The “Greening” of Corporate America: Fact or Fad?

Considering the cold winter season we’re having – not to mention the equally cold economic and business environment – it’s not hard to imagine that the “corporate green” trend, so popular and prevalent only a year or two ago, might have stalled out in a major way.

Add to this the recent flap over climate change data fudging by some over-enthusiastic scientists, and it seems the perfect recipe for “corporate green” being a movement that’s on the wane.

But a just-completed market research study on “green” marketing provides interesting clues that this might not be the case. A group of U.S. commercial/industrial firms was surveyed for MediaBuyerPlanner, an arm of Watershed Publishing, to determine the extent of green marketing that is occurring. Among the key findings:

• ~70% of the firms surveyed consider themselves to be “somewhat green” or “very green” … but they suspect that customers think of them as less green than they actually are. Perhaps related to this concern, ~80% of the respondents expect to spend more on green marketing in the future – and that percentage approaches 90% among the manufacturers contained in the survey sample.

• For those who currently feature “green” marketing themes in their promotional efforts, the most popular media for that is using the web (~74% of respondents), followed by print promotion (~50%) and direct marketing (~40%).

• More than half of the companies reported that they are taking concrete steps to become “greener” in their operations. The most popular actions are conserving energy in their operations (~60%) and changing products to reflect greener characteristics, such as altering product ingredients, packaging, or intended uses (~54%).

And here’s another interesting survey finding: Quite a few respondents believe their green marketing efforts are more effective than their normal marketing efforts. (One third of them felt this way, compared to just 7% who felt regular marketing activities are more effective than their green messaging. The remaining 60% have not observed a measurable differentiation and/or did not feel knowledgeable enough to make a judgment.)

The survey also found that the commitment senior management makes to sustainability and other green principles in the form of specific actions is what comes first … followed later by “green” marketing efforts. In other words, there is a lower incidence of companies creating green marketing campaigns just out of a desire to appear “green.”

This suggests that green marketing depends first on company management buying into the ideological principals of environmentalism.

Certainly, the “soft economy” as well as the controversy of “soft science” could be acting as a damper on the potency of green messaging. But this field research suggests that “corporate green” continues to be a trend as opposed to just a passing fad … and that its significance as a marketing platform for companies will grow stronger in the coming years.