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Green Confusion: Missed Communication Opportunity Costs

Written by on Monday, 13 May 2013 7:00 pm
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"Green" means different things to different people who may think they are talking about the same thing…and the confusion does not stop there.

For all the good eco-friendly "green" labelling is intended to do, it can make businesses lazy, marketing misleading, and consumers confused.

  • Green labels and tag lines can trigger purchases with the growing numbers of environmentally-conscious consumers. However, green marketers often miss opportunities to take the shared-interest relationship with consumers further than typical with traditional selling pitches.

  • Although a green product, company, or alternative approach to anything from cleaning supplies to renewable energy looks and sounds eco-friendly, the "green" label extolling environmental benefits may be more facade than fact.

  • Consumers feel good about their efforts to help the planet with their green purchases—often paying more for this privilege—but they don’t always know what to do with the added responsibility attached to being environmentally conscious. Using and disposing of green products often requires special green techniques. Consumers’ confusion leaves them feeling let down or that they let the planet down. This negativity can transfer to product or service providers.

    "The new green gap is about consumers only taking the idea of responsibility so far, despite feeling responsible for proper use and disposal," said Liz Gorman, Senior Vice President of Sustainable Business Practices at Boston-based Cone Communications (www.conecomm.com) when recently announcing release of the 2013 Cone Communications Green Gap Trend Tracker , a survey of over 1,000 adults designed to reveal how consumers interpret environmental information. "They’re buying with the environment in mind, but they rely on companies to provide access and education to truly ‘close the loop.’"

    This report lets consumers know that they are not alone in their "green" confusion. According to the Tracker," a record-high 71 percent of Americans consider the environment when they shop, up from 66 percent in 2008." Nearly half of consumers searched out environmental information before they bought. After the purchase, consumers are often on their own.

    The majority (85%) of consumers surveyed wanted education on proper use and disposal of green products. This leaves opportunities—thanks to the internet and social media - to transform green marketing beyond tweaks to traditional marketing and sales approaches into interactive and collaborative conversations between buyers and sellers of products and services. These missed business opportunities are surprising when so many companies say they are eager for more business.

    Buying green requires conscious effort, additional thought, and continued commitment which makes these customers and clients the type businesses should value. Do you feel valued when you make a green buying decision?

    As for businesses that get the message... Voting is open until May 31, 2013, for the 10 finalists of the fourth Green America "People & Planet" award , recognizing America’s best green small businesses. Each of three winners will receive $5,000 for successfully integrating environmental and social considerations into their strategies and operations.

    Green Confusion

    The language of "green" causes problems, since there is no absolute definition of terms like "green" and "environmentally friendly," even though more than half of those surveyed said they understand environmental terms used in advertising. The majority of consumers wrongly believe that these two green terms mean a product has a positive or neutral affect on the environment. Consumer misunderstanding of eco-claims has not improved since 2008 when it stood at 60%.

    Complications can also arise when the presumption of environmental safety tied to "green" causes consumers and buyers to act with less skepticism and investigation regarding all aspects of the item or service being purchased. Overlooking compromises dictated by eco-friendly design can led to disappointment. For example, twenty years ago, Energy Star , a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency," began to change the way appliances and electronics were perceived. The shift to energy savings and other environmental benefits often required homeowners to accept lower performance and higher prices. At first, homeowners switching to dish washers with energy-saving lower water temperatures had to adjust to different cleaning performance. Now, ENERGY STAR is a widely-acknowledged green standard, but do you completely understand what it represents?

    Have you discovered a green product or service that did not live up to its marketing? Exaggerated or misleading claims can trigger regulatory or civil challenges. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission issued revised "Green Guides" designed to help marketers ensure that "the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive." Consumers may find these green marketing details offer a fresh perspective on eco-friendly purchasing.

    Clarity is the weak point in "green" communication, on every level from packaging, advertising and marketing to disposal and consumer education. Which professionals and businesses will step forward to help those intent on "going green" and staying there?

    Resource: What’s Your Point? (Catapult Publishing )

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      About the author, PJ Wade

    Individual news stories are based upon the opinions of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of Realty Times.