The following article is adapted from The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, February 2011).
Is Tom's of Maine toothpaste really green if consumers leave the water running while they brush their teeth? Is an ENERGY STAR-rated light bulb really green if it remains on after everyone leaves the room?
It is one thing to design a product to be greener, but the negative environmental impact made throughout a product's life-cycle cannot be minimized unless the consumer uses (and disposes of it) responsibly.
"Responsible consumption"—what I consider the next frontier of green marketing—is about conserving resources associated with using products. That includes encouraging consumers to use only what is needed and consciously reduce waste.
Sustainability leaders are striving for the ideal goals of zero waste and zero energy, but we will never get to zero until people learn to responsibly consume and properly dispose of the products they buy.
The Consumer's Role
As any life-cycle assessment will show, consumer usage can account for a significant portion of a product's total environmental impact, especially products such as laundry detergents, soaps, and shampoos that require resources, energy, and water to work.
Manufacturers can design products to make it easier for consumers to minimize resource use, such as a duplex printing feature on a printer, or a dual-flush toilet. Real-time information, such as Toyota's dashboard and the new crop of energy meters and monitoring services, also help. But only consumers can push the "cold" button on the washing machine or turn off the water when they brush.