BRANDING GREEN: JUSTIFIED OR NOT?

23rd Dec 2010
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The concept of green branding indicates sustainability regarding not only the environmental aspect but from the socio-economic point of view as well. With a greater number of establishments trying to put up a responsible face by toeing the triple bottom line of "people, planet and profit" it becomes imperative to analyze how effective has green marketing been.This innovation has been quite a hit in the developed world with the consumers who seem to be willing to pay more in order to go green if we go by the surveys. The Green Brands Survey of 2007 predicted a 100 percent increase in American consumer spending on products perceived to be eco friendly. An IBM Global Energy & Utilities Industry poll in developed countries like UK, Germany, Japan and Netherlands reports 70 percent of the participants to be willing to pay more for greener options. Naturally, brands have duly obliged lead by forerunners like Walmart and Unilever. A perfect opportunity to cash in?

The corporate houses have to tread the path of caution. There is a fine line between being green and being perceived as green. BP learnt it the hard way when they went from Beyond Petroleum to being held accountable for one of the biggest oil spills in history. The trend of greenwashing is not a new occurrence. Of people, planet and profit, profit has understandably been the most important P while passing off the other two as priorities. If the marketing is not credible enough, in due time greenwashing will be prove to be effective adversely.

However, the dynamics in the developing world can prove to be quite different. The average Indian consumer is fairly oblivious to the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Summit or global warming for that matter. Ethical consumerism isn’t the first thing on his mind probably because he has more on his plate. He doesn’t care to purchase an electrically powered car like the Reva because its uneconomical no matter how clean it is. He doesn’t care about the emissions of his vehicle being Euro I or Euro II as long as the mileage is fine. Consequently, car manufacturers have been slack. The maximum number of Green Leaves an automobile company could garner was a paltry 3 out of 5 in the Green Rating program of the Centre for Science and Environment. Even the CFL bulb was able to take off only due to its marketed longevity rather than energy efficiency. The International Institute of Energy Conservation which is involved in the distribution of CFL in India puts generating consumer awareness as one of its primary aims. It has used significant discounts and long warranty periods to good effect to popularize CFLs.

In the Indian market, the product has to be competitive regardless of its sustainability which is something that has been quite unheard of till now. This is mainly because using recyclable or renewable material and investing in technology invariably drives up costs. Mere greenwash can risk brand image and lead to a backlash on the part of the consumers. Hence, with a not very responsive consumer, it would make sense to put green marketing on hold for a while and generate awareness instead to allow the Indian consumer to catch up.

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