The Dangers of Wooing the Green Consumer

Businesses trying to establish their products or services as “green” often make a potentially lethal mistake: They think their target market is “green consumers.” Those people who seek out eco-friendly products, shop at Whole Foods and drive Toyota Priuses. They play up the eco-friendliness of their product or service in hopes it will reel in customers.


The problem is, studies find that only a small portion of U.S. consumers make purchasing decisions based primarily on environmental reasons. And those who do have very diverse reasons: Some buy environmentally products for health reasons, while others hate wasting resources. This article on Harvard Business Review on the different types of green consumers and what they look for further explains.

What ultimately happens is a business chases all sorts of green consumers and loses its focus, its edge. It spends so much time worrying about its green benefits that it forgets about more important aspects of its products such as quality, value and attractive design. More consumers buy products for these reasons than they do environmental ones.

Some companies, think Method cleaning products and New Belgium Brewing, have done a good job of being known for their sustainability efforts without letting it overshadow the brand.

Here are some tips for pulling it off:

Focus on product first:  It’s great to be an environmentally conscious brand, but that’s not usually enough to get people to buy. To really compete, your products need to be just as good, effective and beautiful as your competitors’ products – preferably more so. Once you’ve nailed down the things that actually sell products and services, then think about how you can make it green.

Know your customers: What kind of green consumer buys your products and why? Do they buy them because they want to conserve resources, protect wildlife or for health reasons? Understanding who is buying your product and for what reason can help ensure you’re putting out effective messages and marketing.

Don’t overstate the environmental benefits: Consumers are becoming leerier of green marketing and it can create backlash if they realize they’ve been misled. It’s better to focus your marketing on your products’ other benefits. Then explain how the environmental benefits make your them even better. It also helps your green strides feel more authentic.

Caution Photo via Shutterstock


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

4 Reactions
  1. Finding your target market and learning how to communicate to them on their terms is key to building a successful business. You give great information here about what features and benefits most (even green) consumers look for when purchasing products. I have a couple of new green clients that I’m building Marketing Plans for and this information is very helpful. Thank you!
    Carolyn Higgins, Fortune Marketing Company

  2. The Prius is a great example of how to do it right. The product is well-made and reliable (piggybacking on Toyota’s reputation and brand) as well as provides excellent fuel economy (in a tight economy with rising gas prices). So even if the Prius is a “green” choice, many people buy for the quality and economy.

  3. I can’t say absolutely what Dawn dishwashing liquid did, but their main pull used to be its effective grease “busting” abilities. They no longer get money from a number of consumers as well as myself, because they either tried to make their product a little more “green” or just cut costs in the production phase, but what resulted was a diluted sub-par product with no effectiveness. I and several acquaintances all are giving our money to another product which is cheaper and does better than the ‘new’ Dawn. I don’t have a problem with “going green” but when you’ve got a winning formula don’t change it.