Green Marketing

Green marketing is a way to use the environmental benefits of a product or service to promote sales. Many consumers will choose products that do not damage the environment over less environmentally friendly products, even if they cost more. With green marketing, advertisers focus on environmental benefits to sell products such as biodegradable diapers, energy-efficient light bulbs, and environmentally safe detergents.

People buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services every year—many which harm the environment in how they are harvested, made, or used. Environmentalists support green marketing to encourage people to use environmentally preferable alternatives, and to offer incentives to manufacturers that develop more environmentally beneficial products.

The concept of green marketing has been around at least since the first Earth Day in 1970. But the idea did not catch on until the 1980s, when rising public interest in the environment led to a demand for more green products and services. Manufacturers responded to public interest by labeling hundreds of new products "environmentally friendly"—making claims that products were biodegradable, compostable, energy efficient, or the like.

In spite of its growing popularity, the green marketing movement faced serious setbacks in the late 1980s because many industries made false claims about their products and services. For instance, the environmental organization CorpWatch, which issues annually a list of the top ten "greenwashing" companies, included BP Amoco for advertising its "Plug in the Sun" program, in which the company installed solar panels in two hundred gas stations, while continuing to aggressively lobby to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Without environmental labeling standards, consumers could not tell which products and services were truly beneficial. Consumers ended up paying extra for misrepresented products. The media came up with the term "greenwashing" to describe cases where organizations misrepresented themselves as environmentally responsible.

In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped in to prevent further deception. The FTC created guidelines for the use of environmental marketing claims such as "recyclable," "biodegradable," "compostable," and the like. The FTC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defined "environmentally preferable products" as products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to other products and services that serve the same purpose. The label "environmentally preferable" considers how raw materials are acquired, produced, manufactured, packaged, distributed, reused, operated, maintained, or how the product or service is disposed.

Today, special labels help the public identify legitimate environmentally preferable products and services. Several environmental groups evaluate and certify products and services that meet FTC standards—or their own tougher standards. One popular product that has received certification is shade-grown coffee, an alternative to coffee beans that are grown on deforested land in the tropics.

During the late 1990s, green marketing received a large boost when President Bill Clinton issued executive orders directing federal offices to purchase recycled and environmentally preferable products. Some industries adopted similar policies.

Examples of environmentally-beneficial products and services:

  • Paper containing post-consumer wastepaper
  • Cereals sold without excess packaging
  • Shade-grown coffee beans
  • Cleaning supplies that do not harm humans or environment
  • Wood harvested from sustainable forests
  • Energy-efficient lightbulbs
  • Energy-efficient cars
  • Energy from renewable sources of energy such as windmills and solar power


Ottoman, Jacquelyn, and Miller, Edmond Shoaled. (1999). Green Marketing Opportunities for Innovation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Internet Resource

Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection. Environmental Marketing Claims. Available from .

Corliss Karasov

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