By Erifili Papitsa
MBA, PhD Candidate @ Marketing &
Communication Dep. AUEB
Green marketing, defined as the strategies to promote products by employing environmental claims either about their attributes or about the systems, policies and processes of the firms that manufacture or sell them, has attracted research attention since the 1970s.
Environmental strategies have been implemented at various levels, from the corporate action towards sustainability to the development and advertising of green products at a functional level and can have either a short-term character of compliance or a long-term aspect of creating an eco-efficient organization. Some firms undertake strategic greening activities without using these changes for positioning of their brands; for example S.C. Johnson has a strong environmental ethos and has won numerous green awards, but does not feature these activities at the corporate level extensively in positioning its brands. Other firms focus their environmental efforts on developing greener products, by employing attributes regarding environmentally friendly production, operation and disposal of the product. Finally, certain firms demonstrate strategic greening by ensuring that all activities and behaviours thoroughly incorporate environmental values into decision-making processes, which includes environmentally-friendly action at the corporate level and also offering of green products, such as The Body Shop.
On behalf of the company, the recognition of its wider social responsibility towards stakeholders along with the need to protect corporate image and reputation have transferred competition to new sectors. Enterprises are currently attempting to ensure their growth potential and sustainability based on the social and environmental aspects of their business activity. Especially firms in high-impact industries (such as chemicals, utilities and manufacturing) seem to have integrated environmental issues to a greater extent than other firms due to regulatory forces and high non-compliance costs; thus, the strategy focus is usually at the corporate level, which in turn determines the environmental strategies at lower levels. On the other hand, among companies in the moderate-environmental impact sector the effect of competitive advantage on environmental orientation becomes significant. Overall, the main corporate drivers of green marketing strategies are: i) the pursuit of competitive advantages by minimizing environmental impact through improved design of products, packages and processes, ii) the reduction of costs by taking advantage of eco-friendly technologies and through energy and resource conservation and iii) the minimization of risks arising from management of product liabilities, sudden changes in legal norms and increases in ecology-motivated consumer demands.
But what has been the consumer reaction to all these green marketing activities? Research findings report constantly increasing levels of environmental consciousness of consumers and positive attitudes towards the environmentally-friendly purchase and use behaviour. Nowadays, the supportive consumer behaviour towards green products is definitely a market trend that has resulted in an important growth of the sales of such products. Furthermore, we notice a shift from the concept of the green product to the green brand, which, next to the environmentally-friendly production, usage and disposal processes, entails a specific set of attributes and benefits related to the reduced environmental impact of the product that builds its brand equity. The increasing penetration of green brands moves the focus of both academics and practitioners from the initial purchase of these products to repeated buying, i.e. the building of strong and sustainable relationships between the customer and the green brand which will establish long-term loyalty and profitability.
However, existing literature has not systematically addressed the factors that build the relationship with a green brand. Green brands may provide a specific value offering, or a set of motives, that reinforce the supportive consumer behaviour towards the brand. Identification of these specific motives is of high importance to both academia and practice in order to explain consumer relational behaviour. Results of a doctoral research conducted in the Greek natural cosmetics industry indicate that the social benefits of behaving according to the social norm encourage consumers’ engagement in environmentally friendly behaviour. Furthermore, the purchase of a green brand may provide its customer the opportunity to express his environmental concerns. Buying brands manufactured by companies whose products and processes are more environmentally friendly enhances a desired self-concept, allowing consumers to “feel good about it”. Moreover, individuals who consider themselves to be ecologists may consider not purchasing a brand if they feel that it does not adequately reflect their ideology. Experience of those benefits, in combination to the standard benefits offered by branded products of quality, reduced anxiety regarding performance and expression of personality aspects, can be a significant driver of ecological consumer behaviour.
In spite of these positive findings, we must take into consideration that even the most environment-friendly consumers do not choose products or services merely on the basis of their environmental aspects; rather, the choice is always a multi-attribute choice where the consumer has to trade off between various product attributes. Further research will provide insight on the costs and sacrifices that the consumer is willing to bear in order to be loyal to a green brand, such as increased prices and limited availability, and highlight the consumer segments most accessible to target green marketing strategies to.