AUTHOR: Shel Hotowitz
CERTIFIED SPEAKER: International Platform Association
MAIL: :email@example.com 413-586-2388
Award-winning, best-selling author of 10 books.
Latest: Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World
(co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson)
Sustainability Marketing For Green Products And Services
You want to make green sexy to your customers—but sexiness is in the eye of the beholder. Green businesses engage in sustainability marketing with at least three very different types of customers:
- “Deep Greens”: The Obsessed
They love sustainability. They read, follow the websites, attend the conferences… Win them over—they’re your champions. Disappoint—you’ve made enemies.
Make these prospects understand you’re one of them! Speak to them as respected peers who “get it.” But be sure that’s who you’re really talking to.
- “Lazy Greens”: The Interested
They like the idea, but they’re fuzzy on details, weak on commitment. If you show why and make it easy, they’ll buy. But don’t whack them over the head with the gritty details—they’ll shop elsewhere.
- “Non-Greens”/“Anti-Greens”: The Indifferent Or Hostile
They don’t care—or oppose your agenda. But address their pain points and goals and you win them over.
Sustainability Marketing For Each Audience
They ask “How will this lower my carbon footprint, energy consumption, waste, and resource use?”
Answer thoroughly, unintimidatingly, and with unflinching honesty. They’ll appreciate “we’re not there yet, but these are the steps we’re taking” but trash you publicly if you’re greenwashing.
Frame your messaging to Deep Greens around areas like:
- Social/Racial/Gender Justice
- Helping Disadvantaged Populations
Now, turn them into specific claims:
- “Our facility is 83% green-powered.” (specifics convince)
- “Working to achieve zero waste within two years by ______.” (explain how)
- “Using only recycled raw materials since 1950.”
- “Poor neighborhoods have a right to local, healthy, organic food.”
- “50 percent of our profits go to creating alternatives to poverty.”
Helping Disadvantaged Populations
- “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.”
- “For every one you buy—we donate one to a needy child.”
- “Microloans: Ending poverty by empowering tiny businesses.”
- “Reducing asthma in a polluted urban neighborhood through clean energy.”
- “Paying farmers living wages AND funding community development.”
- “Vote on how we distribute $100,000 to local charities.”
They recognize the crisis but aren’t focused on it. They might recycle and buy organic, but haven’t scrutinized their own lifestyles much.
This group expands the green sector. Some become Deep Green as they learn more—but far more move from Nongreen to Lazy Green. A Yale study found nearly 2/3 of the American public recognizes climate change is real. And 70% of US consumers look for green products. In 2020, the US health/sustainability market was $355 billion and growing 10% per year. Non-green is a competitive disadvantage!
For Lazy Greens, combine self-interest with planetary interest: doing right and getting great value. Explain the benefits—and reinforce their desire to preserve their children and grandchildren’s planet. Stress how green features create benefits like:
- Widely available
- Saves or makes money
- Solves or avoids problems
- Builds or creates community
- Supports a particular ethnic group or subculture
Here are example messages and points to make:
- “The warmest and softest slippers you’ll ever own, thanks to our special blend of all-natural fibers.”
- “This powerful shower makes you feel so good, you won’t believe how little water you’re using.”
- “Enjoy fresh veggies from our organic greenhouse all winter. Grab a scrumptious, juicy tomato off the vine.”
Saving or Making Money
- “You’ll pay only 1/3 as much for electricity.”
- “Earn thousands every year, selling Renewable Energy Credits to your utility.”
- “Double-sided printing cuts your paper costs by 40 percent.”
- “Let oil prices triple! Your green energy system protects you from price shock.”
Problem Solving or Avoidance
- “Forget HVAC headaches—the earth-friendly ventilation system has no moving parts to break down.”
- “50-year warranty, thanks to great eco-friendly design and durable all-natural materials.”
- “You’ll never worry about waste disposal again. With our fully compostable packaging, you’re adding soil nutrients, not paying to clog your landfill.”
- “You and your kids will make new friends in the organic community garden and certified nontoxic natural playground.”
- “Join an online eco-friendly social network just for residents of this Net Zero community.”
- “We celebrate customers’ and employees’ diversity.”
- “Owned/operated by your neighbors and fellow Martians.”
- “All events signed for our deaf customers.”
- “Made organically from our grandmother’s centuries-old family recipe.”
Non-Greens and Anti-Greens
They either don’t care or believe climate change is a scam to steal their freedom or job.
Logic and science won’t convince them. But don’t give up! Show how you create jobs, economic growth, and entrepreneurial success stories. If they hunt or fish, honor their strong connection to nature. And demonstrate those personal benefits! After they’ve bought for comfort, durability, value, etc., reveal that your product works better because it’s green.
