As consumer interest in the environment has grown to an all time high, so too has that of businesses, which not only find themselves needing to meet the demands of the consumer, but having to do so in a commercial environment that is increasingly shaped by green legislation.
But rather than see environmental issues as a thorn in their side, businesses are increasingly seeing them as opportunities on which to not only grow their business but also improve their brand values and corporate reputation.
"For marketers, the growing environmental interest has seen them able to create campaigns that promote and support their organisation's green credentials, whether operating in the public or private sectors," says Matt Franks, who launched the UK's leading supplier of environmentally friendly, recycled and ethically sourced business promotions, Eco Incentives, with fellow director Miles Lovegrove in 2006.
"Where 18 months ago a business that promoted its green approach through its marketing stood out from the crowd, today being eco-focused is an approach that companies simply cannot afford to ignore."
According to Franks, such has been the improvement in choice, quality and price within the green promotions sector that it is now more than comparable to the traditional promotions market.
Indeed it can be argued that a promotional item, such as a coaster made from recycled yoghurt pots, has inherently more value and interest than the traditional alternative. So for a company keen to introduce a green marketing campaign there has never been a better time, with consumer interest set to grow further still in the foreseeable future.
But as the environmental market grows, organisations need to manage their marketing campaigns thoughtfully, seriously, and strategically, warns Franks.
According to marketing and branding agency BBMG, firms that fail to back up green marketing with sustainable business models are running the risk of a major consumer backlash.
"Companies that simply pay lip service to the green marketing movement run the very real risk of finding their marketing messages coming back to bite them, with the potentially more damaging consequence of alienating their customer base and impacting negatively upon their commercial reputation," says Franks.
And whilst managing the message is extremely important, sourcing a range of promotional items that reflect your organisation's environmental stance is something that also needs to stand up to scrutiny, he adds.
Look before you leap
For those wanting to procure green promotional items and weave them into their marketing campaigns, the strong advice is look before you leap - or run the risk of being ‘green washed'.
"The rise in popularity of the environmental promotions sector has unfortunately also led to significant growth in firms claiming to provide environmentally friendly products - when the reality is something quite different," says Franks.
"There is evidence of some promotions companies claiming a product is eco friendly because it is manufactured in the shape of a strawberry! The reality is that it is mass produced and anything but green. But we must remember that the eco-promotions sector is still a relatively new market and it is easy for companies to become ‘green washed' into believing they are sourcing promotional items that are environmentally friendly."
So it is a matter of buyer-beware. Just because a product says its green, doesn't mean it is. "If companies are serious about their environmental marketing and promotions, it is important they ask questions about the products they are sourcing and feel confident and comfortable that the product they want is as green as they are being told it is," Franks suggests.
"A reputable company will be a knowledgeable company. Given the message behind a pro-eco marketing campaign, you really cannot afford to take any chances, so you need to be totally confident in your supplier," added Franks.
Looking ahead, the eco promotions sector shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, if anything the industry looks set for record growth again in 2008, fuelled by innovative and imaginative new product development and growing interest in green alternatives.
For businesses that get it right, green marketing can not only tick all the boxes, but reinforce and strengthen the brand and their firm's reputation. For those who don't, it is highly likely they could be left with a lot more than just egg on their face.
For more information on Eco Incentives' wide range of ethical and sustainable products, visit http://www.ecoincentives.com/ or call 0845 838 6380.
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