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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Although environmental issues influence all human activities, few academic disciplines have integrated green issues into their literature. This is especially true of marketing. As society becomes more concerned with the natural environment, businesses have begun to modify their behavior in an attempt to address society's "new" concerns. Some businesses have been quick to accept concepts like environmental management systems and waste minimization, and have integrated environmental issues into all organizational activities. Some evidence of this is the development of journals such as "Business Strategy and the Environment" and "Greener Management International," which are specifically designed to disseminate research relating to business' environmental behaviour.

    One business area where environmental issues have received a great deal of discussion in the popular and professional press is marketing. Terms like "Green Marketing" and "Environmental Marketing" appear frequently in the popular press. Many governments around the world have become so concerned about green marketing activities that they have attempted to regulate them (Polonsky 1994a). For example, in the United States (US) the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Attorneys-General have developed extensive documents examining green marketing issues [FTC 1991, NAAG 1990]. One of the biggest problems with the green marketing area is that there has been little attempt to academically examine environmental or green marketing. While some literature does exist [Carlson, Grove and Kangun 1993, Davis 1992, Davis 1993], it comes from divergent perspectives.  

What Is Green Marketing

 Unfortunately, a majority of people believe that green marketing refers solely to the promotion or advertising of products with environmental characteristics. Terms like Phosphate Free, Recyclable, Refillable, Ozone Friendly, and Environmentally Friendly are some of the things consumers most often associate with green marketing. While these terms are green marketing claims, in general green marketing is a much broader concept, one that can be applied to consumer goods, industrial goods and even services. For example, around the world there are resorts that are beginning to promote themselves as "ecotourist" facilities, i.e., facilities that "specialize" in experiencing nature or operating in a fashion that minimizes their environmental impact [ May 1991, Ingram and Durst 1989, Troumbis 1991 ].

Thus green marketing incorporates a broad range of activities, including product modification, changes to the production process, packaging changes, as well as modifying advertising. Yet defining green marketing is not a simple task. Indeed the terminology used in this area has varied, it includes: Green Marketing, environmental Marketing and Ecological Marketing. While green marketing came into prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was first discussed much earlier. The American Marketing Association (AMA) held the first workshop on "Ecological Marketing" in 1975. The proceedings of this workshop resulted in one of the first books on green marketing entitled "Ecological Marketing" [Henion and Kinnear 1976a]. Since that time a number of other books on the topic have been published [Charter 1992, Coddington 1993, ottman 1993].

The AMA workshop attempted to bring together academics, practitioners, and public policy makers to examine marketing's impact on the natural environment. At this workshop ecological marketing was defined as: the study of the positive and negative aspects of marketing activities on pollution, energy depletion and nonenergy resource depletion. [Henion and Kinnear 1976b, 1].

This early definition has three key components,

  1) it is a subset of the overall marketing activity.

  2) it examines both the positive and negative activities

  3) a narrow range of environmental issues are examined.

    While this definition is a useful starting point, to be comprehensive green marketing needs to be more broadly defined. Before providing an alternative definition it should be noted that no one definition or terminology has been universally accepted. This lack of consistency is a large part of the problem, for how can an issue be evaluated if all researchers have a different perception of what they are researching. The following definition is much broader than those of other researchers and it encompasses all major components of other definitions.

 My definition is: Green or Environmental Marketing consists of all activities designed to generate and facilitate any exchanges intended to satisfy human needs or wants, such that the satisfaction of these needs and wants occurs, with minimal detrimental impact on the natural environment. [Polonsky 1994b, 2]

This definition incorporates much of the traditional components of the marketing definition, that is "All activities designed to generate and facilitate any exchanges intended to satisfy human needs or wants" [Stanton and Futrell 1987]. Therefore it ensures that the interests of the organization and all its consumers are protected, as voluntary exchange will not take place unless both the buyer and seller mutually benefit. The above definition also includes the protection of the natural environment, by attempting to minimize the detrimental impact this exchange has on the environment. This second point is important, for human consumption by its very nature is destructive to the natural environment. (To be accurate products making green claims should state they are "less environmentally harmful" rather than "Environmentally Friendly.") Thus green marketing should look at minimizing environmental harm, not necessarily eliminating it.

Why Is Green Marketing Important

The question of why green marketing has increased in importance is quite simple and relies on the basic definition of Economics:

    Economics is the study of how people use their limited resources to try to satisfy unlimited wants. [McTaggart, Findlay and Parkin 1992, 24]

Thus mankind has limited resources on the earth, with which she/he must attempt to provide for the worlds' unlimited wants. (There is extensive debate as to whether the earth is a resource at man's disposal, for example, see Gore 1993.) While the question of whether these wants are reasonable or achievable is important, this issue will not be addressed in this paper. In market societies where there is "freedom of choice", it has generally been accepted that individuals and organizations have the right to attempt to have their wants satisfied. As firms face limited natural resources, they must develop new or alternative ways of satisfying these unlimited wants. Ultimately green marketing looks at how marketing activities utilize these limited resources, while satisfying consumers wants, both of individuals and industry, as well as achieving the selling organization's objectives.

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