Marketing for Environmental Sustainability

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From Green Marketing to Marketing for Environmental Sustainability
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Abstract and Keywords
This article covers the role of marketing for the natural environment in catalyzing
environmentally sustainable consumption. It outlines the four decades of “green”
marketing. Environmental disasters continued to amplify public awareness during the
1980s and 1990s. During the 1990s, environmental problems were increasingly reframed
as economic problems. A smattering of academic papers addressed managerial issues in
environmental marketing. The opportunism and reactivity of green marketers in the
twentieth century gave way to the beginnings of a more mature and sophisticated
approach in the new century. The article discusses the definition of marketing, its
dominant logic, and the role of the marketing mix, all of which raise unresolved issues.
The sustainable levels of consumption and the need for systemic integration in marketing
for the natural environment are explored. Finally, specific directions for future work are
given.
Keywords: green marketing, natural environment, environmental marketing, environmental sustainability,
environmental problems, public awareness
WHILE much marketing practice today relies on established knowledge and theory,
marketing as a field is in a state of flux. Like marketing metrics, social media, co-creation
of value, and global consumer culture, marketing related to the natural environment
extends conventional marketing thought beyond its prior scope. Specifically, it involves
value creation, delivery, and communication objectives beyond those that satisfy
immediate customer wants and needs. It places marketers in mediating roles between
customer satisfaction and firm profitability, and between the customer’s needs and the
firm’s needs for reputation management, long-term viability, and stewardship, all of which
involve multiple stakeholders. The pressure on marketers to demonstrate the contribution
From Green Marketing to Marketing for Environmental
Sustainability
Debra L. Scammon and Jenny Mish
The Oxford Handbook of Business and the Natural Environment
Edited by Pratima Bansal and Andrew J. Hoffman
Print Publication Date: Nov 2011
Subject: Business and Management, Marketing, Organizational Theory and Behaviour
Online Publication Date: Jan 2012 DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199584451.003.0019
Oxford Handbooks Online
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of their activities to the financial performance of firms has never been greater. This
encourages practices that narrow the scope of marketing activities at a time when the
need for broad inclusive thinking is increasingly critical.
The following two chapters (see Gershoff & Irwin [Chapter 20] and Devinney [Chapter 21]
this volume) discuss the challenges of understanding consumer ambivalence toward
green consumption. In this chapter we consider the role of marketing for the natural
environment in catalyzing environmentally sustainable consumption. What have scholars
learned about green marketing? What challenges do marketers and marketing scholars
face in practicing effective marketing for the sustainability of the natural environment?
What research is needed to guide successful marketing for environmental sustainability?
We provide an integrative review of four decades of “green” marketing
emphasizing potentially catalytic avenues for further investigation. Throughout our
review we reference both literature reviews and seminal papers in the field. Our scope is
limited to work that specifically addresses marketing. We include environmental,
ecological, and sustainability-related marketing studies in addition to those using the
terms “green” and “social responsibility,” but we do not review the cause marketing,
social marketing, and corporate social responsibility literatures (for the latter, see Bondy
& Matten [Chapter 28] this volume; for marketing reviews see Maignan & Ferrell 2004;
Peloza & Shang 2011). Our integrative analysis is intended to increase understanding at a
time when the role of marketing in environmental sustainability is far from clear.
Ultimately, the greatest research challenges for marketers related to environmental
sustainability are those that illuminate the paradigm shift as a cultural transformation.
Past Eras of “Green Marketing”
Interest in environmental issues by marketers has evolved through several distinct
phases (Menon & Menon 1997; Kilbourne & Beckman 1998; Peattie 2001). As noted by
Hoffman & Bansal ([Chapter 1] this volume), concern about the welfare of the natural
environment arose initially in the 1960s and 1970s with media exposés of
environmentally damaging business practices. Combined with market research
evidencing increased consumer desire to buy “green” products, this spurred marketers to
experiment with new products, packaging, and claims related to environmental impacts
during the 1980s and 1990s. The field entered the new century with a broader systemic
approach to environmental issues which has come to be called “environmental
sustainability.”
The 1960s and 1970s
(p. 348)
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Prior to the 1970s, the natural environment did not have a significant impact on the
practice of marketing (Menon & Menon 1997). With limited social pressure for attention
to environmental concerns, environmentalists put legal pressure on business practices. In
response, firms generally adopted defensive strategies, doing as little as possible to meet
the letter of regulations. Environmental and business interests appeared to be
irreconcilable.
