Green Branding Imperative

“Brands will not be able to opt out of [being green].  Companies which do not live by a green protocol will be financially damaged because consumers will punish them.  In the longer term, I do not think they will survive.”         Lee Daley, chairman and chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi UK 

The game is changing; it is now an imperative for all brands to be green.  The environment, and specifically global warming, may soon be an incendiary issue for corporate America. One recent poll indicates social responsibility is valued by American consumers and “damaging the environment is the main reason [consumers] would think that a company is socially irresponsible.”  (Italics added) 

Because of the catastrophic, and likely irreversible, consequences of global warming, corporations may find themselves lightening rods on the issue. Companies risk being branded socially irresponsible, making them vulnerable to criticism and putting brands at risk. 

This risk is likely only to increase with time. Brand perception is likely to be shaped by potential influencers including consumers, businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations.  These groups are growing rapidly and becoming more vocal.  Indeed, influencers have significant power as demonstrated last week when Mia Farrow successfully associated the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing with genocide in Darfur, causing the Chinese to rethink their support for the Sudanese government. 

Moreover, a recent Supreme Court decision will only embolden those that seek redress from corporate America.  The 5-4 ruling states that EPA’s decision not to regulate carbon under the Clear Air Act was “arbitrary, capricious or otherwise not in accordance with the law”. Smart marketers will view the Supreme Court’s ruling as a catalyst for proactive change.  By doing so, these marketers will reduce the risk of public criticism tarnishing their brands (e.g. through negative PR, lawsuits), while perhaps securing a competitive advantage by staying ahead of the curve. 

Such a strong association between corporate action – and potentially inaction – on the environment and social irresponsibility leaves brands at risk unless proactive steps are taken to become green.  Emerging green consumer purchase behavior suggests this scenario: 

  • Despite the real threat of global warming, consumers will continue to spend on the things that they want and enjoy
  • Demand for green (or greener) products will increase over time as attitudes and social norms evolve, new product choices become available and information that enables consumers to make informed purchase decisions (e.g. green labels) is introduced
  • Consumers will start to shift spending to greener brands within a category
  • Consumers will increasingly prefer to purchase from companies with a brand that is perceived as green, regardless of whether or not the product that they ultimately purchase is one of the company’s “green” products

For corporate America, this should be wake-up call.  Simply put, every brand will soon need to be green, regardless of whether or not customers are actively buying green products today. Yet the window of opportunity is closing: soon green will simply be a threshold to compete.  Moreover, it takes time to build green credentials that consumers deems authentic. Companies that do not actively pursue a green brand strategy today risk being left behind; and as Daley suggests, those who do not may even jeopardize their very survival.


14 Responses to Green Branding Imperative

  1. I do hope that more and more global brands become aware of their responsibility and act like a green brand.

  2. martym says:

    Hello David, I came across your blog recently and was happy to see such an avid pursuit of green in the realm of marketing. We started a brand development firm in Seattle about 3 years ago with a similar bent. It’s called egg, and we currently work with clients in renewable energy, organic food, socially responsible investment and green building. Our site is

    We started out in 2004 with a consumer study that led us to a view of the conscious consumer in today’s society. We have recently updated that survey and there are some interesting findings. Here is a summary:

    There are many studies of consumers who exhibit values-based decision-making behavior in the marketplace. We call them Conscious Consumers. Some might consider them “green” consumers. The vast majority of these studies produces a number of subgroups defined either by behavior or outlook with regard to green behavior, but makes no correlation between the two.
    The egg study focuses on what people say vs. what they really do. The disconnect between a stated attitude vs. actual behavior allows us to divide the conscious consumer into groups based on their respective degree of hypocrisy.
    1. 400 interviews
    2. Asked series of questions related to green attitudes and behavior
    3. Modeled respondents into subsets based on variance between attitudes and behavior
    1. The U.S. consumer universe falls into:
    a. 1/3 having no discernible green behavior
    b. 1/3 with mixed attitudes and behaviors, but clearly aware of and open to green brands
    c. 1/3 consistently exhibiting green behavior
    2. Compared to our 7/70 study of 3 years ago, we find:
    a. The core has grown from 7 to 20%, making this a much more compelling audience for green brands
    b. There is still about 30% not interested in green issues, but with an interesting difference: one group
    actually goes out of its way to avoid purchasing green brands.
    3. Conscious consumers can be segmented into 5 types, based on comparing what they say with what they do.
    It’s the degree of hypocrisy between the 2 that determine which group the consumer is in.
    a. Core group is called Advocates, representing 20% of the total US consumer audience. They walk the
    walk and talk the talk.
    b. Strivers (7%) aren’t as committed as the Advocates, but their zeal is almost as great.
    c. Believers (4%) have some zeal, but little action
    d. Moderates (33%) are relatively neutral and represent an opportunity for green growth, as long as the
    core doesn’t become disenfranchised.
    e. Skeptics (36%) have no hypocrisy: they don’t believe in green and act and purchase accordingly.

    It would be great to meet some time. If you are ever in Seattle give us a ring. And keep up the good words.

    Marty McDonald

    Our about to be released blog is

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