To shine a spotlight on sustainability issues, NGOs and consumer groups often target the most respected and trusted brands in the world.

That's why Home Depot was targeted regarding sustainable harvested wood, Nike for child labor practices, McDonalds for Styrofoam clamshells and now obesity, and why Coke is similarly targeted regarding sugar and packaging.

What does this all mean for your business? Simply stated, if you don't manage your business with respect to environmental and social sustainability, your business will not be sustained!

But the converse is true, too: A strong commitment to environmental sustainability in product design and manufacture can yield significant opportunities to grow your business, to innovate, and to build brand equity. All you have to do is get the word out... right?

As with any other major business endeavor, that's easier said than done.

Many a responsible company has run into trouble with these very same sustainability-minded NGOs and consumer groups, due to poorly planned and crafted marketing messages.

The "Rules of Green Marketing"

Protect your company from these common pitfalls and start taking advantage of new opportunities by heeding my "Rules of Green Marketing":

  1. Know your customer. If you want to sell a greener product to consumers, you first need to make sure that the consumer is aware of and concerned about the issues that your product attempts to address. (Whirlpool learned the hard way that consumers wouldn't pay a premium for a CFC-free refrigerator—because consumers didn't know what CFCs were!).
  2. Empower consumers. Make sure that consumers feel, by themselves or in concert with all the other users of your product, that they can make a difference. This is called "empowerment," and it's the main reason consumers buy greener products.
  3. Be transparent. Consumers must believe in the legitimacy of your product and the specific claims you are making. Caution: There's a lot of skepticism out there that is fueled by the raft of spurious claims made in the "go-go" era of green marketing that occurred during the late 80s to early 90s—one brand of household cleaner claimed to have been "environmentally friendly since 1884"!
  4. Reassure the buyer. Consumers need to believe that your product performs the job it's supposed to perform—they won't forgo product quality in the name of the environment. (Besides, products that don't work will likely wind up in the trash bin, and that's not very kind to the environment.)
  5. Consider your pricing. If you're charging a premium for your product—and many environmentally preferable products cost more due to economies of scale and use of higher-quality ingredients—make sure that consumers can afford the premium and feel it's worth it. Many consumers, of course, cannot afford premiums for any type of product these days, much less greener ones, so keep this in mind as you develop your target audience and product specifications.

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Jacquelyn A. Ottman is president of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., advisers to industry on green marketing and eco-innovation. She is the author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation. Contact her via (