Media coverage of contamination and pollution put the spotlight on a few “dirty” firms
and industries thought to cause these problems. Marketers in industries targeted by
environmentalists became more aware of reputation risks. New laws and regulations
provided mechanisms to address market externalities in targeted industries. Firms
directed their efforts toward developing product features to meet new regulations (e.g.
emission control devices) rather than trying to develop environmentally-friendly products
(e.g. cars that are inherently non-polluting) (Varadarajan & Menon 1988).
Along with a flurry of food cooperatives, a few entrepreneurial “boutique” firms,
such as Patagonia, The Body Shop, and Ben & Jerry’s, emerged. Such pioneers were small
and easy for mainstream marketers to dismiss. However, these entrepreneurs tapped
enduring social undercurrents with innovative brand marketing built around ecological
values, and eventually came to serve as important examples of values-based strategies for
mainstream marketers.
During these early years, scholars such as Feldman (1971), Fisk (1974), and Henion &
Kinnear (1976) encouraged marketers to adopt a broader view of their field. They
advocated the examination not only of marketing activities that contribute to
environmental problems but also those that could help remedy environmental problems
(Henion & Kinnear 1976). Fisk alluded to the need to understand the root causes of
society’s environmental problems, but few scholars explored such issues. Feldman (1971)
predicted that due to environmental pressures “marketing is about to undergo a profound
change by shifting its emphasis to non-material consumption and societal
considerations” (p. 54).
(p. 349)
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The 1980s and 1990s
During the 1980s and 1990s, environmental disasters continued to amplify public
awareness, alerting business leaders to the market significance of a broad set of
stakeholders. Environmental groups began working more collaboratively with business
and government (Menon & Menon 1997). The UN Brundtland Commission (1987)
launched the concept of “sustainable development,” allowing companies, governments,
and environmentalists to find new common ground.
For the first time, market research began to reveal a potential market for “green”
products. Surveys found that a large percentage of US consumers was concerned about
the environmental impacts of their purchases, and said that they would pay up to 5
percent more for products in packages that were recyclable or biodegradable (Roper
1990; Mintel 1991). Earth Day 1990 (twenty years after the first Earth Day) “may have
been the world’s first major green marketing campaign” (Makower 2009, p. 2).
Environmental claims for new products, especially in the household, health and beauty,
and pet-related categories, increased dramatically between 1988 and 1990, peaked
during the early 1990s, and declined modestly through the remainder of the decade
(Mayer et al. 2001; Banerjee et al. 1995; Carlson et al. 1993).
Green claims during this period typically emphasized the presence of a single product
attribute (such as biodegradable, recyclable, or recycled) or the absence of a negative
attribute (such as no fluorocarbons or no phosphates). Many made vague assertions that
the product was “natural,” “environmentally friendly,” or just plain “green.” Consumer
confusion became a key concern, raising the issue of potential deception. The regulatory
environment for green products was uneven, leading firms to push for more consistency
(Simon 1992; Scammon & Mayer 1995). In 1992, the US Federal Trade Commission
issued comprehensive national guidelines for environmental claims (US Code of Federal
Regulations 1992). These “Green Guides” were revised in 1996 and 1998 (US Code of
Federal Regulations 1996, 1998) and new updates are expected in 2011.
A number of pioneering eco-labels were launched during this period, such as
Blue Angel in Germany, Environmental Choice in Canada, Eco-Mark in Japan, Energy
STAR in the US, and Organic and Fair Trade in Europe and North America (Mayer et al.
2001; Sahota et al. 2009). Some of these seals of approval consider multiple dimensions
of a brand’s environmental performance and are applicable across a wide range of
product classes (e.g. Blue Angel). Others relate to a single attribute and apply to a
narrower range of products (e.g. Energy STAR). These “third party” certifications
provided credibility and support to growing niche markets.
Peattie & Crane (2005) argued that most of the green marketing of the 1990s was neither
green nor marketing (see also Devinney [Chapter 21] this volume). By the mid 1990s,
“under-performing green products, over-zealous promotional claims, inexact science and
inconsistent legislation conspired to discredit the practice of green marketing,” leaving
consumers “confused and reluctant to engage in green purchasing behavior” (Crane
(p. 350)
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2000, p. 278). A consumer “backlash” against green marketing emerged (Wong et al.
1996), resulting in a rich “mythology” among marketers about the difficulties of
successful green marketing (Peattie & Crane 2005, p. 367).
During the 1990s environmental problems were increasingly reframed as economic
problems. Strategies that developed competitive advantages while resolving
environmental concerns were viewed positively (Porter & van der Linde 1995). As the
1990s came to a close, cost reduction carried more momentum than the promotion of
green products to consumers.
