Jacquie Ottman's
Green Marketing Blog

Let the Consumer Decide “What is Green?”

scaleYou hear a lot of talk about the “sin of the hidden trade-offs.” I’ve got news for you, folks. Greening—like life itself—is all about the trade-offs! No product is 100% “green.” So, considering that all products use energy and create waste, green is a relative term. One product is green-er for someone at some time in some place.

Green is Relative
For instance, cloth diapers might not cause any trees to be chopped down, but they do use a lot of hot water. Disposable diapers don’t use water but they do clog landfills and with a lot of hazardous waste at that.

So, what is the greener (est?) solution for any one consumer? The answer is usually: “It depends.” For example— and I’m likely oversimplifying here—cloth diapers might be better in NY where we have lots of water and no landfill. But they might be environmental disasters in the Southwest, where diverting water from other regions might be even more environmentally hazardous than digging a hole in the ground and burying them.

Identify the Trade-Offs
Regional, climatic and other differences cannot be underestimated. I’ve been told that if you live in NY like I do, it may actually be better for the environment to buy conventional strawberries grown in New Jersey rather than shipping in USDA Organic strawberries from California.

Consumers dropped the noisy Sun Chips bag like a hot potato; for the vast majority of them, composting was likely irrelevant or misunderstood. I think the Frito-Lay folks would have been better off if they had introduced their corn-based bags regionally in cities like Seattle and San Francisco that have access to municipal collection of compostables.

Consumers intuitively understand these trade-offs. Who said “life is one big trade-off?”. So, let’s empower them with the information they need to choose among the various products, materials, technologies, and designs that serve their needs better, and greener.

More information about this topic is available from my “Moving Sustainability Forward” green paper. Click here to download a copy.

Jacquelyn Ottman is an expert adviser on green marketing to Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government. She is the author of four books on green marketing, including the recently released The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding (Berrett-Koehler, 2011).

Recent blog posts:
New Nissan Ads Shift the Way Car Buyers Evaluate Options
What Greenwash Can Learn from Snake Oil
Are We Ready to Move Sustainability Forward?

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