(Hint: They are everywhere.)
Arguably as recently as 20 years ago, the so-called “green consumer” fit into a certain demographic that many companies considered a narrow one and not necessarily an economically viable “target” for advertising and marketing dollars. If, however, you are still thinking that today’s “green consumer” is a narrow segment of the population, you are operating in the past, and more importantly, missing out on a very important, very broad market for your products and services. For example, in a recent study commissioned by retailer Plow and Hearth (a subsidiary of 1-800-Flowers.Com Inc.), it was reported that 55% of women and 45%of men intended to purchase green products during the holiday season. (“Holiday Shoppers Plan to Spend More on Green Gifts.” Portland Business Journal. November 24, 2008). Likewise, in a recent report released by Green Seal, an independent nonprofit product certification organization, and EnviroMedia Social Marketing, four out of five people reported that they are still buying “green” today, notwithstanding the current tough economic times. (“Green Purchasing Up, Despite Economy.” Livescience.Com. February 7, 2009.)
In fact, it turns out that some very good, very reputable, and very profitable companies have evolved their business plans to target, or at least to include, today’s green consumer, with the knowledge that today’s green consumer is young and not-so-young , male and female, stay-at-home parent and career professional.
Method: Bringing Green to the Mainstream & Earning Green
Take Method for example. Method was started in 1999 by two young entrepeneurs, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry. Essentially Ryan and Lowry sought to market household cleaning products that not only appeal to today’s green consumer’s green conscience, but also to his/her aethetics, convenience, and pocketbook. The Method philosophy is that by creating a product that is stylish, consumers will be attracted to the product, and by creating a product that works, consumers will stick with the product once they try it. By creating a product that is effective and looks good (but is environmentally sound in its composition, effect, and packaging), Method seeks to reach a broader audience than other household cleaning product companies.
As a panelist at a 2007 New Yorker Magazine Conference Program entitled: “Solutions 2012: Stories from the Near Future”, Adam Lowry described how his company is all about “bringing green to mainstream.” In fact, Lowry left his work as a climate scientist in the public sector because he felt that his work was only “preaching to the converted” and he was dealing primarily in an area that separated – rather than integrated – ecology and economics. Lowry was certain that it was possible to work in the business sector and still align ecology and economics, and the success of Method has proven his point. In fact, in 2002, Method obtained a distribution deal with Target Corporation, a move that has really led the way for Method to reach mainstream green consumers.
However, unlike the “converted” that Lowry previously targeted in his work as a climate scientist, Lowry acknowledges that today’s mainstream green consumer is not likely to be willing to make sacrifices in order to purchase a green product. Thus, in order to effectively target and include today’s green consumer, Method focuses on “total quality” of which green is certainly a component, as is efficacy and design. Method focuses on creating household cleaning products that work without harsh toxic chemicals, but instead are made with naturally derived, biodegradable ingredients. Their products apparently work by absorbing dirt rather than chemically degrading it. Method also maintains a green corporate philosophy, pledging to reduce “carbon emissions by planting forests and by buying electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind energy”. The packaging is natural too; for example they make recyclable bottles from 100% recycled plastic. [Source: www.methodhome.com]
Method consumers have responded positively to the company and its products, and Method has a name for its most passionate consumers: People Against Dirty. The company provides a forum on their website for People Against Dirty and tries to encourage them to disseminate the corporate message by arming them with company information and samples. It is a grassroots movement of sorts and at the 2007 New Yorker conference, Adam Lowry was quick to credit the success of the company in part upon this movement, noting that it is often more effective than a 30-second commercial.
TerraCycle: Eco-Conscious and Profit-Driven
Another company targeting the mainstream green consumer is a company called TerraCycle. Also the brainchild of young entrepeneurs, TerraCycle was founded in 2001 by two Princeton University students, Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer, who created TerraCycle Plant Food, an all-natural, all-organic, liquid plant food made from worm waste and packaged in reused soda bottles. TerraCycle Plant Food is now sold in Home Depot, reaching a broad audience of consumers, including today’s green consumer.
TerraCycle, like Method , evolved from the founders’ notion that a company could be financially successful while still being ecologically and socially responsible. Like Method, TerraCycle has its own corporate conscience and even grassroots movements, including recycling programs established with various schools that collect bottles for TerraCycle’s packaging, in return for school donations. TerraCycle also has instituted several “Sponsored Waste” programs, whereby corporations pay TerraCycle to collect their waste products (such as candy wrappers, juice and yogurt containers) and “upcycle” them, that is, create a new usable product. Examples are pouches, shower curtains and totebags that TerraCycle sells on its website and in stores such as Wal-Mart and Target.
Method and TerraCycle: Sustainable, Innovative & Successful
As described above, Method and TerraCycle share several main attributes in common, attributes that any small business would be wise to emulate, as these practices have not only made the companies better companies, they have arguably helped them to broaden their customer base and increase sales.
- They both market products that are environmentally friendly.
- They both package the products in recycled and otherwise environmentally friendly packaging.
- Both maintain a corporate conscience as evidenced by their corporate participation in environmental and social programs.
- Lastly, both companies have fostered grassroots movements that both complement their corporate conscience and help to advance their marketing aims.
But the similarities do not end there. Both companies recognize that today’s green consumer will not always make sacrifices to buy green. This means that the price point, aesthetics, and most importantly – quality – cannot be ignored in creating and marketing your “green product.” Put simply, while companies like TerraCycle and Method were founded on the belief that ecology and economics need not be segregated to market to the green consumer; these companies have prospered due to the realization that product quality and the environment need not be segregated – indeed cannot be segregated – to effectively market to today’s green consumer, who is – did I mention? – everywhere.
By Amy K. Impellizzeri