Jacquelyn Ottman: Don’t ‘Greenwash’ Your Marketing

Advertising_age_jpegOriginally posted  March 4, 2008
By Jacquelyn Ottman
, Advertising Age

How the Green Landscape Will Shift in the Coming Year — and Affect Your Industry

I expect we’ll see some tectonic shifts this year in the world of green
marketing. Well-intentioned marketers should heed these shifts if they
want to stay off "greenwashing lists" and legal-department memos.

Some marketers are influenced by the Federal Trade Commission’s recent
hearings on green-marketing claims and eco-labels, others on the
outcome of large retailers’ efforts to persuade suppliers to come up
with trimmed-down products and packages. Here, then, my top four

1. Discredited Green Claims Lose Traction

Expect some now-meaningless marketing terms to fall by the wayside. For
instance, expect to see fewer claims of biodegradability, especially
with regard to some types of corn-based plastics, which have been found
not to degrade in backyard compost heaps or even municipal systems.

There will be a virtual shutdown on claims of carbon offsetting until
standards can be set and the for-profits and non-gevernmental
organizations that sell the offsets can be verified. This year will
also see the seeds planted to severely curb the use of self-imposed
eco-labels such as Home Depot’s "Eco-Options" and Canon’s "Clean
Earth." Please folks, let’s stick with only those labels, such as
Energy Star, FSC and organic, that have been issued by trusted third

Finally, I hope and pray that standards will finally be set
for terms such as "natural," so that consumer confidence can be
restored in this most basic of green attributes.

2. Electronics Suppliers Tout Eco-Performance
electronics companies to start marketing their green bona fides, earned
by creating programs to take back their products at end of useful life,
and by reducing the use of toxic chemicals in response to two
directives from the European Commission, the Waste for Electric and
Electronic Equipment and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances. We’ve
already been approached for help in crafting green strategies by no
less than three of the big electronics firms (perhaps Wal-Mart has
something to do with it?).

3. Companies Make More Green Products …
Many more green
products will hit the shelves in 2008 as the industry takes additional,
more confident steps to satisfy retailer demands for products with less
packaging, less energy use and reduced toxicity — no PVC or heavy
metals, for example. Many of these products will put primary benefits
— higher performance levels, aesthetics and cost effectiveness —
front and center in marketing materials, while green claims will
recede, reflecting reticence from potential greenwashing backlash, and
a simple growing awareness in good green marketing practice.

4. … and Companies Sell More Green Products
Green products
sales will soar, boosted by the marketing heft of major consumer
products firms that have been on a green-brand shopping spree of late.
Examples include Clorox, which snapped up Burt’s Bees in 2007 and
launched its own GreenWorks brand; Colgate (Tom’s of Maine); Procter
& Gamble (Crest Naturals and Tide Coldwater); and Danone
(Stonyfield Farm). Expect continued growth for deep green stand-alones,
like Method and Seventh Generation, as they continue to grow behind
mass-market distribution. A myriad of green product trade shows — Coop
America’s "Green Festivals" in Chicago, Washington and San Francisco;
the "Go Green Expo" in New York — will introduce more consumers to
greener alternatives.

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