Going green: Corporates are bowing to public opinion and greening up their acts

The days are gone when a household product could be successfully launched or its market share increased through clever advertising or an aggressive pricing strategy alone. These days, given the bewildering assortment of products on offer, brands which can be ’trusted’ are most likely to end up in the shopping trolley.

The days are gone when a household product could be successfully

launched or its market share increased through clever advertising or an

aggressive pricing strategy alone. These days, given the bewildering

assortment of products on offer, brands which can be ’trusted’ are most

likely to end up in the shopping trolley.

This element of trust not only relates to the performance of the brand,

but to the reputation of the manufacturer itself. The fact that a

supermarket stocks a particular new product, or endorses others through

multi-purchase offers, has encouraged consumers to look upon the

retailer as an ’editor’.

This position of authority is further enhanced by the guides and fact

sheets supermarkets publish on areas such as green products and good


The current trend towards greener marketing is in line with Government

thinking. A Green Claims Code on environmental labelling was introduced

in the UK in February 1998 to improve the standard of environmental

claims on products and protect consumers against false or misleading


A draft code has been drawn up by the European Commission for the

standardisation of environmental claims, statements or symbols used on

products, packaging labels, literature, technical bulletins, advertising

and publicity.

But the challenges of both communicating a greener marketing message and

convincing manufacturers of the benefits of adopting a greener marketing

strategy, are immense. The problem is compounded by the lack of a

single, united voice on green issues - what manufacturers are saying

does not always tally with the Government’s stance. This lack of

cohesion was one of the issues addressed at a recent seminar entitled

’Greener Marketing - Making the Environmental Message Matter’, which was

hosted by the Environment Council and chaired by PR Week.

Dorothy MacKenzie, director, of design and marketing company Dragon

International, said: ’Customers are confused about green issues - this

is perhaps because of the lack of a consistent communication programme

coming from Government about what the real issues are and what we should

be doing. We need more consistent messages that manufacturers,

Government and NGOs can line up against.’

Speakers at the seminar conjured up images of a confused consumer,

beseiged on all sides by conflicting green messages, but as MacKenzie

point out, research shows when asked what they want on almost any

subject, customers answer ’more information’.

The paradox is not lost on MacKenzie. ’If you give consumers more, they

can’t necessarily absorb it. I think the research is saying something

more fundamental - customers are using information as a surrogate. They

are really saying, ’how do I know who to trust and from where can I get

a reliable steer?’.’

Supermarkets are happy to fill the void, but Jayn Harding, Sainsbury’s

deputy environmental manager, admitted it is not an easy task. ’It’s a

challenge to inform customers about the environmental quality of

products in an unbiased, credible, clear and unambiguous way without

bombarding them with too much information while bearing in mind there is

other information we must provide by law, such as food safety, health

and nutrition.’

Sainsbury’s, which serves nine million customers a week in over 400

stores, has put in place a greener marketing strategy. This includes

implementing the Green Claims Code; stocking products made from

sustainable or recycled materials, such as kitchen towels; stocking

organic food, and providing ’greener’ customer information. Sainsbury’s

has produced two Environmental Reports, which it made available to

shareholders, customers, suppliers and staff. It also uses labelling on

products such as its Novon washing powder, which carries the new

’Wash-right’ advice on reducing package waste, avoiding under filling

the machine, and using the lowest temperature.

Harding says that customers need clear and credible information that

they can trust. ’The Green Claims Code goes a long way to achieving

this, but we need more internationally recognised and independently

verified schemes that we can all trust and work to.’

But, far from clarifying matters, the environmental logos - which range

from the Forest Stewardship Council’s stamp of approval on timber

products to the Soil Association’s logo for organic food - can often

muddy the waters.

