4 pitfalls to avoid in green marketing

[Editor's note: Public opinion polls are a key tool for green marketing, but also bring some challenges that can lead companies astray. This article evaluates a recent poll from The Washington Post and discusses what it reveals about four common consumer mindsets -- and how marketers can target those groups to sell green products more effectively.]

Public opinion about the environment shifts constantly; it’s tough to calibrate your green marketing efforts when each new opinion poll reports different results. For example, a recent Washington Post survey asked,

“Thinking ahead to 10 or so years from now, do you think the natural environment in the world will be better, worse, or about the same?”

The results were:










You may agree or disagree with the opinions in this poll. You may feel shocked or validated by their results. Either way, it’s important to remember that how you feel about the results is only part of the bigger picture. What polls like this reveal is that public opinion about the environment can be broken down roughly into three groups. Each of your green marketing campaigns must specifically address one of them. The problem is that perils lurk in those percentages…but we don’t mean peril in the literal sense. Instead, we mean that each one of these groups can present pitfalls that you need to consider when delivering your green marketing message.


Whether or not you agree with the “better” camp of environmental opinion – that the environment is improving, or that any specific aspect of it is getting better—you have to recognize the challenges your green marketing message may encounter. When marketing to the “better” camp of opinion, the risk is that people may view your green marketing message as unnecessary or superfluous. Members of this camp can range from the crotchety old-timer who claims that in his or her day they dumped glowing toxic waste straight into the rivers and we’re all just fine, to the optimistic front-line environmentalist who believes that things are improving and will continue to improve.

How do you speak to this audience? Your methods may vary. Here are some possible approaches:

  • The "in-your-face" emotional reality check
  • A clean, straightforward presentation of the facts, with a strong call to action
  • Downplay the question, instead focusing on product benefits and including "green" as a perk
  • Agree with their position, subtly attributing environmental improvement to products like yours


Next page: How to communicate with "worse," "same" and "unsure" perspectives