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Will green marketing save the planet?

Updated Monday 25th June 2007

Anja Schaefer considers the feasibility of green marketing.

The idea of green marketing is that there is a sizeable market segment of green consumers who are willing to pay a little more for environmentally friendly products from environmentally friendly companies. Producers and retailers will react to this green demand and environmentally friendly practices will be pushed through the supply chain. So far so good, and actually rather familiar. Green marketing dates back several decades now, with specialist manufacturers and retailers such as Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s, the Body Shop and so forth, leading the way. Green marketing sign Creative commons image Icon Toban Black under CC-BY-NC licence under Creative-Commons license A garage tries some green marketing

But there are problems with this nice idea of greening the world through marketing. And that’s not even so much that companies do it in order to increase sales or profits. Of course they do. They are not charities, after all. And if it really delivered the environmental goods, why would it matter? The programme already lists quite a few problems with the various environmental targets and actions described by retailers.

It’s all a bit much for the average consumer

No, the biggest problem is that expecting consumer demand to drive a green revolution may not work. There is no doubt a (small) segment of dedicated green consumers who will go to significant lengths in order to inform themselves about the environmental footprint of their consumption and to reduce this as much as possible. But how many consumers will really be able to interpret carbon footprints on product information, even if Tesco’s actually manage to calculate these with any degree of accuracy? And that is only one environmental issue to worry about. In addition there are things like packaging, organic production, sustainable resource use, and so on and so forth. It’s all a bit much for the average consumer even to get interested in, never mind knowledgeable about.

And, if taken to natural conclusions, green consumption would surely require some sacrifices, i.e. no strawberries in winter, less cod and many more. Can we really expect millions of individuals to make these decisions for themselves so that the green demand then can trickle through the supply chain? More likely it would at least require some concerted action from consumers, government and industry to start tackling the problem. Market forces alone may not solve it.

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