Green Brands – Appealing to Consumer Social Responsibility

The consumer swing to “green brands” is closely related to ethical/green consumerism for the man in the street, as well as being linked to corporate triple bottom line reporting, and the growing trend of socially responsible investing for stock market players. It is widely agreed that this trend toward going green will gain momentum moving into the future, as the world-wide focus remains on the many and diverse issues relating to global warming.

Green brands can be defined as brands which consumers readily equate with sustainable business practices and environmental conservation. Making the public aware of green brands and the benefits of using them requires intensive marketing aimed at raising social awareness and appealing to consumers to do their bit for conserving the environment, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Marketing of this type must be accurate, as consumer watchdogs and astute consumers will soon find out if a company has been “greenwashing” in their marketing campaign – a practice which could do considerable damage to a brand.

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission, which is charged with the commission of “Protecting America’s Consumers” compiled a “Green Guide” in 1992, which was updated in 1996 and again in 1998, and is currently being reviewed. The Green Guide outlines general principles with regard to all environmental marketing claims, with specific guidelines related to claims of a product being green by using terms such as organic, biodegradable, recyclable and ozone safe. The updated version of the Green Guide will address the use of such terms as sustainable, carbon neutral, and renewable, among other popular terms.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in Britain issued a warning to consumers in 2007 that not all products claiming to be green are legitimate. This warning came about as a result of complaints from consumers and consumer support agencies that unsubstantiated environmental claims were being made by suppliers. This became an issue with energy companies and car manufacturers making vague and misleading statements regarding the carbon emissions and carbon neutrality of their products. Companies that were hauled over the coals for this included Scottish and Southern Energy, Lexus, Toyota and Volkswagen, as well as EasyJet airlines.

Another aspect of green brands is the sourcing of local raw products for manufacture, thereby supporting local sustainable development. However, claiming a product is “local” can be misleading, as consumers assume that seeing as the product is on their local supermarket shelf, the “local” applies to their town or city, which is often not the case. The British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) publishes guidelines for this type of marketing which states that green claims may not be “vague or ambiguous”, following up on complaints regarding any such claims.