Sustainable Marketing for promoting Green Consumption

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on October 13, 2014

Sustainable marketing could be achieved through the contribution of three existing marketing sub-disciplines: green marketing, social marketing and critical marketing. Green marketing involves an attempt to develop and market products and services which are more sustainable, alongside incorporating the essence of sustainability into the very heart of their marketing processes and business practices. Social marketing emphasises on one to promote sustainable behaviour among individuals, businesses and decision makers using one’s marketing strategy and also assess the impact of current commercial marketing on sustainability. The third leg of this approach would be to analyse the marketing theory, principles and techniques critically. Critical marketing application would in turn help guide people to better enforce and come up with regulating and controlling measures, monitor the way various companies use marketing theories and most importantly challenge the dominant institutions associated with marketing and the capitalist system. A marketing system with sustainability at its core is a key goal.

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Choice/Information-Processing Model w.r.t. Sustainability

There is a strong link between the information-processing and choice perspective and prevalent understandings of sustainable consumption. The basic idea about this approach is to reveal the individual psychological processes which lead to consumption choices of an individual. Green consumption primarily talks about the tendency to choose less environmentally harmful products and consumption patterns if the consumer is provided with sufficient choice of product and apt information. This will help reduce the current pressure on our ecosystem (Appendix- A1).

Achieving Sustainable Consumption

Continuing with the above thought process it seems likely that to achieve more sustainable consumption patterns, consumer demand for more environmentally considerate goods and services needs to be inculcated, which will then push the need to produce such products. Considerations which green consumers have at the point of purchase are believed to be guided more by strong environment oriented values and attitudes, wherein they demand for more environmental related product information, logically compare the benefits which that product will provide with its adverse impact on environmental and then make their decision; as compared to the normal factors of considerations like price and quality.

Understanding the Consumer

A decision to either purchase or not a product/service acts as an indicator to highlight that individual’s sustainable pattern of consumption. Adopting a sustainable life style, individuals will have to engage in a more complex decision making process. For any product or service the concern areas relating to environment are three fold: factors like resource utilization, recyclability during the use and disposal of that product, the kind of toxic or non-recyclable elements used during its production or transport and finally the general corporate social responsibility activities of all the stakeholders involved from the cradle to grave for that product/service.

The consumers are now becoming more aware about the impact that a product has on environment (Appendix- A3). Notwithstanding a noticeable gap exists in what individuals feel and actually end up doing (also refer to Appendix- A2). This shortfall is further illustrated by Hughner et al. (2007), who showed that despite the signs of consumers showing tendency to use organic food (around 67% of the population voting in favour), in reality the actual purchase behaviour formed a very small percentage.

The above example clearly shows that green values do not seem to have a strong influence on the decision making process when there is a consideration to buy a product. One needs to clearly understand the various reasons for such behaviour of consumers, to enable sustainable consumption (Appendix- A5). Consumers need to be educated on environmental product claims and marketing, as suggested by Ottman et al. (2006). In this regard, eco foot-printing and other tools have been a success, as shown by Sutcliffe et al. (2008), but there is also the need of governments and regulatory institutions laying down stronger rules and clearer norms regarding reporting of green claims to prevent firms from eye-washing customers into believing in the green quotient of products. Single issue green labels for the most important sustainability feature of the product can be created, in order to focus buying tendencies towards minimizing the most significant pitfalls. It would not be wrong to conclude that even people in the category of “green consumers” do not seem that equipped or motivated enough to make environment friendly decisions at the point of purchase. To be fair to them they also in the current fast paced world have the luxury of time to properly research, interpret information and then accordingly select a product that would fall in green purchasing. To overcome this barrier, governments needs to offer some incentives and help concentrate their efforts by issuing single issue labels. Therefore, a coherent sustainable production measures and consumption regulations needs to be enforced by government along with ‘green advice’ to consumers to help them do their bit for environment despite the busy lifestyle.

How to Overcome the “Green Marketing” Myopia?

The inertia in the minds of the consumer needs to be addressed by the marketers. Performance of the “green product” is of utmost importance, as green or not that is why the product was bought. Green marketers need to bundle the desired values which a normal consumer seeks for, into their environmental products. As a large section of the society is comprised by those who are not green thinkers, green products can be promoted to them selling on the virtue of benefiting them in terms of health and safety, to garner more interest. A consumer, who has been first educated through relevant campaigns, on seeing a “green product” with valid eco-certifications will be a more potential buyer of your product. This will in turn benefit the companies themselves with the consumers getting more inclined towards them (Appendix- A4).

Advocates for Information-Processing Model & the Way Ahead

Incorporating information-processing model to enable environmentally oriented consumption has been the way ahead as felt by a good number of researchers. This approach of achieving green consumption via choice-oriented creation, has appealed to the section of practitioners who are keen on modifying their marketing practices in the current money oriented system itself. The thought process of employing a stimulus-response model to influence behaviour, which the different policy makers, people marketing green products and green marketers agree upon, falls in line with the above model.

The ease in using this thought process is the fact that with the assumption that consumption is a goal oriented activity with the consumers being rational who process the required information, marketers can continue with their way of marketing trying to satisfy consumer’s needs with the slight modification of including environmental criteria. This will invariably cancel out the fear and challenge which incorporating sustainability in our established market systems will cause. “Green consumers” adopting a rational evaluation of environmental impact of the products and services and thereby being the agents of change in the market will lead to the market system to be automatically flooded with the demanded environment friendly products and services and thereby bringing about a progress towards greater sustainability by means of market forces itself.

Modus operandi, to achieving the much needed consideration of sustainability in one’s choices, is clearly a sufficient enough section of the consumers to start using a “pro environmental choice criterion” thereby developing the need for environmentally benign products to be offered in the market. So though this will push policy makers and green marketers to educate themselves on the changing consumer patterns, it will however be not detrimental to the current market-based economic and political systems; hence making this thought process more feasible.

Proactive measures alone by an individual, a family or even community as such will not suffice in achieving sustainable consumption. Governments need to step in and formulate appropriate policy framework of supporting social and economic instruments- including eco-labelling schemes, tax and pricing incentives, appropriate energy and water supply infrastructure, policing infringements of environmental codes and modelling sustainable consumption priorities in their own purchasing departments.

A whole-systems approach to economic and social policy is required in which the microeconomic influences on households and businesses are integrated with the macro influences of the structure of the economy in order to produce the desired level of sustainable consumption (OECD 1998: 51-52).


A1: Depletion of natural ecosystems

A2: Trend of ecological footprint

A3: Increasing consumer awareness w.r.t. environmental impact by product use

A4: Consumers favouring buying from companies known for environmentally responsible attitude

A5: Reasons for consumers unwilling to pay a premium for environmental contribution


A6: Trend showing that greater number of consumers now believes that they can make a difference

This article has been authored by Aditi Khanna & Animesh Srivastava from XLRI Jamshedpur


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