The need for product design for sustainability began to be recognized. Topics such as life
cycle design, design for disassembly, and the role of stakeholders in the sustainable
design process began to appear (e.g. Polonsky & Ottman 1998).Corporate purchasing of
environmental products gradually increased (Drumwright 1994; Polonsky et al. 1998).
However, consumers continued to reject products that achieved competitive superiority
on a single environmental dimension while compromising performance in other ways.
Companies that attempted to charge a “green premium” were discouraged by low cashregister receipts.
Regulations and flat consumer demand curtailed the flagrant excesses of the green
marketing boom, and niche markets continued their slow growth. Meanwhile, cause
marketing, whereby consumers had opportunities to direct a portion of their dollars to
non-profit causes without paying higher prices, was becoming more common. The bases
on which marketers measured the impact of their green strategies broadened to include
not just financial measures such as brand revenue, market share, and return on
investment, but also brand image, customer loyalty, and corporate image (Menon et al.
1999).
Peattie (2001) called the stalemate at the end of the 1990s the “Green Wall.” Once the
low-hanging fruit had been harvested, more radical changes were needed to produce
green innovations, and this was often seen as cost prohibitive. Delivery of environmental
performance had turned out to be complex, difficult to assess, and difficult to
communicate with credibility. Successful environmental product differentiation required
consumer willingness to pay for public goods, credible dissemination of information about
environmental product attributes, and defense against imitation (Reinhardt 1998). Rather
than being lauded for their efforts, firms that took steps to improve environmen
tal performance were often criticized for their imperfections. As Walley & Whitehead
(1994) lamented, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”
During the 1990s, a smattering of academic papers addressed managerial issues in
environmental marketing. Mendleson & Polonsky (1995) examined the use of strategic
alliances to enhance green marketing credibility, Brown & Dacin (1997) looked at
consumer responses to socially responsible brand associations, and Menon & Menon
(1997) developed an Enviropreneurial Marketing model. A number of handbooks for
(p. 351)
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managers summarized what had been discovered thus far in the realm of environmental
marketing (Fuller 1999; Polonsky & Mintu-Wimsatt 1995; Coddington 1993; Ottman
1998).
The 2000s
In the new century, environmental “sustainability” began to take hold. This concept
embraces the complexity of interdependence and reframes green marketing from a longterm, global, and inclusive perspective. Many companies began issuing sustainability
reports, reflecting increased investor concern about future viability and competitiveness.
Growth rates increased in niche green markets. For example, spurred by the launch of
the LEED certification for new buildings in the US in 2000, the green building industry
began to flourish. Similarly, the launch of the USDA Organic standard in 2003 galvanized
a decentralized undercurrent in the food industry, creating double-digit growth for most
of the decade (Organic Trade Association 2010). The coffee market was disrupted by Fair
Trade coffee, which came to be widely available at retailers such as Starbucks, Marks &
Spencer, and McDonald’s. The use of environmental sustainability standards and
certifications contributed to public awareness about underlying environmental issues
(Conroy 2007). Many of the boutique pioneers, such as Ben & Jerry’s, were purchased by
conglomerates seeking to learn about sustainable practices.
A new market impetus came from B2B customers who were increasingly demanding
environmental information and accountability. During the 2000s, large buyers such as
Walmart, Target, and government and institutional purchasers became significant forces
through their environmental procurement policies and the sheer volume of products they
purchased.
Innovations in product development began to appear. Scholars explored similarities
between environmental and conventional new product development processes and
identified antecedents to the former (Pujari et al. 2003; 2004). Others identified boundary
conditions in which increased regulations could be profitably met by firms through
environmental product development (Chen 2001), and factors influencing the market
performance of green products (Pujari 2006). By the end of the decade, the growing B2B
market began to have ripple effects for mainstream consumers, especially in terms of
environmental product strategies (Albino et al. 2009).
Costing and therefore pricing gradually began to incorporate more social and
environmental costs, accounting for specific environmental externalities in production,
use, and post-use phases. For example, the European Union’s RoHS directive took effect
in 2006, restricting the use of less costly hazardous materials in electronics
products. However, manufacturers such as IBM and HP have preferred to uphold a single
set of criteria globally, extending the benefit of this regulation beyond the EU. The higher
(p. 352)
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costs of developing and producing environmental value propositions without sacrificing
quality remains a major issue (Dangelico & Pujari 2010).
With the arrival of the Great Recession in 2008, many predicted that the niche markets
for sustainability would perish. However, the green retail market grew 41 percent from
2004 to 2009 despite the recession (Mintel 2010). Growth slowed, but many companies
continued to invest in environmental sustainability projects, viewing them as points of
leverage for future stability and competitive advantage. B2B buyers continued to expect
more of their suppliers. Consumers continued to support niche markets. Green consumer
services, personal care products, and baby products that avoided harmful ingredients
were especially strong growth categories at the end of the decade (Mintel 2010).
