Green Marketing Is A Hard Sell!


Most consumers aren’t willing to pay a premium for an ‘environmentally-friendly’ product or service.

Despite the efforts of companies over the past two decades to sell the environmental benefits of their green offerings, very few have made inroads without a price or quality advantage.

Those that have been successful are either companies that are green by design and offer green products that genuinely drive cost savings for their customers (i.e. solar energy companies), or companies in B2B industries.

The latter have been receptive to green offerings as the economies of scale in a B2B transaction, as well as governmental, regulatory and stakeholder pressures often make ‘green’ an attractive value proposition.

Nonetheless, even in B2B environments the over-riding factor for green purchases is price or realised cost savings.

So given these market realities the question is: How should you be marketing your green credentials if your efforts don’t really affect a customer’s purchasing behaviour?

Here are our 5 Golden Rules to help you answer that question and ultimately win the hearts and minds of your customers in your next green marketing campaign.

Golden Rule 1

Green seldom sells, but often closes

Before you get all carried away with your green marketing campaign, it is important to remind yourself that it is price and quality (i.e. value) that usually gets your customers chequebook out.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t promote your green credentials, but it does mean you should almost always lead with the key value drivers of your offering and follow with your green credentials or environmental product / service attributes. Not vice versa!

Many companies forget this golden rule, and are then surprised that few people are interested in their green offering.


Because customers generally don’t care about how green a service or product is; they care about value. If a company can demonstrate real value whilst being super green, the sales discussion is immediately elevated.

In other words, green is a poor seller, but a great closer.

What qualified buyer wouldn’t consider a proposition that delivers huge value whilst also seriously taking society and the environment into account?

Golden Rule 2

Green doesn’t literally mean green

We see companies all the time promoting their green credentials by colouring every piece of marketing collateral with green planets, trees, recycling images and various other environmental symbols.

First off, this approach is very 90’s, but more importantly as we established in Golden Rule 1, consumers generally don’t buy green offerings because of their environmental attributes.

They buy because a proposition provides superior value.

Colouring everything green and using environmental symbols strikes no emotional chord with consumers and can often be off-putting by evoking the stigma that green = expensive and not as good as traditional.

Avoid green, avoid cliché symbols, stick to the clear value drivers of your offering, and enhance your green messaging through effective use of Golden Rule 3 – facts and figures.

Golden Rule 3

Facts and Figures

When companies start communicating their green credentials the second biggest mistake they make, after colouring everything green, is to use meaningless and nebulous terms like ‘environmentally-friendly’ or ‘eco-friendly’.

What do these terms actually mean and do customers care?

Terms like ‘environmentally-friendly’ in no way instil customer trust and can often be misleading. So avoid them and instead use clear facts and figures to communicate your green credentials.

Facts and figures do two things. Firstly, measurement shows that you are serious about your environmental impact. Secondly, it demonstrates that you are transparent, which ultimately builds customer trust.

Of course, facts and figures should always be used carefully, particularly when the information relates to a target, and should be rigorously checked to ensure accuracy and reliability.

However, with good data and sharp messaging facts and figures will resonate and impress customers much more than a silly term like ‘eco-chic’.

Golden Rule 4

Be brave

In green communications open and honest dialogue is the most powerful. Going green is a journey. The opportunity is to take customers along that journey with you, which requires bravery as successes and failures will need to be shared.

Avoid painting a perfect picture, customers are not stupid and will see through inconsistencies in message. If you have a high impact on the environment explain that you recognise this and then outline what you are doing to address it. Don’t gloss over the serious issues and focus only on the easy wins. Confront the challenging issues in your communications.

Consumers will reward your honesty if it is genuine, and you will undoubtedly build trust and respect for your transparency.

Going green is a real opportunity to show leadership in your industry.

Don’t undermine the opportunity by failing to communicate your green journey with integrity.

Golden Rule 5

If it ain’t green, don’t say it is

Unsubstantiated claims are your biggest enemy when building your green marketing campaign. Unfortunately, they are also so easy to make, especially since marketing relies on hyperbole. Greenwash can be very costly and won’t win the hearts and minds of your customers.

Always fact-check your communications. Remove inconsistencies, unsubstantiated information and misleading messages.

Take time to analyse the sector you are in and understand sentiment in your industry. There is nothing worse than an oil or tobacco company banging on about how many trees they planted last year!

Most importantly, remember that if it ain’t green, don’t say it is. Many companies forget that there is a difference between packaging that is recyclable and a product inside the packaging that is environmentally dismal.

Be vigilant, use experts who understand environmental communications and are sympathetic to an environmentally-conscious audience.

Don’t rely on a marketing team that knows nothing about sustainability.

In summary

Green marketing and communications are a hard sell. Many companies try to use the idea that green can be a key differentiator. The truth is that on its own it seldom is. The basic foundation of superior value is always a pre-requisite.

In marketing terms this means you should always lead with the value proposition and follow with your green messaging. In leading with your proposition avoid cliché colouring, symbols and nebulous terms and instead use clear facts and figures to enhance your message.

Going green provides a real opportunity to take customers along the journey with you. Be brave, confront the real challenges with honesty and integrity and always check communications for unsubstantiated claims.

A proposition that provides real value whilst making the world a better, more sustainable place is undoubtedly a winner.

About the Author Jess Nielsen

Jess has spent years travelling the world full-time. Nothing else comes close to the reaches of this emotive activity...

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