The case for a sustainability ‘double-dip’

By Kathleen Enright

I’m working on several pitches at the moment, all for companies wanting to run awareness campaigns to promote their sustainable products and services. And that’s great! The products and services are great – but it’s still no easy task!

When you get down to the crux of it, sustainable or not, it all comes down to the age-old question of what the consumer benefit really is? That’s the marketer in me talking, not the LOHAS* in me. Green products are a relatively easy sell to hard-core greenies on a mission to save the planet… but ‘green’ alone isn’t enough of a marketing proposition for mainstream consumers.

‘Green’ as a product/service benefit

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is perceived by mainstream consumers as:

- Talking to a niche population (not them)

- Being more expensive

- Trust in brands is at a low

OK, so we agree on the need to stress the primary benefits of sustainable products and services. But what might those be? How do you answer questions such as “what’s in it for me?” and “what happens if I don’t do it?” when the very problem of sustainability is that it’s not immediately tangible (unless you live in Bangladesh or the Maldives).

* LOHAS is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, a market segment focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.

Many ‘green’ marketing campaigns fail to stress primary benefits, likely for two reasons. In the past, many of the sustainable products offered didn’t work as well as their “conventional” counterparts, so messages to the consumer tended to be a simple: “our product does everything your current brand does but in a greener way”. Now mainstream brands are realising that the name of the game is doing what they do naturally—leading with messages of primary benefits, while bringing in environmental messages as secondary.

Looking ahead, one day green will likely be so integrated into design and culture that we won’t have to trip over it when crafting marketing messages that resonate with consumers.

So, for now at least, if we’re not

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selling “green”, what are we selling?

I can’t help but feel that the easy route (it’s all relative) to take is the ‘double eco’ positioning. Eco for economical (save those pennies) and Eco for ecological (you’re also helping the environment). But while a financial incentive will create a short term effect, past campaigns have proven that it has a limited effect in creating lasting change. A purely monetary incentive doesn’t create a sense of added value for doing a specific action so people fail to continue that action if the incentive is no longer in place. In addition, the incentive has to be significant in order to break habit (which is why energy efficiency campaigns struggle to get results).

The ‘money saving’ benefit will work for small actions but has not yet proven successful in getting people to do more. Back to the drawing board!

Many green products are now promoted with messages that lead “beyond green” and underscore such primary benefits as health, superior performance, good taste, cost effectiveness or convenience. The Toyota Prius was launched on the premise of a quieter ride, and later when gas prices spiked, stressed superior fuel mileage, The Cooperative bank’s main sell is their high level of consumer satisfaction rather than their ethical policy.

Then it occurred to me that there was another approach worth exploring…While ‘green’ isn’t enough of a marketing proposition, the benefits of being green might well be. Apparently being green makes you happier! Bring on the sustainability double dip!

Matt Mellen writes about this for Positive News and highlights the 10 reasons he believes make green people happier (http://positivenews.org.uk/2011/wellbeing/lifestyle/4244/ten-reasons-green-people-are-happier/):

1. Living a more local life

2. More vibrant healthy communities

3. Human powered transport

4. Connection to the natural world

5. Choice pruning

6. Less materialistic

7. Enjoyable pursuits

8. Personal development

9. Social actualisation

10. Transcendence

This is an interesting way of re-thinking the primary benefit of being green as being happier, and it’s also a great way to re-think product promotions. Could we work any of the above into a loyalty programme? Could we imagine brand KPIs built around the Human Happiness Index (first proposed by Amartya Sen)?

Happiness marketing isn’t new. But marketers rarely talk about happiness directly, preferring the creation of the feeling of happiness. But I’m not talking about inspiring happiness; I’m suggesting that we embed these principles in our marketing campaigns, promotions and information on product use to help people lead happier lives.

And aren’t people always in the pursuit of happiness?