Teresa Smallbone, researcher at the National Consumer Council says: ’The

principle of a good label is that it must be visible, useful, widely

recognised and must enable the consumer to use the information to

compare products in a meaningful way.’ The EU introduced Eco-labels in

the early-1990s which assess a product’s qualities relative to others in

its category and look at its whole life cycle from manufacture to


Mark Barratt, UK marketing manager of Hoover European Appliance Group

said at the seminar that Hoover was the first domestic appliance

manufacturer in the Europe to market and display an EU Energy label

which incorporates the Ecolabel on its New Wave washing machines. The

new machines boast a 31 per cent reduction in water consumption, 40 per

cent reduction in electricity use and a 36 per cent reduction in

detergent use, compared to previous models.

Even though sales did increase following its introduction in 1992,

Barratt says: ’At the time of purchase, the Ecolabel is of importance to

customers but only as one of a number of support benefits to the primary

benefit of the perception and anticipation of clean clothes.’

Barratt’s experience is not unique. Greener marketing is clearly not a

crucial part of the selling message. Smallbone says: ’Data from

retailers reveals that green products are bought by a tiny minority

although there is strong support for ’green shopping’.’

MacKenzie adds: ’Greener marketing is more of a reassurance than a core

selling message. Marketers must understand how it can impact on what

they are doing. They are not going to see obvious opportunities in

market share, nor are shares suddenly going to take off if they

introduce more environmental products. The importance is in how it

relates to brand reputation.’

One company which has made a green marketing strategy an integral part

of its brand reputation is the Co-op Bank. A recent Mintel survey rated

the bank third in a list of the UK’s most trusted companies.

Jim Sinclair, group marketing manager, Co-op Bank, confessed he is often

asked if the Co-op’s stance is a gimmick. ’People cannot believe you can

be successful and ethical. Yes we have a good marketing strategy, but it

articulates a truth about our business and the values we share.’

Sinclair believes there is evidence of a major shift in way consumer

interacts with brands on a daily basis. Green issues, he says, have now

shifted from global concerns, such as the rainforests and the ozone

layer, to issues of ’local pollution.’ Multinationals, such as Shell, he

believes are recognising the role which greener issues play.

’The values we espouse have increasing relevance to today’s consumer and

while they may not be carried through into active purchases as yet, the

tide has definitely turned and it can only grow,’ says Sinclair.


Forum for the Future was set up in 1996 by Friends of the Earth’s

Jonathan Porritt, Sarah Parkin of the Green Party and economist Paul

Ekins to encourage and promote sustainable growth through partnership

with business. Forum Partners include Center Parcs, EMI and Sun


Although green campaigners had been successful in highlighting

environmental problems, the founders felt that the Forum should focus on

finding and communicating solutions and best practice in business, local

and central Government and society as a whole.

Green Futures, with a circulation of 12,000 is the flagship publication

for Forum for the Future and is funded by subscriptions, advertising,

charitable grants and contributions from the Forum’s founding corporate

partners and its own partners. These include Sainsbury’s, the Design

Council and the Shell Better Britain Campaign.

Partners are chosen on the basis that they have a demonstrable

commitment to pursuing sustainable development and each receives a set

allocation of ’Partners Viewpoint’ pages which allow them to communicate

their views and experiences. Editor Martin Wright demands that they not

only talk about progress, but also problems they may have encountered.

’We aim to get companies actively involved in the debate. It is useful

for others to learn how companies have tried to deal with certain

problems,’ he says.

’And the companies in turn get to involve themselves in a grown-up

approach to sustainable development.’

Peter Woodward, UK manager of the Shell Better Britain Campaign says:

’We are involved because Green Futures tries to understand the

complexity of sustainable development issues and offers challenging but

positive routes for business and other organisations seeking a way


Green Futures aims to employ a full-time marketing person and Wright

believes that the title’s circulation will rise once people realise that

it is not full of the usual ’green’ rhetoric. ’Campaigners in the past

have spoken with a cynical voice but we want to inspire people that life

can be a richer, sweeter thing,’ he says. ’Some of the rhetoric has been

about guilt-tripping people which only works for the relatively


Trying to frighten people can be disempowering and over use of scare

tactics is tactically unwise and morally indefensible.’

Suzan Leavy.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Explore further