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A Sustainable Design Blog

How Green Can Go Mainstream

The demographic known as the “Super Greens” are your best friends. They are the people who will always pay more for organic, recycled, eco, and sustainable products. They also make up only 16% of the American buying public; a number that has remained the same for the past 30 years and shows no signs of change. If you’re marketing your product to this small audience, you’re missing out on 84% of possible sales. So if you want to go big, it’s time to think about mainstreaming.

Greenbiz posted a great article on all of this research from OgilvyEarth (along with the 11 Steps to Mainstream Your Green Product pasted below) and it made me both sad and happy. I'm bummed to hear that there will be no big boom in the number of people who are willing to align their purchases with their ethics. However I'm happy to hear that what I've been telling clients for a long time now is still holding true – just because your product is green, doesn't mean that it's good.

If we ever hope to see a jump in the population of Super Greens, then we're going to have to make eco products better, not just green. The fact that the product is sustainable in any way should just be a hallmark of it's quality, superior function, and excellent design. Few people will buy a Mac because it can be returned to the store at the end of its useful life and most of its parts will be recycled. They buy a Mac because it works better, last longer, and looks sexier than anything else on the market. If all green products were like this, people would consider sustainable synonomous with better.

Think this isn't possible? Look at the insanely robust local food movement. As the USDA Deputy Secretary put it "Local retail is the biggest food trend we've seen in decades." People are more likely to shop at a grocery store selling more local products. Why? Because everyone, regardless of political affiliation, gender, age, or social status, has come to understand that local food is better – its more flavorful, lasts longer in the fridge, is better for the local economy, and isn't cost prohibitive. Why wouldn't you buy it?

If the sustainable products industry set out to do things better across the board, the American consumer would happily support it. That's marketing 101. Here are 11 logical steps from Greenbiz to get you started:

  1. Make it normal -- Make people feel like everyone is doing it.
  2. Make it personal -- No polar bears, use local examples that affect them.
  3. Create better defaults -- If green is the default, them people don't have to decide to be green.
  4. Eliminate the sustainability tax -- Eliminating the price barrier eliminates the notion that these products are not for normal people.
  5. Bribe shamelessly -- Reward good behavior.
  6. Punish wisely -- Shame, stigma and guilt are powerful motivators, unless used too much.
  7. Don't stop innovating -- Make better stuff.
  8. Lose the crunch -- Don't package in burlap!
  9. Turn eco-friendly into male ego-friendly -- incorporate gadgets, games, sports or other male oriented approaches.
  10. Make it tangible and easy to navigate -- Close the feedback loop, have transparency and a very good road map.
  11. Tap into hedonism over altruism -- Help consumers see the fun side of sustainable lifestyle.

The bottom line: make it easy (and normal) to be green by addressing social needs and getting back to marketing basics.

Photo by cherrylet

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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