Green marketing is a concept that first appeared in the 1970s but only began gaining traction in the 1980s and 1990s, it's become a very powerful way for businesses to succeed.

When it's done well, that is.

While it's a fairly slippery concept to define, green marketing is in essence the selling of a product that has a perceived environmental benefit.

This includes how the product is:

  • sourced
  • modified
  • packaged
  • distributed, and 
  • advertised. 

Green marketing challenges existing notions of marketing, in the face of our environmental and social realities. As concern over climate change grows and individuals become more attuned to how they consume, sustainability is increasingly important in their purchasing decisions, and they will choose "green(er)" brands.

In saying that it is concerned about our world and our future, a company is telling its customers that it shares their values. The customers develop emotional loyalty to that brand — they come to love it. What the brand must then do is convert that emotional loyalty into action, by prioritising their shared values.

This goes way beyond loyalty programmes and shopper points. In effect, brands must bare their hearts to their customers, and show how they are creating a better environment and a more sustainable future through their activities. Brands must derive environmental and social dividends as well as financial ones.

A stellar example is the clothing brand Patagonia. More than most brands, Patagonia has environmentalism and sustainability baked into its DNA — to the extent that its message seems at first to be counterintuitive, 'The more you know, the less you need'. That's a startling approach in our capitalist, more-is-more world of commerce.

In encouraging consumers to consume more responsibly, Patagonia is transparent about its sourcing and production. It shows customers how to care better for their garments and be better consumers, it promotes recycling and upcycling and it even advocates for green activism. Its business is thus founded not on more and more unsustainable consumption — and thus unsustainable profits — but rather on better consumption.

The Body Shop, the beauty brand, provides another great example — in an industry notorious for animal testing and using harmful chemicals.

While the brand took a stand against animal testing in 1989 already (a trailblazing move at the time), in 2023 it succeeded in having all of its product ingredients — more than 4 000 of them — certified vegan. That means that not one is derived from, or tested on, animals.

This goes way beyond mere marketing. The Body Shop has taken a fundamental stand on how it does what it does and perhaps more importantly, it shows a company actively becoming greener and greener. It's not just continuing to ride on its 35-year-old declaration to be against animal testing.

That's smart business because customers quickly pick up on corporate insincerity. Greenwashing — that lamentable marketing practice of making a business appear sustainable when it is, in fact, anything but — is a stupid, dishonest approach that will derive short-term gains and longer-term losses. 

The supermarket chain that trumpets greenness but imports most of its fresh goods; the oil company that pays to protect turtles or seabirds but its product pollutes more than ever; the brewery that recycles bottles but does little to curb its massive water usage; the organic food brand that uses non-recyclable packaging… Sooner or later, consumers find out and are betrayed, many leave. Maybe they'll post the breakup on social media for good measure.

However, when a brand's sustainability credentials are for real, when environmental, social and governance (or ESG) principles are baked into its way of doing things, that's when green marketing comes into its own.

But how green is the marketing itself? What are the marketers' sustainability chops — do they walk the walk, too? Can they really create authentic campaigns if they don't? And what is their contribution to the brand's sustainability account?

Flow Communications is far better off today — sustainability-wise — than it was five years ago. A huge part of that has been going remote, which the company did a few weeks before the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Immediately, 60-plus commuters, mainly in cars, were taken off the road. Flow Communications no longer operated energy and water-intensive premises.

These days, Flow does far fewer on-site client visits; it's nearly all online. Over time, its head office address and some of its staff have switched to solar, further reducing the company's overall energy impact.

Flow Communications is also steadily moving away from traditional, paper-heavy marketing materials and in-person interaction to more sustainable solutions. 

These solutions include: 

  • WhatsApp business cards
  • online eventing
  • AI and social media-based loyalty, and 
  • digital marketing for environmental sustainability campaigns. 

Flow is constantly finding novel, green(er) ways to grow brand loyalty.

No matter the platform, for green marketing to succeed a brand must always be authentic and tell a believable story. It stands to reason that many can tell a clever story, but to tell it believably, the storytellers should themselves be believers.

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*Image courtesy of Canva