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The Power of Green Lies in the Hands of Marketers

by Jacquelyn A. Ottman  |  
September 16, 2008

Many people think the power to restore our environment葉o curb greenhouse gases, to clean up our air and water, to cut down on precious resources' ending up in landfills様ies in the hands of technical types like scientists and engineers, even lawyers and legislators ready to clamp down on polluters.

But the real power of green lies in the hands of marketers謡e, the creative folks who have the power to design and promote cleaner products and technologies and help consumers evolve to more sustainable lifestyles. As an environmental marketing consultant, I've been personally banking on this opportunity to make a difference for 17 years! Consider the evidence.

It may be hard to fathom, but over 75% of the environmental impact that a product throws off during its lifetime is determined at the design stage, when, for instance, the materials are chosen, the recyclability of a product is determined, and the amount of toxic chemicals it makes use of is decided. And it doesn't begin at the design stage. Marketers often determine the concept, too. That's where the real leverage for our innovative skills comes in!

Consider a toothbrush. Want to lessen its environmental impact? Start by making it out of recycled plastic, plastic made from corn, and educate on how to recycle or compost it. Then make the head replaceable and recyclable, too. Cut down on its packaging by only wrapping the bristly head. Think you're finished? Not a chance! That's because the toothbrush is part of a system葉he water, the toothpaste, and the box the toothpaste comes in.

Now multiply all of these impacts over one consumer's lifetime, and then again for all the consumers on earth at one time. These cumulative impacts may pale in comparison to substituting an entirely new concept: let's say a stick of edible chewing gum laced with germ fighting enzymes.

Now strategize its way into consumer's hands. Thinks it's too much of a leap to market this idea to adults who might be set in their ways or creep out on the idea of enzymes in their chewing gum? Then start to seed the concept into society by appealing to children. Enlist the help of a Sesame Street character and target parents looking to end the nightmare of getting the kids to brush.

Ever heard of a chemist thinking this way? Hell no!

Marketers, start your engines! We're the ones who can dream up new product concepts, and we're the ones who can sell them to mainstream consumers (not just the deep-green consumers who are born predisposed to all things "eco.")

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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 (

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  • by Star Borner Tue Sep 16, 2008 via web

    Very interesting article! And something all of us need to put some thought into if we want our great, great grandchildren to enjoy the same beautiful earth that we are lucky enough to live on...a cool event coming up in Atlanta is focused on sustainable living and the companies that are making a difference by making more eco-friendly choices...check it out:

    Papercut Marketing

  • by Leslie Nicholson, CentraState Healthcare System Tue Sep 16, 2008 via web

    John Grant, co-founder of an "innovative and socially aware" London ad agency called St Luke's has written a terrific book on this subject called "The Green Marketing Manifesto" (John Wiley & Sons, 2007). The first couple sentences of the introduction succinctly capture the challenges and opportunities for producers of goods and services and those of us who promote them: "Green issues and marketing can work against each other. One wants you to consume less, the other more. One rejects consumerism, the other fuels it. But they aren't always opposed. Marketing can help 'sell' new lifestyle ideas. It's a much-needed function today..." (Thank you to Rick Brauer at Priority Publications for bringing this eminently readable and insightful "manifesto" to my attention.)

  • by Brett Birdsong Tue Sep 16, 2008 via web

    Here's a way to drastically reduce our trash piles: Get rid of clamshell plastic packaging. As marketers we've got to figure out a way to sell a product without 100 square inches of cardboard sandwiched between two pieces of plastic that never goes away.

  • by Doug Bainton-Tiller Technology Thu Oct 9, 2008 via web

    Great article! My company is aligning itself with the "Green Tech" movement. Education is really the key for consumers. With simple adjustments to personal computer settings and small daily computer habit changes, consumers can save upwards of $400.00 annually on their energy bills! As time moves on, more and more tech companies are producing truly energy efficient parts, and I believe we, in the tech field at least, can really help make a difference this way.

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