Marketers began to look beyond making simplistic claims, but it wasn’t obvious which
changes could add to environmental sustainability and profits while contributing
positively to the lives of their customers. Consumer research during this decade aimed
for a more complex understanding of the gap between green attitudes and behavior (see
Gershoff & Irwin [Chapter 20] this volume). Some marketing scholars addressed related
ethical and macro questions, such as normative principles for responsible marketing
(Laczniak & Murphy 2006), market system constraints and opportunities for sustainability
(Press & Arnould 2009), and the relationship between financial performance and
corporate social performance (Luo & Bhattacharya 2006). Green corporate strategies and
green marketing strategies were found to involve different relationships between top
management commitment and public concern, regulatory forces, and competitive
advantage (Banerjee et al. 2003).
Building socially and environmentally responsible brands and safeguarding brand equity
in the face of activist criticism were central concerns for many firms (Conroy 2007;
Palazzo & Basu 2007). Brand innovation appeared closely intertwined with trust-building.
Some argued that “products with sustainability attributes will only appeal if they are
clearly consistent with the values and activities of the company” (World Business Council
2005).
This more holistic approach was also advocated by marketing scholars. Ginsberg & Bloom
(2004) argued that marketers should position based on importance of greenness to their
target consumers and their ability to differentiate from competitors. They encouraged
firms to focus marketing-mix strategies selectively, using price, place, and promotion as
well as product to achieve goals. These authors noted that firm strategies are likely to
evolve over time, for example by “quietly” implementing changes without making them
central to brand identity, or by progressively becoming more green as employees become
more committed to underlying values.
Ottman et al. (2006) argued that an exclusive focus on environmental product features is
short-sighted, calling it “green marketing myopia.” They suggested that marketers must
offer both improved environmental quality and customer satisfaction through
careful value positioning vis-à-vis benefits such as efficiency and cost effectiveness,
health and safety, overall performance, symbolism and status, and convenience. These
(p. 353)
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authors pointed to the importance of accurately calibrating consumer knowledge and
establishing product-claim credibility, particularly through the use of consumer-generated
information and environmental seals.
Walmart’s strategy illustrates the caution that many firms brought to marketing for the
natural environment. In spite of changing its brand message from “Everyday Low Prices”
to “Save Money. Live Better,” the giant retailer pursued its environmental goals primarily
via suppliers, increased logistical efficiencies, and employee initiatives, innovating in
product, place, and price, rather than in promotion. Only after achieving a number of
internal goals did the firm begin to turn strategic attention to the challenge of
communicating this value, and thus to the issue of sustainability standards and
certifications. Under development is a Product Sustainability Index intended to provide
transparent product information to consumers in a simple, easy way. This is a long-term
collaborative project with suppliers, other retailers, academics, NGOs, and government
officials (〈http://walmartstores.com/Sustainability〉).
The Walmart example highlights four key insights about marketing for the natural
environment. First, reliable metrics are needed in order to translate environmental
commitments and activities into customer value. Second, verifiable product standards
and certifications help deliver and communicate this value. Third, to be credible, these
standards must be developed collaboratively with multiple stakeholders. Fourth,
environmental sustainability-related brand value must be rooted in sincere, systemic, and
organization-wide commitments.
In summary, the opportunism and reactivity of green marketers in the twentieth century
gave way to the beginnings of a more mature and sophisticated approach in the new
century. The incorporation of multiple stakeholder perspectives throughout the marketing
process, measurement of non-economic impacts as a foundation for offering credible
marketing claims supported by third-party certification, and open educational approaches
to building globally relevant brands for the future became more common. However, major
obstacles remain. We turn next to the challenges that marketers currently face in
marketing for the natural environment.
Challenges for Marketing and the Natural
Environment
In the new millennium, marketers must address the complexity of delivering
environmentally sound value. Marketing for the natural environment involves value
creation, delivery, and communication objectives beyond those that satisfy immediate
customer wants and needs.Ultimately, this means that marketers and marketing scholars
are facing a major reorientation of the field. In this section, we address this fundamental
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disciplinary shift. We begin by discussing the definition of marketing, its
dominant logic, and the role of the marketing mix, all of which raise unresolved issues.
We then address sustainable levels of consumption, and the need for systemic integration
in marketing for the natural environment.
