If there has ever been an easy target for the green movement, it is the direct marketing industry. The sheer volume of paper, not to mention vehicle exhaust from land and air transportation, have encouraged advocacy groups to support do-not-mail lists or request that catalogers use recycled paper.
Dave Frankland, a senior analyst at Forrester Research whose research agenda covers database marketing and marketing services, currently has a survey in the field to assess just how green direct marketing is, based on his observations of typical behavior patterns.
“[Companies] send a lot of direct mail when prospecting for customers, but once they convert leads into customers, they try to convert the customer to paying bills online,” said Frankland. He added that the argument that “online is easier” has now shifted to “online is more environmentally friendly.”
But is marketing on the computer any more green than marketing to the mailbox? Digital marketing is delivered through a network of data centers, servers, backup systems, computers and mobile phones, all of which are made of plastic and toxic components, consume large amounts of energy and are rarely recycled. Therefore, online marketing “is not a carbon neutral act,” said Marc Alt of Marc Alt & Partners, an agency that focuses on green innovation.
This thinking prompted Alt to organize the Greener Gadgets conference, held this month to promote the innovations that will shape the future of the consumer electronics industry. The good news, according to Alt, is that Sun, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Google — sample firms that populate the value chain required to deliver online marketing — are investing in sustainable solutions.
The event featured innovations ranging from the Nokia 3100 Evolve, a phone made of renewable bioplastics that consumes less energy, to Intel’s partnership with Climatesaverscomputing.org to educate consumers on energy saving tactics.
“Consumer education is a huge part of the green equation, and this can be largely solved through marketing,” commented Jennifer van der Meer, panel moderator and chair of O2 New York. She advised marketers to “shift the green marketing story from grand company promises to tangible product truths. As consumers, we’re passed awareness and we’re ready to take action, so communicate the impact of what we purchase, use, repurpose and recycle.”
The Greener Gadgets conference and other initiatives spring from one simple point: Because electronic communication is obviously here to stay, firms are rethinking product design, energy consumption and recycling methods to make it safer for people and the environment. Valerie Casey, global practice head at Ideo and founder of the Designers Accord, agreed that the onus is on manufacturers and marketers to go beyond obvious fixes.
“While marketing to the green consumer might be lucrative, consumers simply won’t adopt a green product unless it delivers a real and differentiated benefit when compared to its ‘dirty’ alternative,” Casey said. “Marketers need to focus on the reason consumers buy, not merely distract their audience with green benefits.a