100 percent organic cotton. Contains no CFCs. Farm fresh from free-range animals. Chances are you’ve seen some variation of these claims wherever you shop – in the supermarket, buying apparel or selecting a new suite of wooden patio furniture. Marketing claims based on the environment were nonexistent a few decades ago; why are they so prolific now?
Brands beware: Reputation drives sales (or not)
It’s called green marketing – or, if it doesn’t really reflect what the company is doing, it goes by the more reviled moniker of greenwashing. Green marketing highlights a company’s efforts to promote social and environmental responsibility because, more than ever, people care about the origins of the goods they buy – especially young people. A 2015 Nielson survey found that 72 percent of Generation Z (15 to 20-year-olds at that time) were willing to pay a premium for products and services from companies committed to having a positive social and environmental impact.
A recent survey conducted by MarketingProfs showed the impact the next generation can have on a brand just by shopping with their wallet – and Gen Zers are increasingly supporting the brands with values that align with their own. Of the respondents, 53 percent said they purchased a product from a specific brand “to show support for the issues they stood up for/represented” while 40 percent did the opposite and boycotted a specific brand because of its perceived values.
Certifications: From eggs to toasters
Here’s where the catchphrases come in, along with the many certifications that help discerning consumers understand the origins of their products. Although it’s nowhere near comprehensive, some of the many organizations/labels available to certify a product are below:
- Certified Humane Raise and Handled – Provided by the HFAC, this certification appears on products from eggs to beef and ensures an improved life for animals from birth to slaughter.
- Energy Star – The familiar badge that appears on home appliances and electronics is issued by the EPA and ensures the highest energy efficiency standards are being met.
- Fair Trade USA Certified – Best known for coffee, Fair Trade products range from clothing to wine, and ensure equitable trade models that benefit everyone from growers to workers.
- Forest Stewardship Council Certified – The FSC awards this certification to wood products that come from responsibly managed forests.
- Leaping Bunny – Ubiquitous on a variety of cosmetics and related goods, the CCIC standard ensures no animal testing is conducted during product development.
- USDA Organic – The gold standard for organic products, this USDA certification found on fresh and processed foods means no pesticides, synthetics, sludges, hormones, antibiotics and the like were used to produce that food item.
Each of these certifications or seals require various levels of financial and time commitments to achieve and sustain. The bulk of the work goes into what the certification represents: building an actual, sustainable business with corporate social responsibility front and center. The more discerning consumers become on this subject, the more concrete, tangible evidence they will want to prove they aren’t being greenwashed and that the company truly is committed to the practices it preaches.
Converting sustainable practices to marketing
It’s easier to communicate your sustainable practices if you can articulate them yourself, and that means being able to track a product’s journey through the supply chain. Sometimes, you may not even realize that a change you’ve made in your supply chain – for example, switching from one supplier to another for the cotton that’s sewn into at-shirt – might create a more sustainable end product, and therefore is more appealing to consumers. Is the cotton grown without pesticides? Was it picked using child labor? Did the factory that assembled the fabric into a shirt employ safe and humane working conditions?
Answering these questions isn’t easy; especially when you consider that any one apparel brand may have from 70 (H&M) to 60,000 (Walmart) suppliers, and each of those have a network of companies from whom they get goods and services. Specificity in marketing requires granularity in your supply chain, best accomplished with software that can support tracking to that level. Only then can companies be sure they’re not greenwashing, but instead equipping their customers with rock-solid knowledge of their product’s journey.
The word is out: Generation Z makes purchasing decisions differently. Read more.