Definition of Marketing, Marketing Logic, and Marketing Mix
A variety of definitions of marketing for the natural environment have been put forward,
all recognizing ecosystem needs while highlighting different aspects of marketing (Jones
et al. 2008). For example, in defining sustainable marketing, Fuller (1999) focuses on
management of the marketing mix, while Belz & Peattie (2009) focus on relationship
building. Martin & Schouten (2011) define sustainability marketing with a focus on value
creation.These new definitions stand in contrast to the practices of many firms of offering
differentiated products that meet the short-term needs and wants of consumers. Smith et
al. (2010) characterized this latter practice as “the new marketing myopia,” a singleminded focus on the consumer and a failure to see the broader societal context of
business decision-making.
The newest American Marketing Association definition of marketing suggests that
marketing’s goals should be the creation of value for customers, clients, partners, and
society at large (…www.marketingpower.com〉). This new definition was announced in
2007 after several years of scholarly debate over the boundaries of the field (Gundlach &
Wilkie 2010). It broadens the scope of marketing to embrace a systemic societal view and
represents a paradigm shift in thought, following Menon et al. (1999).
Given this and other trends, marketing scholars have asked if marketing needs reform
(Sheth & Sisodia 2006), what marketing needs to do to “regain its seat at the
table” (Webster et al. 2003), and what a new logic for marketing might entail (Gronroos
2007; Vargo & Lusch 2004). In the context of sustainability, the underlying rationale for
the field was challenged by Kilbourne (2010), who cited Einstein’s recognition that
problems cannot be solved by the same thinking that created them. Similarly, Varey
(2010) suggested that “a radical new logic for marketing as a social process” is needed
for a sustainable society (p. 112).
Service-dominant logic (SDL) represents an emerging market logic that deals with the
marketing paradigm shift toward social processes. In a seminal paper, Vargo & Lusch
(2004) contrasted service-dominant logic with goods-dominant logic (GDL), noting that
both exist concurrently in the marketplace. They suggested that marketing needs to
break free from the goods and manufacturing-based model (GDL), and recognize that
“organizations, markets, and society are fundamentally concerned with exchange of
service—the application of competences (knowledge and skills)” (〈http://
www.sdlogic.net〉). This view “embraces concepts of the value-in-use and co-creation of
value rather than the value-in-exchange and embedded-value concepts of [GDL]” (ibid.).
These authors further suggested that “instead of firms being informed to market to
(p. 354)
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customers, they [should] market with customers, as well as other value-creation
partners in the firm’s value network” (ibid.). SDL offers a framework for scholars seeking
to situate marketing for the natural environment in relation to the dominant market logic,
as well as for developing insights about meeting customer needs through less material
consumption, and for collaborating with stakeholders.
The usefulness of the marketing mix is also contested. Critics suggest that it is simplistic,
takes the seller’s viewpoint, and overemphasizes the product as compared to the service
or use value that is more central to the value proposition (Belz & Peattie 2009;
Constantinides 2006; Gronroos 2007). It is argued that the product-based language of the
marketing mix fails to recognize the fundamentally dynamic and relational nature of value
and thus marketing. Belz & Peattie (2009) proposed an alternative marketing mix
specifically for marketing for sustainability, consisting of the four Cs: customer solutions,
customer cost, convenience, and communications. Here, the focus is on solving customer
problems in a co-creative relationship throughout the total consumption process. This
viewpoint shifts the emphasis from the firm as a central agent to the relationships
between the firm and its customers, and attends to customer wants and needs in terms of
convenience in space and time, solutions rather than goods, two-way communication, and
value for value.
As noted by Shrivastava ([Chapter 35], this volume), everyone in the field is a pioneer
during these early years of B&NE. This may be especially true in marketing. Redefining
marketing, recognizing the appearance of a new market logic(s), and refining the
marketing mix are critical to overcoming the crisis of relevance facing marketing for the
natural environment. Theory and practice in this area must address the identification and
delivery of customer value, including the accurate assessment of the nature and role of
marketing in relation to society as a whole.
Sustainable Levels of Consumption
Although consumption has a place in a sustainable future, unchecked consumption is
ultimately unsustainable. The global rate of consumption is rapidly increasing and
currently exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity (see Gladwin [Chapter 38] this volume).
Critics of marketing complain that marketing and sustainability are inherently
contradictory objectives, since the former promotes consumption and the latter calls for
responsible use of resources (Jones et al. 2007). In this environment, “reputation and
trust may not be sufficient to safeguard a brand. To succeed, marketers must lead the
path towards more sustainable consumption” (World Business Council 2008, p. 10).
Marketers can guide change toward environmental sustainability, but as Jones et al.
(2007) report, marketing teams rarely play strategic roles in driving sustainability
agendas.
