Green marketing is not sustainable.

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“Green marketing” is a term thrown around with greater frequency every month, and yet its meaning is elusive. Saying you market “green” is like saying you market convenience, which many of us do. But we don’t call ourselves “convenience marketers” or attend “convenience marketing” conferences. We don’t have to, because convenience as a benefit is built into the market value of a product or service. And yet we feel the obligation to point out that the things we make, do and sell are “green.”

We promote offerings we have decided are “green.”

We promote the idea of “green” itself.

We promote our own “green cred.”

It’s as if sustainability were a bonus—a nice-to-have—rather than a functional prerequisite, a must-have. Someday we’ll look back and see this as evidence of our immaturity as a market and as a society. In the not-so-distant future, referring to a “green technology” will be like referring to an “e-business.” Because over the next decade, sustainability will evolve—just as the Internet did over the past decade—from afterthought to starting point, from feature to platform.

If past is prologue, this evolution will trace a route through several familiar milestones. (In each of the following statements, just replace “green” with “the Web” and feel the déjà vu.)

1. “Green” is dismissed as a passing fad. Marketing throws it into the ad copy to make the company look good.

2. “Green” is acknowledged as something industry leaders must take seriously. Marketing mentions it in the ad copy because the CSO (or CEO, or Legal) tells them to.

3. “Green” is celebrated as a key driver of innovation. Marketing tells the company they have to mention it in the ad copy or they’ll look like they’re missing the wave.

4. “Green” is something you don’t brag about, because it’s such a big “duh.” Marketing groans when the company tells them they have to mention it in the ad copy.

5. “Green” is a source of business value, not a cost of doing business. Marketing is too busy pitching sustainable offerings and implementing sustainable practices  to worry about the ad copy.

Today, most companies are between 2 and 3. Next comes 4. We can’t wait.

painting by David Lefkowitz
Physical Plant
2006
oil on plywood
courtesy of the artist and Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago

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