Many people think the power to restore our environment—to curb greenhouse gases, to clean up our air and water, to cut down on precious resources' ending up in landfills—lies 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—we, 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—the 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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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 www.greenmarketing.com (info@greenmarketing.com).