(p. 355)
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Indeed, many of the most promising insights and innovative approaches to marketing for
the natural environment have come from outside of corporations. For example, New
American Dream, an NGO, promotes responsible purchasing programs for organizations
and consumers and provides tools to help families keep a focus on
meaningfulness as they consume (〈www.newdream.org〉). McKenzie-Mohr (1999) applied
findings from social psychology to the challenge of “fostering sustainable behavior,” and
his recommendations have been adopted by thousands of government and NGO efforts
around the world (〈www.cbsm.com〉). Assadourian (2010) traced the history of
consumerism as the dominant cultural norm and its spread across the globe, arguing that
marketing, media, and government are the institutions that have been most responsible.
As such, he calls upon these institutions to actively guide the shift to a culture of
sustainability.
Marketers in firms seeking to “lead the path towards more sustainable consumption”
must overcome deep-seated habits and assumptions that have led to the current global
cultural emphasis on material consumption. This includes organizational values and
norms that may inhibit accurate assessments of market opportunities for products and
especially services that facilitate sustainable lifestyles. Although the marketing function
typically encompasses environmental scanning and the development of strategic
responses to macro trends, many firms appear to have responded to marketing’s identity
crisis by moving these critical activities elsewhere within the firm, often to the C-suite.
Systemic Integration
To move towards marketing for sustainability, marketing scholarship needs both the
micro perspective of marketing management, with its emphasis on managing for
profitability, and the macro perspective of macromarketing, with its emphasis on systemic
and inclusive relationships. The subdiscipline of macromarketing is concerned with the
impact of society on marketing systems and the impact of marketing systems on society
(Hunt 2007). Marketing for the natural environment must similarly integrate macro
perspectives. Viewing the market as a complex system with a heterogeneous structure
recognizes that participants’ choices “have consequences far beyond themselves, for
better or for worse” (Mittelstaedt et al. 2006, p. 135).
In a twenty-five year review of marketing and the environment, Kilbourne & Beckman
(1998) observed that with few exceptions micro perspectives dominated researchers’
interests prior to 1995, resulting in an overall “failure to adequately define the
environmental problem” (ibid., p. 519). Despite a subsequent increase in emphasis on
macro perspectives beginning in 1995, the vast majority of marketing scholarship still
remains focused on micro questions without significant attention to contextual
implications.
(p. 356)
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Ultimately, it is the integration of micro and macro forces into a systemic perspective that
we highlight as a key challenge, echoing Peattie (1999), Crane (2000), and Jones et al.
(2007). Marketing managers will always need a strategic emphasis on firms and their
customers, even if that emphasis is expanded beyond a short-term profit orientation.
However, in a future sustainable global market environment, macro issues, such as
ecosystem well-being, must be fully integrated into the development of marketing
strategies.
In summary, we have highlighted the definition and framing of marketing, current
unsustainable levels of consumption, and a systemic perspective that integrates micro
and macro contexts as three key challenges facing marketers and marketing
scholars in marketing for the natural environment. We turn now to the research needs of
this transition to a systemic perspective and its implications for environmental value
propositions.
Future Directions in Research for Marketing
and the Natural Environment
Opportunities abound for marketing scholars to provide guidance to managers and
policymakers on marketing for the natural environment. Research in this area must be
framed to carefully consider the macro context in which marketing operates. In this
section, we provide specific directions for future work. We first suggest existing
theoretical foundations that could be more broadly leveraged to increase scholarly
understanding of marketing for the natural environment. We then identify key arenas in
which new theories are needed.
Applications of Existing Theories
Complex Systems Theory
As shown by Levy & Lichenstein ([Chapter 32] this volume), complex systems theory may
be usefully applied as a managerial lens. We suggest that existing marketing theories
should be reexamined to determine how they might need to be adapted to accommodate
a systems perspective.
Service-dominant logic (SDL) explicitly builds on systems theory (Vargo & Lusch 2010)
and may provide a useful framework for examining disciplinary assumptions about the
roles and relationships between firms and consumers, policymakers, NGOs, and other
firms. For example, the relationship between B2B and B2C demand for environmental
sustainability is important to understand. In moving to a long-term perspective, the
resource-based theory of the firm might be enlarged to embrace systemic implications by
viewing labor and inputs as investment “capital” rather than as expendable ecological
(p. 357)
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and human “resources” (Hawken et al. 1999).The opportunities and threats in an
economic downturn might be assessed differently given a longer-term, investment capital
perspective. Ethical principles, such as those presented by Laczniak & Murphy (2006),
may be useful as diagnostic tools. Especially important will be accounting for
externalities which have previously not been included in decisions (Schultz & Holbrook
1999). By integrating new market conditions into a variety of existing theories using
concepts from complex system theory, marketing can contribute to creating a society in
which sustainability is the norm (Martin & Schouten 2011).