You can even reach conservative values buyers—if you talk to them as they wish to be talked to. Use their own language and passions. Never patronize or dismiss their concerns.
Van Jones goes outside to talk with Tea Partiers who protest his appearances about environmental issues. He respectfully asks, “what branch did you serve in?” Instantly, he makes a human connection, citing his own military family members.
Then he invites them to come inside, sit in the front row, and command the microphone the first time they hear him say anything unpatriotic.
Onstage, he moves in: “Shouldn’t every American have the right and the liberty to power their own homes…and sell that power on that grid to anybody they want to sell it to? Why are you letting Americans be dictated to by monopoly power?”
Jones counters Tea Partier complaints that solar gets unfair government subsidies, noting that even oil companies netting $60 million per day profit receive massive subsidies; he’d love their help eliminating all energy subsidies.
Finally, he pulls their heartstrings: “You close your meetings with America the Beautiful—but you got these people destroying America’s beauty, and you let those little 350.org kids be the only ones defending America.”
More message points for this challenging audience:
- Be a job creator: labor-intensive clean energy produces far more jobs than dirty, capital-intensive fossil or nuclear.
- The mushrooming green sector is the next entrepreneurship frontier. Whatever you believe about climate change, you can profit as Clorox, Ford, Walmart, and General Electric do. Many successful green-company CEOs, including Whole Foods founder John Mackey, identify as libertarian/conservative.
- Slash energy/materials/waste costs.
- Support the same creative entrepreneurship and gumption that built this great country. The US led in renewable energy but Germany and China surpassed us. Let’s reclaim that leadership!
- Encourage community resilience and disaster preparedness. Solar, wind and geothermal users can still heat, cook, and run machines when storms take down centralized power systems, earthquakes wreck pipelines, and foreign dictatorships shut off supplies.
- Demand that those responsible take responsibility. Why should we ordinary citizens pay for corporate greed? Demand accounting procedures that cover lifecycle costs like waste disposal and pollution cleanup.
Another approach: harness their hostility—use “marketing jiu-jitsu”—like these clever librarians (follow the link in the footnote).
Sustainability Marketing and Strategy
As marketers in the green/socially conscious space, we naturally attract Deep Greens. We can also convert Hummer-driving, cigar-smoking, anti-greens to allies—once they see it helps the bottom line. And their support gives us legitimacy.
Don’t we need our “enemies” as much as our friends? Can we “ju-jitsu” their hostility into support? Improve your messaging now; be prepared when they shift.
Worth noting: Deep/Lazy/Non is only one way to divide things. For instance, one study subdivides environmental activists (Deep Greens) into Ecological Activists, Smart Growth Reformers, and Ecomodernists
- In any market, differentiate among those obsessed, interested, and indifferent or hostile
- Green products and services can appeal differently to these three different types
- Find at least one major green process you can highlight within your current business
- Turn at least three attributes into benefits
- Create five talking points each to reach Deep Green, Lazy Green, and Nongreen audiences; share with your sustainability marketing department
- Identify one or two green-hostile acquaintances. Start non-threatening conversations to search for common ground.
About the Author
Green and regenerative business profitability and sustainability marketing strategist and copywriter Shel Horowitz’s mission is to fix crises like catastrophic climate change, pollution, hunger, poverty, racism/othering, and even war—by showing the business world how products and services that fix them can make a profit. An author, international speaker, and TEDx Talker, he will be contributing content to Green Business Bureau regularly. Find future articles at greenbusinessbureau.com/blog. This article is condensed and adapted from his award-winning 10th book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, which lays out a blueprint for creating, repurposing, and MARKETING those profitable change-making products and services.
If you’re a Green Business Bureau member, Shel offers you a 10% discount on your first project with him, from $19.50 savings on a one-hour small-business consultation up to a maximum discount of $500 for projects of $5000 or more. He will also expand his standard 15-minute free initial consultation to a full 30 minutes for GBB members. He is happy to help you:
- Develop or refine your overall positioning, marketing and profitability strategy, and target markets
- Identify new markets for existing products and services as well as new products and services you can market to your existing base
- Create individually tailored product-specific or overall marketing plans that harness your strengths and avoid your weaknesses
- Write marketing materials such as “story-behind-the-story” press releases, web page copy, sales letters, media pitch letters, partnership or JM (joint venture) proposals, articles, LinkedIn profiles, social media posts, even entire books
Book your no-cost initial consultation at https://goingbeyondsustainability.com/contact/ (either call or use the scheduling link). Download excerpts from the book or order your very own copy (autographs available) at https://goingbeyondsustainability.com/guerrilla-marketing-to-heal-the-world/ . Access 11 different freebies including a green/regenerative self-assessment and Shel’s Painless Green ebook of 111 tips to reduce your water and energy use at https://goingbeyondsustainability.com/freebies/