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UMD AMA: Green Marketing

If you've ever been to a grocery store, you've felt the power of green marketing. It plays to two powerful interests: concern for personal health and concern for the social good. Organic, locally sourced, free range, antibiotic-and-hormone-free, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are all selling points companies use to try to convince you to buy their product, even if it’s at a higher price. According to a 2014 Nielsen survey, 55% of respondents in 60 different countries were willing to pay more for company products that support environmental and social causes. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it shows that there is growing consumer support for social responsibility and collectivism, and that people will back up their beliefs with their spending habits.

Celebrities can also play a big role in appealing to consumers’ values while shopping. Sir Paul McCartney, an ex-Beatle, posts about "Meat-Free Mondays," a campaign he started to reduce the consumption of red meat. His fame and influence have helped create a stigma around eating animal meat due to both health risks and moral objections and increased the demand for "healthier and sustainable" alternatives. Campaigns like this have sparked a new wave of environmental ethos and stewardship improving transparency between the businesses and consumers. However, not all businesses use honest methods to market their products!

In 2012, Dawn launched a marketing campaign that depicted their antibacterial soap saving a baby duckling being rescued from an oil spill. The soap was toxic to wildlife and had reported cases spilling into local streams all over the U.S. This type of green marketing is called "green-washing," the effort to brand a product as green when it has no known positive benefit for the environment. As consumers have increasing access to information, the opportunity cost to conceal poor business practices rises, causing many businesses to shift towards more sustainable alternatives. Those who fail to innovate are doomed to inevitable closure.

However, not all companies have to succumb to this gloomy end! In the 21st century, there is a growing wave of social entrepreneurship pushing the boundaries of environmentally responsible business to modern applications. Many businesses are showing that environmental leadership doesn’t have to be sacrificed for profits. A great example of this is the company 4ocean, an organization that tackles plastic pollution in the oceans by employing fishermen to scoop up plastic waste which is refurbished into bracelets. For every bracelet sold, 4ocean pledges that a pound of trash was eliminated from the oceans, a social contract they keep with their consumers and the planet. The bracelets serve as a reminder to spread awareness of the massive pollution crisis on the planet and to trigger a movement for people to follow. This is a very clever form of green marketing as 4ocean is allowed to continue its social mission operating as a for-profit firm which encourages consumers to buy into.

With the exponential progress of technology, humans are increasingly becoming more conscientious of their impact on the environment. Businesses are aware of this and are realizing they can capitalize on ethical business practices, particularly those pertaining to the environment. Green marketing serves as the agent to connect the consumer to a company’s mission, initiating a virtuous cycle of social responsibility between both parties. Even though the earth suffers from a human-induced climate change, one thing is certain: both consumers and businesses will continue to employ green marketing to promote free trade and protect the natural resources we all cherish dearly.


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