Turn greener products into a profitable business strategy

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Green marketing works, sometimes spectacularly well, but getting results takes courage. That’s my takeaway from the second edition of “Greener Products” by Al Iannuzzi, senior director of Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability (EHS&S) at Johnson & Johnson. Fortunately, courage comes more easily when you have the evidence to build belief within your organization and a roadmap to achieve results.

“Greener Products” draws from extensive case study research, as well as Iannuzzi’s own experience in spearheading sustainable marketing strategies for one of the world’s largest brands. The handbook covers a wide range of topics that influence marketing strategy, with an accessible format that enables readers to broaden their knowledge of end-to-end green product development while going deeper into those aspects most relevant to them.

Diving in at business-to-business (B2B) green marketing, I noted that the second edition keeps pace with the evolution of the field, a valuable feature for corporate decision-makers who struggle to stay abreast of changes within an emerging discipline.

According to the second edition, the five traits of successful green marketing include:

  1. Greener products are woven into the business strategy.
  2. Understand customers’ desires and goals, and align greener products to meet these needs.
  3. Clearly communicate greener characteristics with third-party certifications or company-branded programs. Use of communication tools such as environmental products profiles or company-generated labels.
  4. Be authentic and credible in all marketing efforts, substantiate all claims and be transparent.
  5. Sustainable branding is an enhancement to other brand qualities — the idea that it’s a great product and it has all these sustainable attributes.

The first element represents a departure from the first edition, in which “a commitment from top management” held the top position (see this excerpt). The new emphasis on greener products as “woven into the business strategy” reflects a wider acceptance of green marketing in the past five years, as evidenced by numerous case studies in the book, including that of General Electric’s Ecomagination initiative, arguably the most successful B2B green marketing campaign created.

In the excerpt below, the author summarizes Ecomagination, a campaign he unpacks in several chapters of the book:

Ecomagination is a well-rounded top-down initiative that has been given significant attention by GE management. You would be hard-pressed not to have heard of this program since the company has used television commercials, print advertisements and digital marketing to communicate their greener product offerings. The company tags products that have improved environmental performance as Ecomagination, distributes reports and brochures, and maintains a dedicated website, and their CEO is very public in speaking about the financial and environmental benefits of this initiative.

Some companies pay lip service to sustainability but then fail to maintain an active presence or produce innovative products, but Greener Products focuses only on companies that are committed to strategies that produce results. As an example, GE has continued to demonstrate the practices that are described in the book.

Looking at the Ecomagination website, the results of more than a decade of dedication to product sustainability as a business strategy are abundantly clear. The company notes:

Ecomagination is GE’s growth strategy to enhance resource productivity and reduce environmental impact at a global scale through commercial solutions for our customers and through our own operations. As a part of this strategy, we are investing in cleaner technology and business innovation, developing solutions to enable economic growth while avoiding emissions and reducing water consumption, committing to reduce the environmental impact in our own operations, and developing strategic partnerships to solve some of the toughest environmental challenges at scale to create a cleaner, faster, smarter tomorrow.

In short, GE’s sustainability strategy is integrated: it’s a source of innovation, a pathway to operational efficiency, a reflection of core values and a driver of growth.

“For 12 years, GE has been committed to Ecomagination, our business strategy to deliver clean technology solutions that drive positive economic and environmental outcomes for our customers and the world,” stated a GE executive on the website, offering one of many perspectives on this multi-faceted, deeply embedded green marketing program. The website also provides in-depth thought leadership, which is increasingly essential for sophisticated B2B marketing.

By consistently putting sustainability communication strategy on par with greener product development, the author demonstrates how the two work in tandem to achieve maximum ROI.

“What good is a greener product if no one knows about it?” said Iannuzzi in an interview. “The appropriate communication of the greener attributes of your product is just as important as having an improved product.”

Positioning one’s green marketing strategy as a business strategy may seem obvious, but GE’s success is more than a decade in the making and the path ahead was murky. As a marketer, I particularly appreciated the author’s product development chapters, which trace the steps that GE and dozens of other companies on their journeys toward integrating greener products into their portfolios. The steps described in the case studies in terms of both product development and marketing reflect lessons that readers immediately can leverage without incurring the costs and risks that the first-movers had to incur.