November 2013

Fire the Choir: Why Green Marketing Hasn’t Worked and What To Do About It


Carolyn Parrs


We’ve heard the rumors, read the blogs and seen the headlines that said green marketing is dead. To me, that was good news. We certainly do not need another man-hugging-polar-bear commercial. I think marketers figured out few people buy an electric car to save melting ice caps. They buy it to save themselves from melting down at the gas pump. What’s dead in green marketing are those assumptions that people would choose the environment over their own needs, like saving money and providing healthy food for their kids.


The good news is green business is still alive and well. According to a recent Big Green Opportunity Report, green industries are experiencing far faster growth than their conventional counterparts across the country. These businesses are steadily grabbing market share from non-green businesses, and consumers continue to flock to the other side, where the grass truly is greener. It’s true, green is still a niche market, but with super-savvy marketers that position themselves beyond green, we will see more and more market share.


So you want to smarten up your green marketing? Here’s how: Fire the Choir. You know who they are. As a matter of fact, you might be one of them (I know I am). So hurray if you are driving a Prius, buy veggies from a co-op and swore off chemical preservatives years ago. That puts you in the top 7 percent of consumers. And that puts you in the choir.


The truth is, green is for everyone. You may know that. But 48 percent of the population doesn’t. This is where good messaging comes in. So instead of leading your marketing with a green halo, dig in and find the common denominator in your brand. One great question to ask is “Why bother?” Meaning, why would your target market(s) bother buying your stuff? What’s meaningfully different about it? How will this make their life better, easier, more fulfilling? When you get down to that level, to the core messages, then the green part can be the tipping point in your direction. We all want to do good. We all want to breathe clean air. We all (well, most of us anyway) want to protect our environment. Let green be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.


Quit Saving the Planet

A recent Google search for the phrase, “Saving the planet one [whatever] at a time” revealed more than 17 million responses, with everything from saving the planet “one flush at a time” to “one hanger at a time” to “one bag, one shower, one burger, one carpet, one idea…” But if we’ve learned anything in the past five years of tumultuous economic activity, it’s that saving the planet one “whatever” at a time doesn’t work. Not only do consumers have a serious case of green fatigue, many are pinching pennies and carefully deliberating every purchase.

Instead, make green a part of the story, not the whole story. That means you can’t just tell us what you’re not, you need to tell us what you are. Green doesn’t just have to do good, it also has to work great. Only the most zealous greens among us will sacrifice product performance for ecological advantage.

So what does all of this mean when trying to make your green message heard and translated into sales? It means you have to stop aiming to save the planet and start crafting messages that are relevant to the fate of the people living on it.

Take Method, for instance, a biodegradable soap company that is dominating its industry, and not because of its size; at roughly $100 million annual revenue, it is barely a drop in multi-billion-dollar household cleaners sector. Rather, its ingenuity and willingness to think outside of the green marketing box has helped to redefine green messaging altogether.

According to one of Method’s founders, Adam Lowrey, “We don’t really think about the green consumer as a single type of consumer. There’s a little bit (or a lot) of green consumer in everyone. We use this phrase, ‘Making it selfish.’ It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, but what it means is if you can make sustainability part of the product that you’re selling, and then make the product better for all of the other reasons that they buy it—convenience, price, value—then you’re creating a layer of reasons why that consumer would want to buy that product.”

Enough of Us vs. Them

There is nothing more destructive to the whole green movement than separating the so-called good guys (environmentalists, activists, green businesses, etc.) from the bad guys (corporations, capitalists, conservatives, etc.). After 10 years entrenched in green marketing, I have seen enough barbs thrown at “them”—and where did that get us? As polarized as our government, that’s where. The truth is we’re all in this together. We can engage with the big boys without compromising our vision and values. It can be tricky, but it can be done.

Green Marketing: The Next Generation

The green market is estimated to reach $1 trillion in the next five years. If you want to be part of that growth, you have to be as smart, aware and authentic as the consumers you want to reach. 

So stop preaching to the choir, and start singing to the crowd. What’s your song going to be?


Carolyn Parrs, board chair of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, is CEO of Mind Over Markets, a green marketing communications and design company. For over 10 years she has helped entrepreneurs, businesses and organizations succeed. Her clients range from renewable energy to organics to non-toxic paints, pet food and more. Parrs’ multi-media blog and Facebook community provide a voice for women focused on environmental and social issues. 505.989.4004,,




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