Is Green the New Black? Embracing the sustainability commodity discourse

Living sustainably has become a lifestyle choice. The eco-movement has exploded within societies, and especially within popular culture; organizations, governments, and consumers are all taking steps to ‘‘green’’ their lives.

The downturn in the global economy in 2008 signalled an end to the Gordon Gekko ‘‘greed is good’’ 1980s mentality, and a recognition by many in society that consumption does not necessarily make you happy and/or improve your quality of life. Today, there are considerable groups of consumers who actually want both less choice in their consumption decisions and also want to consume less.

Many consumers have begun to connect the dots that link their personal consumption habits with global production as global media reporting on environmental issues becomes more sophisticated. They now understand the underlying issues related to facts such as cars are no longer produced in one country but are a product of parts from many countries or that bananas from Costa Rica for US$.99 a pound are being consumed at a heavy price to the workers and the land in that country.

At the same time, institutions are also addressing environmental sustainability more systematically than at any other time in our recent history. Within business we have seen a more fundamental shift toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability, and a growing recognition that going green is not simply about gaining a competitive advantage, but a necessity for the future survival of our planet.

Consumers’ improved understanding of the effects of consumption and production on the environment, forces marketers to rethink their own practices, and perhaps go as far as retooling their business philosophy to embrace this green commodity discourse. For example, consider the cases of the motor and consumer product industries:

Case A: In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, there is an opportunity for the company to engage with the green commodity discourse. This would require a massive restructuring of how cars are constructed, but, perhaps more importantly, it would force this industry to rethink its place in a new era of sustainability. Environmental policy that is global in scale will inevitably shape the way the automotive industry will do business; the industry can choose to continue to play catch-up or proactively engage this new worldview and make different products, market them differently, and rethink the role of transportation in the global environmental equation.

Case B: Large consumer product companies could also heed the call of the green commodity discourse message. This industry has long been driven by the assumption that more choice is always better. Yet, many consumers are countering with feelings of choice exhaustion or apathy. In addition, consumers are clamoring for ‘‘green’’ alternatives. These two consumer trends could dovetail nicely for large consumer products companies by allowing them to trim tired or dead brands and to provide not just a green alternative but a line of more sustainable options to help move consumers away from toxic alternatives.

Through engaging with the sustainable commodity discourse, ideas can emerge that reflect the new consumer-citizen who is not motivated by materialist consumption but, instead, by concerns such as their families’ health and/or macro-level ideas such as climate change or pollution. Constructive engagement with stakeholders, in open and democratic way, has the potential to lead to changes in the way we think about organisations, consumers and the discipline of marketing.

Adapted from: Prothero, A., McDonagh, P., & Dobscha, S. (2010). Is green the new black? Reflections on a green commodity discourse. Journal of Macromarketing, 30(2), 147-159.

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