Green Marketing “Broke Through” in 2008 - So What’s Next?

By Jacquelyn Ottman and Abigail Cohen

January 14, 2009

Wall Street had a stormy 2008, but there is a silver lining: Industry leaders are now turning to all things “eco” as a new source of (genuine?) green. Here are the top five green marketing stories from a volatile year - and what they may mean for your business in 2009.

#1: Advertising Goes Green and Gets Noticed

The Story: Despite budget cuts across the board, cause-related marketing still enjoyed 3% growth in 2008, and now represents 1 in 9 dollars spent on sponsorships. Wal-Mart, GE, and HSBC won the first-ever Green Effie awards for effective green marketing, while other companies like Innocent Smoothies, Cotton USA, and Fiat and EasyJetgot accused of making false green marketing claims. With eco-savvy shoppers on the prowl for truly environmentally sound companies and products, a new site,, pops up to allow consumers to rate companies’ green ad claims.

The Spin:Green marketing campaigns are proving to be a good investment, but had better hold up under public scrutiny, as consumers wise up to “greenwashing.” The prospect of free PR from Green Effies and other green marketing awards that are popping up will make green an easier sale for marketing departments.

#2: Federal Trade Commission Updates Green Marketing Guidelines

The Story:With so many environmental claims sprouting up, the FTC put their updates to their Green Guides, last reviewed in 1998 on a fast track. Among the key green marketing topics, carbon offsets weremulled over, green packaging requirements were reevaluated, and green building claims came under scrutiny.

The Spin:Keep an eye out for revised FTC Green Guides in 2009, and heed their advice. Not legally binding, they are the best guidance available for would-be green marketers looking to keep claims on the straight and narrow.

#3: Bottled Water Industry Takes a Hit - and Strikes Back

The Story: With environmental consciousness informing consumerism, critics shunnedbottled water for its inherent wastefulness and contribution to climate change particularly in cities with perfectly acceptable drinking water. Michael J. Brune, executive director of the Rainforest Action Networktold the New York Times: “Bottled water is a business that is fundamentally, inherently, and inalterably unconscionable. No side deals to protect forests or combat global warming can offset that reality.”

In order to quench scrutiny, Fiji reported that its bottled water was truly “carbon negative” and allied with Conservation International for technical advice and oversight of Fiji’s investments in renewable energy andconservation efforts in the Fiji rainforest. To reassure consumers, Fiji plans to disclose carbon footprint on new website. Nestle, too, retaliated against industry criticism with their “next-generation” water bottle— claiming it is the lightest bottle on the market. With Ethos water, Starbucks and Pepsi take a different approach to ease consumer conscience bypushing eco-philanthropy.

The Spin:According to some critics, no matter how strongly bottled water brands try to minimize packaging and recycle, the idea of depleting ground water and transporting it over thousands of miles may just be unsustainable, and many consumers will continue totap into other sources instead. Pay close attention to consumers’ concerns with your own product’s environmental impact. Consider an assessment of environmental impacts over the lifecycle of your product (unite with industry competitors to share costs) to identify areas of greatest vulnerability.

#4: The Crash of Detroit and GM Introduces Chevy Volt

The Story:The auto industry has been hit hard in the current bleak economy — a fiasco that could have been averted if, like their Asian counterparts, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors had seen the writing on the wall decades ago. Not surprisingly, many say that a bailout should include an eco-makeover,creating new opportunities for green transportation technologies and effective green marketing. Forging a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute, GM is one of the many automakers racing to clean up their act and among other things, take steps to ecologize production. GM now pins its hopes on a Chevy Volt intro, pushed up to 2010. Its lithium-ion battery can be recharged right off the grid. GM has also announced plans to devote an entire design studio to cleaner vehicles.

The Spin:Expect more cleaner, greener, smaller cars on the road in a hurry. Plan ahead. Monitor long-term changes in your own industry. Five-year timelines are too short for a planet that’s 6 billion years old!

#5: Administration Change

The Story:With the soon-to-be replaced Bush/Cheney regime taking its last bow comes major change for environmental politics. Environmental groups have long criticized the Bush administration for its ecological ignorance andrefusal to support clean energy alternatives, but change may be in sight; executives saythat with an Obama White House, green business will flourish. The new administration has plans to bolster clean energy, provide 5 million green-collar jobs, andset strict regulations for businesses.

The Spin:A renewed focus on environmental issues in Washington will surely strengthen the green market and require cleaner and greener marketing strategies for all industries. Expect green marketing to move from a niche to a mainstream business necessity.


Jacquelyn Ottman is president, J. Ottman Consulting, a green marketing consultancy that advises businesses on strategies for developing and marketing environmentally sustainable products and services. She is the author of three books on green marketing. Her latest book,The New Rules of Green Marketing, is due out in 2010.

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Abigail Cohen is a senior at Barnard College, where she studies visual art and environment. She currently works as an assistant at J. Ottman Consulting.

Copyright© 2008 by J. Ottman Consulting, Inc