Book Review: Greener Products

Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands

by Al Iannuzzi

CRC Press; November 8, 2011

Creating a sustainable society will depend in large part on reducing the environmental impacts of making, distributing and using products and of disposing of them at the end of their useful life.  Every product company that hopes to have a role in our future is going to have figure out how to do this. They now have an excellent guide in a new book called “Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands,” by Al Iannuzzi. Dr. Iannuzzi is Senior Director of Product Stewardship and Worldwide Environment, Health & Safety at Johnson & Johnson, a $60 billion healthcare products company. He has spent his entire career advancing the environmental performance of his company and its products while helping it achieve its business goals. He therefore is very well qualified to have written this book.

The book is distinguished by its comprehensive scope, which ranges from the drivers of green product development, to the methods for developing greener products, through advice for marketing those products effectively.  It is organized in three sections. The first section covers the market and regulatory drivers for green products. The second section looks at examples of greener products that have come to market. It also includes a chapter by James A. Fava, a founder of sustainability consulting firm Five Winds International. The chapter provides an overview of some of the many tools companies can use to analyze the environmental characteristics of products and processes and to develop more environmentally efficient designs. The third section looks at green marketing “because,” says Dr. Iannuzzi, “what good is a greener product if you can’t get the customer to buy it?” The marketing section includes a chapter by executives of the Shelton Group, an advertising agency focused on sustainability and energy efficiency and a leading provider of consumer insights related to green products. Though the consumer data discussed in the book is focused on U.S. consumers, the book takes a global perspective, citing product examples from North America, Europe and Asia and examples of regulations in effect on six continents.

The first section of the book sets the context for the development of greener products. It highlights many of the market factors that are creating demand for greener products including consumer demand, retailer mandates, socially responsible investment, product ratings systems and green public procurement. Among the regulatory factors the book discusses are regulations covering packaging; restrictions on the use of chemicals; and an increasingly important concept called “extended producer responsibility,” which requires that manufacturers take responsibility for their products at the end of their useful life.

Section II is packed with examples of companies and the greener products they have introduced across a range of industries from apparel to consumer electronics to household cleaning to industrial chemicals and health care. Concise case studies of companies including Timberland, SC Johnson, Clorox, Philips, Samsung Electronics, Apple, Seventh Generation, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, DuPont, BASF and Johnson & Johnson, review what impelled them to invest in greener product development, what they did, how they did it and what the result was, providing a valuable overview of the experiences of companies that have taken a leadership position in the development and marketing of greener products.  A good example in this section is the Earthwards process developed at Johnson & Johnson. Earthwards enables “product development teams to evaluate a product throughout its life cycle and identify areas where it can be improved to lower its impact and increase social benefit.” The process uses a scorecard approach that was developed after looking at other companies for examples, interviewing people inside and outside the company and under the guidance of consultant Five Winds. The company also asked an environmental non-governmental organization to review the process and make recommendations, which were incorporated.  At J&J a product receives the Earthwards designation if achieves significant improvements in at least 3 of 7 dimensions (such as packaging, energy, waste, etc.) identified by the scorecard. By 2015 the company expects to have at least 60 products in its portfolio that have achieved the Earthwards designation.

The Chapter by Dr. Fava of Five Winds reviews many of the management systems (such as ISO 14000), programs (such as product stewardship and Design for Environment), tools (including life cycle assessment and environmental impact assessment) companies can use to build their own greener product future. I suspect most readers who are unfamiliar with this material will come away from this chapter somewhat overwhelmed by sheer volume of material packed into a small chapter. This is probably fine; it highlights the need to recruit some competent help when building a greener products process and culture.

The final section, on green marketing, presents an analysis of consumer survey data that segments consumers into four broad behavior and attitudinal groups, each of which has somewhat different motivations and find different messages appealing. The “Actives,” for instance, represent 22 percent of the U.S. adult population, are well educated, have above-average income, and participate in significantly more green activities such as recycling than average consumers.

A substantial amount of consumer research conducted over the years by many companies has failed to provide a silver bullet approach to marketing green products. Most research concludes that the majority of consumers is fundamentally more interested in meeting their own needs than the needs of the planet, and more consumers show interest in green products than are actually willing to buy them if those products fall short in meeting their price, performance or emotional needs.

It’s possible that over time some consumers will begin to consider “environmental performance” an important dimension of performance along with the others. And even today many consumers, including the “Actives” mentioned above, derive some emotional benefits from associating themselves with products that make credible green claims. But the fundamental approach to understanding customers and reaching them with marketing messages is no different for green products than for traditional products. “In short,” writes the Shelton Group,“the best advice for the successful marketing of green products is the same as it is for successfully marketing any other product: Know thy buyer!”

Section III also presents a set of examples of green marketing, describing positioning, packaging and messaging of products ranging from Clorox Green Works to Honest Tea to Neutrogena Naturals. It’s valuable to have all of these case examples in one place. But it’s speculative to consider them “best practices,” since most provide no information about the success of these products. The section also reviews and explains greenwashing, regulatory standards for green marketing, ecolabels and cause marketing.

For sustainability practitioners who have followed green marketing and green product development closely over the last few years much of the material in this book will be familiar. But for those new to this topic, or any marketer, product developer, consultant or product-company executive who wants an efficient way of getting a comprehensive overview of this field, which is becoming a pillar of successful business, this book is a valuable resource. (It’s available for sale now on Amazon.com and elsewhere.)

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Filed under Life Cycle Assessment, marketing, sustainability, waste management, water

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