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Gail Nickel-Kailing, managing director of Business Strategies Etc.

Shades of Green

By Gail Nickel-Kailing

About Gail

A business adviser and problem solver, Gail is managing director of Business Strategies Etc., which provides strategic marketing and business planning services and manages the execution of marketing communications tactics that help companies:
• Define their sustainability strategies,
• Deliver a positive, sustainable image,
• Gain credibility, trust and respect, and
• Measure the results of their green initiatives and actions.

Gail is a nationally recognized speaker on a wide range of subjects and brings enthusiasm and a unique blend of experience to the podium. As an industry analyst and journalist contributing to publications in the United States, Canada, India and Brazil, she has covered a number of beats, particularly sustainability in printing and mailing, print on demand, variable data printing and direct mail.

Moving Sustainability from Niche to Normal

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As print service providers—whether you print promotional materials, direct mail or packages and labels—knowing the issues your customers face will help you better solve their problems. Your customers’ customers—consumers—look differently at environmentally friendly products depending where they fall on the green continuum.

Today we take a quick look at a recent report by Graceann Bennett and Freya Williams, “Mainstream Green: Moving Sustainability From Niche to Normal,” which examines consumer behavior and how to motivate behavioral change.

The following is a short summary of the research, and a copy of the report is available through the link below.

Mainstream Green

If we are to motivate a mass green movement, perhaps those of us most committed to the green movement need to stop trying to get the masses to see things our way and instead get better at seeing things their way.

While we have been relatively good at getting people to believe in the importance of more sustainable behaviors, practices and purchases, we have been unable to convert this belief fully into action.

This gap between stated importance and behavior or action is what we at OgilvyEarth call the “Green Gap.” Closing the Green Gap is a necessary step if we are to create a sustainable society.

The author’s research shows us the path to closing the Green Gap is through popularizing and normalizing the desired behavior. Normal is sustainable.

We have been expending a disproportionate amount of our energy and marketing dollars trying to change people’s beliefs, values and attitudes. The study indicates that we should turn this effort on its head and shift the emphasis to changing behavior.

If we want green behaviors to be widespread, then we need to treat them as mass ideas with mass communications, not elite ideas with niche communications.

When Bennett and Williams asked Americans to whom they thought green products were generally marketed, half the respondents thought green products are targeted to “Crunchy Granola Hippies” or “Rich/Elitist Snobs.” Until green products and services feel normal, the middle is unlikely to change behavior.

At the very least, the perception out there is that it takes green to be green. There is a prevailing belief among the masses that they are being excluded from the green movement because they simply aren’t rich or cool enough to participate.

Messages motivating all of us to more sustainable behavior need to adhere to another three Ps beyond people, profit and planet. They will be most successful if they are personal, positive and plausible.

In any lifestyle area where self-deprivation plays a role (or a perceived role), people will start to calculate tradeoffs. It’s a natural cognitive habit to set up a system of comparables and to balance credits and debits according to loose criteria of our own devising.

The report identifies 12 ways to close the green gap:

1. Make it normal. Normal is sustainable. Normal drives the popularity needed for a mass movement.

2. Make it personal. Ask not what the consumer can do for sustainability; ask what sustainability can do for them—and then show them.

3. Create better defaults. If green is the default, people don’t have to decide to be green.

4. Eliminate the sustainability tax. Sin tax is one thing, but consumers shouldn’t have to pay a tax for their virtuous behavior.

5. Bribe shamelessly. Gold stars, cash, kudos, treats—we all love rewards for our good behavior.

6. Punish wisely. Shame, stigma, and guilt are powerful motivators unless they are used too much.

7. Don’t stop innovating. Make better stuff. We don’t like going backwards. High performing sustainable choices are key for mass adoption.

8. Lose the crunch. Green marketing needs to be more mainstream hip than off -the-grid hippie.

9. Turn eco-friendly into male ego-friendly. Girly green is not a sustainable proposition for the manly man.

10. Make it tangible. Sustainability is harder to follow when you can’t see the trail. Find ways to help consumers see the unseeable and calculate the crazy calculus.

11. Make it easy to navigate. Eco-suspicion and eco-confusion need to be addressed with truth, transparency, and a very good road map.

12. Tap into hedonism over altruism. The green space can seem full of self-righteous killjoy moments and people. Help consumers see all the fun they can have on the green side of life.

The mainstream consumer is still the mainstream consumer. It’s time to forge a new era of sustainability marketing in which we marketers come to realize that “normal” is not a dirty word. Normal is mainstream, normal is popular and, above all, normal is the key to sustainability.

Download a copy (PDF) of “Mainstream Green” by Graceann Bennett & Freya Williams.

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