To apply complex systems theory to marketing mix-elements, research that aims to
develop customer solutions (as Belz & Peattie [2009] suggest should be a goal) must
include a stronger emphasis on collaborative co-creation of services that are needed by
customers before and after purchase. As noted by the authors of Natural
Capitalism (Hawken et al. 1999), “product dematerialization” implies a shift from the sale
of goods to the sale of services. Options such as sharing, rental, and reuse should be
explored to determine how they might fit into and shape evolving consumer lifestyles.
Channel models need to become circular rather than linear to accommodate the new
recognition that “all waste is food” (McDonough & Braungart 2002). Localization and
other new spatial approaches to production and consumption may be needed to optimize
customer convenience.
Research is needed about consumer willingness to pay for these new options. The shift to
environmental sustainability represents a systemic adjustment (market correction) with
pricing implications. Rather than implicitly suggesting that new options will cost more or
that there is some “normal” price that can be assumed for such options, a shift in thinking
toward greater complexity is required (Peattie 2010). An environmentally sound
alternative might cost less to produce, and a “normal” price established in the minds of
consumers might include externality-based cost subsidies.
Marketing communications research is needed to identify ways to make sustainability
appear fun, appealing, and simple to adopt. Research is needed about greenwashing,
particularly about how firms can make progress without being targeted as
hypocrites.Theory is needed to understand the current experience of brand managers
who are experimenting with environmental sustainability as a secondary rather than
primary brand attribute. Complexity theory offers useful tools for addressing each of
these issues.
Stakeholder Theory
Another platform for micro-macro integration is stakeholder theory (Bhattacharya &
Korschun 2008). Stakeholder relationships provide a bridge between the firm and the
larger society. Rather than simply managing these relationships or marketing to these
stakeholders, firms can invest in them as assets and collaborate with them to co-create
value (Mish & Scammon 2010). We note the need for marketers to include a wider variety
of stakeholders in their planning, and to assess the impact of their actions on these
(p. 358)
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stakeholders. Models for balancing and prioritizing stakeholder concerns are also
needed, including methods for evaluating the contextual features that may impact
prioritization.
To this end, effective methodologies for assessing stakeholder concerns and impact in
marketing intelligence and environmental scanning are needed. Participatory action
research (PAR), and specifically community action research (CAR), have proven to be
invaluable in gaining insights about situational constraints and resources that can be
harnessed to deliver value to multiple stakeholders (see Ozanne & Anderson 2010;
Ozanne & Saatcioglu 2008). Measurement tools not just for products and services, but
also for relevant cultural phenomena, such as consumer backlashes, latent demand, intergroup and community influences are required. Both qualitative and quantitative data will
need to be seamlessly integrated in effective marketing for the natural environment.
Quality of Life
Research has consistently shown that, beyond a minimum threshold, the accumulation of
material goods is not a foundation for high quality of life (e.g. Ryan & Deci 2001;
Malhotra 2006; Kahneman et al. 2004). Instead, marketers can turn their attention to
delivering quality of life in many forms, such as experiential rewards (Csikszentmihalyi
2000), enhancement of family and other social relationships, supports for health and
healthy lifestyles, interactions between consumers and the natural environment, and
assistance with challenges such as time, information, and possession overload. Consumer
desires for these improvements in well-being represent cultural undercurrents that can
be tapped by marketers in much the same way that consumer desires for social status
and novelty have long been tapped.
Research that moves beyond value as measured by satisfaction (of immediate) needs to
quality of life enhanced through attention to the health of the natural environment is
needed. Researchers should explore how marketing for the natural environment relates
to the long-term systemic well-being of the natural environment. Consideration should be
given to impediments and threats to economic well-being, ecological/environmental wellbeing, and social/cultural well-being. Scales and other tools that can be used to better
understand systemic well-being overall are needed.
Consumer Culture Theory
The insights of consumer culture theorists (CCT) (e.g. Arnould & Thompson 2005) may be
especially important to marketers in navigating the multiple simultaneous constructs
operating to create markets as this shift occurs. According to CCT, the meanings held by
people about products and consumption are heterogeneous, overlapping, and exist within
the socio-historic frame of globalization and market capitalism. Consumer culture is
viewed as a social arrangement in which the relationships between lived culture, social
resources, and symbolic material resources are mediated through markets (ibid.).
(p. 359)
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Models are needed to understand how the world’s population may come to consume in an
environmentally sustainable fashion in the future. This may entail new conceptualizations
of wants and needs, consumer responsibility and engagement, and consumer learning
about complex systems phenomena.
