Using Corporate Environmental Responsibility for Marketing Purposes
The question of using environmental issues as a marketing tool is challenging, particularly in Israel where the common archaic perception of the environment still prevails – that it must go hand in hand with philanthropy and moral and advertising ethics. Eyebrows are often raised when organizations and corporations make marketing-advertising use of their environmental strategy. But do they? Is there anything wrong about using corporate environmental activities to boost a company’s image and profit, as long as these are genuine activities and not just “greenwashing” that misleads consumers?
The cycle is quite simple: Environmental marketing helps consumers become more involved and engaged, boosts profitability for corporations, and, consequently, increases knowledge and awareness. In this sense, it is definitely a win-win situation, with the largest profit being preserving the interest of corporations to promote more genuine environmental action – reducing pollution and consumption of resources, streamlining operations and budgeting environmental costs. But there is certainly a fine line here that may be crossed. On the one hand, environmental marketing is a an important tool for promoting corporate environmental responsibility – without advertising income, it is unlikely that we may convince giant corporations to engage in more corporate responsibility practices.
On the other hand, it is a slippery slope. Advertisers and marketers would be well-advised to carefully examine the campaign they use when touching on such a sensitive issue as corporate environmental activity. In a cynical and informed world, it is difficult to trick consumers, and things can easily deteriorate to greenwashing. In this sense, it is important to “tie all ends” regarding what exactly is being done by the company, which processes become exposed to environmental criticism, what further measures should be adopted and where the company stands in terms of objectives and budgets.
The desire to be rewarded for actions is legitimate, understandable and demonstrated not only by giant corporations. Schools that collect waste under our collection programs seek reward for their actions – whether by contributing back to organizations of their choice or by simply gaining recognition for their efforts in the form of reducing the amount of waste they send to landfilling.
In Israel, for example, schools repeatedly tell us how our snack packs collection program, which is operated with the salty snacks division at Strauss , provides an opportunity for pupils to absorb more environmental contents that are already taught in school, and how the mere collection and separation of waste provides a tremendous reward for pupils who realize first-hand how a change can be created. This, of course, is coupled with a financial contribution attached to each item of collected waste, which goes back to the same given school. Studies show time and again that without substantial external motivation, a relatively low percentage of consumers will choose environmental products. This means that environmental marketing – being a mechanism that shapes ideas and concepts, among other things, and thus becoming a rewarding tool – can serve as a means to promote better environmental choices in both our specific consumer behavior and in our general conduct.
As founder and CEO of TerraCycle – whose goal is to establish nationwide collection and recycling programs for difficult-to-treat waste streams, funded by the manufacturers themselves – I see time and again how a comprehensive marketing message about environmental efforts of a brand (representing a significant activity, of course) can yield massive profit to the companies that work with us.
Such profit – whether a growth in market shares or building a positive reputation – is precisely the reason for other corporations to join in and invest in financing more complex, large-scale and value-driven environmental programs. It is important to understand – companies that work with us, like the salty snacks division of Strauss Israel, and finances the collection and recycling of empty snack packs, choose consciously and clearly to allocate a substantial budget to a comprehensive environmental program that includes nationwide collection and recycling of their products and/or packaging waste.
This is, first and foremost, the purpose of our program – marketing support is a necessary incentive for companies which pay us, to continue to do so! And as they keep funding, we keep collecting more and more waste at increasing pace and quantities (our collection programs tend to grow exponentially every year).
Bottom line: Don’t be a hypocrite – compensation is a necessary motivational element, especially when it comes to a financial expenditure or investment of efforts. If we manage to regard environmental marketing as a reward, for corporations that increase their visibility through it or for consumers who learn to regard the “environmentalism” of products as an attractive element, we can use it to achieve one single goal… leverage corporate environmental activity to ever-increasing scopes with a truly significant environmental impact.