Joel Makower: Green Marketing is OVER

A repost of a blog entry for Provisions Library from June 8, 2011:


Joel Makower, co-founder and executive editor of, recently declared green marketing is dead. The data shows that selling green goods to consumers does not create a sustainable economy. Successful businesses that embody sustainable principles are not marketing their products and services as green.

Makower provides five reasons why green marketing is counterproductive. First, it is not working because “people trust the brand, but not the companies behind the brand.” Second, for most large companies green products are a niche market. Third, green marketing is not changing consumers’ purchasing habits. When making a purchasing decision, a majority of consumers choose short-term cost savings over long-term environmental and social benefits. Fourth, it “creates a false sense of engagement and action – that we can shop our way to environmental health…creates an excuse for consumers to not do more.” Finally, green marketing is missing the bigger story: how companies are manufacturing their products with less resources or finding cost savings through end-of-life solutions for their products by reclaiming the material.

What is green marketing? It became popular in the late 1980’s. Two primary influences were the Brundtland Report (created by the World Commision on Environment and Development) and the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Reports created by companies such as Ben & Jerry’s and the Bodyshop. Some of the results of green marketing are labels (organic, recycled), and creating third-party certification systems (Green Building, Fair-Trade).

However, green marketing’s primary challenge has been the lack of consensus on what a green product should be and how to measure the impact of these products. In my opinion, one of the best summaries of green marketing was made by John Grant in his book Green Marketing Manifesto. He created a 3×3 matrix that categorizes a company’s products or services into nine segments. A summary of this matrix is available on slides 3 and 4 of Grant’s presentation.

In the article, Makower concludes that what works is transparency. A company that is transparent in its business dealings tends to be more accountable for its actions. Companies that embrace sustainability principles tend to focus less on marketing their products or services as green. They tend to engage the stakeholders, ranging from their employees, customers, and supply chain.


About John Costa

I am a farmer in training with a background in finance, organizational sustainability, and project management. My expertise is making the business case for local food enterprises.
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