New Theoretical Territory
Growth Versus Sustainable Development
Further investigation of the implications of a shift to a sustainability paradigm is
essential. In the current marketplace, the nature of value is expanding to include social
and environmental forms of value that were previously not part of the value equation
(Mish & Glavas 2010). A clear specification of that value is needed as the foundation of
credibility for environmental value propositions. Businesses typically focus on growth and
measure their marketing success in terms of revenue, market share, and incremental
growth over prior periods. Sustainable marketing means marketing in a
sustainable manner, such that all marketing processes are environmentally and socially
benign (Martin & Schouten 2011). With this perspective, a shift to marketing for the
natural environment will require new conceptualizations of goals and new metrics to
measure progress towards them.
The pursuit of an environmentally sustainable future will require a shift to a sustainable
development view which prioritizes optimization of a variety of resources above
maximization of any one resource. Methods to accurately and fully assess the costs and
benefits of firms’ actions both to the firm and to its stakeholders are needed. With a
sustainable development perspective, externalities must be accounted for, both to achieve
sustainability and to endure activist scrutiny. Innovative methods for accurately capturing
the full cost of products as they are used throughout their life cycle, including costs
incurred by the customer during and after use, are needed. As many firms have
discovered, a shift in perspective can reveal market opportunities in places that were
previously only perceived in terms of costs, such as transforming waste into new
products.
Standards and Certifications
To effectively market environmental value, marketers must use standards and
certifications in new ways. The challenge of delivering and communicating environmental
value with credibility is paramount. Standards and certifications can be pivotal tools for
addressing this challenge, but they are not well understood by scholars or managers. At
their best, these tools can: 1) meet the information needs of firms, their organizational
partners, concerned societal stakeholders, and customers; 2) allow harmonization of
practices; and 3) provide much needed credibility and trust in the marketplace. However,
theoretical work is needed to guide standards development processes and strategic use of
standards by marketers.
(p. 360)
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Development and adoption processes for standards are extremely challenging. Both
processes must involve multiple stakeholder groups, each with their own interests and
agendas. At the industry level, the competitive landscape must be considered, since
standards can be molded to provide opportunities for firms seeking competitive
advantage through differentiation. Vulnerable stakeholders, such as the natural
environment, need legitimate representation. Once standards are developed, compliance
monitoring is essential to ensure fair competition and to optimize the potential for
industry wide improvement. As Mish & Scammon (2010) suggest, “standards can be a
way to ‘raise the bar’ for all competitors” (p. 24).
Research is needed to support marketers’ strategic use of standards and certifications.
For example, the roles of standards across the marketing mix should be clarified, and the
relative strength of brands, marketing claims, and eco-labels in establishing and
communicating brand value should be explored.
Summary
Ultimately, the greatest research challenges in marketing for the natural environment
may be those that illuminate the paradigm shift as a cultural transformation. Marketing
has been a substantial force in the development of consumer culture, and it can
be a positive force for its transformation in the future (Assadourian 2010). As Jackson
(2009) wrote, “prosperity has vital social and psychological dimensions” (p. 7) that
marketers have not yet wholeheartedly aimed to provide in the marketplace. Research is
needed to overcome the challenges of communicating and delivering consumer and
environmental well-being with the same vigor and skill that marketers have brought to
selling consumer products. Scholarly efforts to meet these needs will contribute to an
understanding of ways in which marketing can be a proactive force in changing the
dominant social paradigm.
Conclusion
In this chapter we have reviewed the historical development of marketing practices
related to the natural environment, highlighting many of the seminal works that have
appeared in the literature during this evolution. Stepping back from these important
contributions, we highlight challenges for marketers in pursuing marketing for the
natural environment in the future. These include shifts in thought about marketing as a
field, and the challenge of achieving sustainable levels of consumption. We conclude by
suggesting ways that researchers can contribute to the development of needed insights
about the impacts of marketing for the natural environment on a broad set of
stakeholders, and thus produce theories that can better guide marketers and policy
(p. 361)
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makers. A key theme for the future will be the successful integration of micro and macro
perspectives into a more systemic view of concern for the natural environment.
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Debra L. Scammon
Debra L. Scammon is Emma Eccles Jones Professor of Marketing, David Eccles
School of Business, University of Utah.
Jenny Mish
Jenny Mish is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Mendoza College of Business,
University of Notre Dame.
(p. 365)
From Green Marketing to Marketing for Environmental Sustainability
Page 23 of 23
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Subscriber: University of Waterloo; date: 11 July 2018

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