therefore was vital. 

The fifth item on the list was that “bedfellows are getting stranger,” that is to say that partnerships between private companies and nonprofits were ever-more prevalent.  

In the case of Chiquita bananas, the company partnered with the Rainforest Alliance to provide a certified “rainforest banana,” which increased respect for the environment by 46 per cent but reduced costs by 12 per cent whilst increasing productivity by 27 per cent using responsible environmental and labour practices. 

The inmates had taken over the asylum, said Mr. Hough for his sixth item. Customers were taking over what the brand stood for by talking about it on social media, he said, so companies must keep an open mind. 

Finally, customers and companies were “all in this together”. The users of a product now expected companies or governments to take care of problems, but also wanted to be part of the solutions themselves. 

Never rest, said Mr. Hough, because people wanted to give back to the environment in a socially-responsible way.