Is Marketing The Answer?

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In a recent commentary in Marketing Daily, Jacquelyn Ottman writes that “real power of green” lies in the hands of marketers:

It may be hard to fathom, but over 75% of the environmental impact that a product throws off during its lifetime is determined at the design stage, when, for instance, the materials are chosen, the recyclability of a product is determined, and when the amount of toxic chemicals it embodies is decided. And it doesn’t stop at the design stage. Marketers often determine the concept, too.

She goes on to give a great example of how a marketer could re-design the toothbrush:

Consider a toothbrush. Want to lessen its environmental impact? Start by making it out of recycled plastic, plastic made from corn, and educate on how to recycle or compost it. Then make the head replaceable and recyclable, too. Cut down on its packaging by only wrapping the bristly head. Think you’re finished? Not a chance! That’s because the toothbrush is part of a system-the water, the toothpaste and the box the toothpaste comes in.

She’s got a great point. But let’s not forget that in order to make a revolutionary toothbrush you need to assess the environmental impacts of sourcing the materials, calculate the associated shipping and transportation costs, find an appropriate manufacturing facility, etc… And, in terms of marketing, we cannot forget that the products’ core consumer benefits need to be addressed. The revolutionary toothbrush won’t sell if the bristles fray prematurely or the brush fails to effectively remove plaque or fend off bacteria, etc…

She goes on:

Marketers, start your engines! We’re the ones who can dream up new product concepts, and we’re the ones who can sell them to mainstream consumers (not just the deep green consumers who are born predisposed to all things “eco”.)

Is it really that simple?  Dream it up and they will come? Ottman fails to address a couple other key issues. Having failed to consider the core consumer benefits she also doesn’t address the slippery slope of greenwash. Don’t we want to talk about product benefits first and marketing second? We all know that selling green attributes won’t fly if they are not backed up with environmentally preferable practices that can be verified.

At the same time, marketers do hold an essential role in the greening process. Marketability is at the heart of new product development.  Marketers are the ones who conceive of products and then specify the attributes that consumers want.  If the result is the creation of high quality products and services that meet consumers needs and use the most environmentally friendly attributes that make sense, then marketers may actually hold the true power of green. At least a good chunk of it.

Photo: Meliha Gojak at sxc.hu.

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