A History of Green Brands 1960s and 1970s – Doing the Groundwork
Fast Company provides a guide of the development of green brands and green marketing during the 1960s and 70s. Both Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader were incredibly effective in leading the public towards support for environmental regulation on DDT, auto emissions and more. While the 60s laid the groundwork for the public's awareness of environmental issues, in the 70s the government established the Environmental Protection Agency and working to protect the public from environmental threats.
Green cars, green cleaners, green plywood. Today there are
eco-friendly alternatives in virtually every product category. Consumer
interest in green products continues to rise as more products are
introduced each year. It becomes increasingly more difficult to imagine a
time when climate change and sustainability weren’t a concern. In less
than a generation we’ve gone from giving little consideration to
sustainability to it becoming part of most people’s daily lives.
all the information coming at us every day, it’s often hard to get
perspective. In this series focusing on the history of green brands and
marketing, I’m hoping to provide that perspective–to give context to
where we are with green marketing, how we got here, and where green
marketing is possibly headed.
For the majority of the world’s population the 1960s were “before I
was born.” In the ’60s we had the pesticide DDT on our vegetables, lead
in our paint, and asbestos siding on our houses. These and other
environmental health and safety issues weren’t concerns to the general
public in those days. Consumers were often unaware of the environmental
dangers in their homes and surroundings. It took a couple of
high-profile books to alert everyone to these dangers.
Spring, Rachel Carson’s breakthrough book published in 1962,
documented the effects of pesticide pollution and is credited with
beginning the environmental movement in the United States. Written in
response to a question about bird deaths, Silent Spring was the
first breakthrough environmental book to appear on the New York
Times best-seller list. Carson argued that pesticide spraying was
harmful to wildlife as well as humans, and subsequent studies ultimately
led to a ban on DDT in the United States in 1972. Carson was widely
considered the first author to popularize the interconnectedness of
environmental, economic, and social well-being.
Ralph Nader’s 1965
book Unsafe at Any Speed carried just as much impact as Silent
Spring. It focused on automobile pollution and safety, and the
auto industry’s reluctance to improve both. Nader’s findings initiated
consumer advocacy in the face of large corporations, and both the Clean
Air Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act were
established. Many of today’s auto pollution and safety features,
including emission reductions, catalytic converters, seat belts, and air
bags are a direct result of these laws.
The 1970s: The
If in the 1960s mainstream consumers’ eyes
opened to environmental and safety dangers, it was in the 1970s when the
U.S. government responded. As environmental events continued to alarm
consumers (including the Arab oil embargo, the Ford Pinto recall, Three
Mile Island, and Love Canal), the U.S. government and nongovernmental
organizations stepped in to introduce legal protection for the
environment and consumers. The 1970s saw the passing of the National
Environmental Policy Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the
Endangered Species Act, as well as the creation of both the EPA and
OSHA. The Natural Resources Defense Council was also created and the
first Earth Day was held.
Despite emerging environmental
awareness, not many products were marketed in a way that today would be
considered “green.” However, some products were beginning to appeal to a
small but growing consumer segment that rejected mainstream consumer
brands. Food cooperatives selling organic, natural products flourished.
Tom’s of Maine marketed non-phosphate laundry detergent. But the true
back-to-nature product breakout of the 1970s was granola, a healthy mix
of nuts, fruits, and grains. Although granola has been around since the
1890s in the United States, in 1972 it became commercially available
from three mainstream brands: Quaker Oats, Kellogg’s, and General Mills.
Even Grape-Nuts took a back-to-nature tack, featuring naturalist Euell
Gibbons endorsing its product as a healthy natural alternative.
1960s and 1970s were turbulent decades in the United States, with
sweeping changes in politics, society, and culture. These times were
also when the seeds of consumer interest in sustainability were first
sown. This interest continued to growth over the next 10 years. In fact,
many of the best-known green brands of today can trace their roots back
to the 1980s.
In the next piece, Russ Meyer will explore growing
consumer awareness and the emergence of green products.
the Complete Series on the History of Green Marketing