The coming backlash over green marketing

Seth_godin_jpegSeth Godin suggests a solution for all the confusion over "green" labeling – a number.  He argues that assigning a number to a product or service forces the consumer to compare/contrast and puts pressure on the producer to improve.

Posted  May 3, 2008
By Seth Godin, Seth Godin’s Blog 

Micah points us to this campaign from Tumi
Luggage. Buy some nylon luggage, they’ll plant some trees (one tree? A
bush? It’s not clear how many trees per suitcase). It’s entirely
possible that Tumi’s campaign is nothing short of generous, but as a
consumer, it’s awfully difficult to tell.

The easiest marketing promise to make is to say you’ll do something
green if people consume what you sell. That you’ll support one green
cause or another. No one is in charge of checking out your story, and
my guess is that 90% of the time, it leads to a net negative–more
landfill, more cGodin_2_jpegarbon, more waste.

I can still remember a car commercial that ran when I was a
teenager… during the first big energy crisis. It touted that a
certain brand of car was the one to buy, not because it got better
mileage, but because it had a bigger tank! "Range," the announcer
intoned, "is what you need in a car."

Consumers aren’t stupid (we’re dumb sometimes, but not stupid.) So,
when the backlash hits, when every single brand has used up some green
angle, then what?

Here’s what’s missing: a number. When you buy a fridge, there’s a
big yellow sticker with a number about relative energy consumption.
Now, we could argue all day long about how to figure out the right
number (should the number on the fridge include data about the amount
of energy needed to make the fridge in the first place?) but an
imperfect number sure seems better than no number at all.

Drive to Philadelphia: 150.
Take Amtrak: 22.

Stick with the lightbulbs you have throughout your whole house until they burn out: 175.
Replace them all now with something better: 142.

Organic strawberries from California: 88
Frozen strawberries from California: 80
Apple from Dutchess County: 4

The power of a number is the effect we saw when they put a number on
restaurants (Zagats) and wines (Parker) and gas mileage (the EPA).
People notice a number, and they work to improve it. If every car sold
in our country had a real-time gas consumption meter on the dashboard
and the rear window, things would change very fast. The only change
from the status quo would be the story (communicating impact) but
marketing the story is our biggest challenge right now. Once we
communicate the most efficient path, I think we’ll be delighted at how
many people take it. Right now, marketers are doing a lousy job of
that, devolving into short-term, often selfish come-ons. That’s not
going to last and it’s not going to scale.

Marketers who truly care about the green thing should be scrambling
right now to find a number or an organization that can defend the green
brand. If not, it’s going to be worthless and a great opportunity for
improvement is going to be lost.

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