Is Green Talk All Gobbledygook?

By | October 15, 2009

EcoAlign, a strategic marketing firm specializing in green issues, has released a report that shows that, while consumers care about green issues, they don’t understand much of the basic terminology or make clear distinctions between terms. So when we talk “green” to our customers, do they understand what we’re talking about?

Although the report, “Green Gap Redux: Green Words Gone Wrong,” is focused largely at the energy industry, it has important implications for all companies marketing “green.” With printing — digital printing, in particular — really focused on its green benefits, it ought to be listening closely.

There were some really strange findings in here. For example, only 31% of consumers thought the environment would benefit from smart grid technologies; and 29% thought the government would benefit least. (Guess those government stimulus dollars were just altruism!)

In a press release, Andrea Fabbri, COO and Chief Marketing Officer of EcoAlign, said:

Compared to two years ago, consumers today have a greater understanding of the importance of conservation and clean energy but have not moved this awareness into action. The challenge for communications and marketing professionals is to make sustainability an economic value. This must start from engaging with consumers on a more deeply emotional level to transform beliefs into the values that shape consumer decisions. But it also has to be complemented by solutions that address the economic barriers.

For printers, the takeaway point is the need to really focus on practical discussions about what your environmental initiatives mean to your customers and tie them into both environmental and economic benefits. Marketers and consumers are being barraged with “green” terminology. Let’s not assume that they always understand what it means.

A copy of the full EcoPinion report is available at no charge by visiting EcoAlign’s website at

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9 thoughts on “Is Green Talk All Gobbledygook?

  1. MJ Print

    “Is Green Talk All Gobbledygook?” Yes. Unless you are refering to green as being money…earning a profit is still #1 priority.

  2. Paul Edwards

    While I feel that almost everyone in the paper and printing industry is environmentally aware, the costs of the left wing extortion by FSC and SFI is not something that 99+% of our customers care to support. Paper and forestry companies have been extremely conservative and environmentally concious for decades, so much so, that we now have many more trees than ever before. Why is it necessary to pay extortion to SFI or FSC to audit and track a material that has been environmentally sound for decades?

    Alternative energy development conversely has enormous potential to free all countries from the grip of oil cartels and can provide all of us with ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Even wind power initiatives by many companies, however, have been met with a rejection from consumers if any minor incremental costs were involved.

    The solution to the problem is to find ways to keep being green financially neutral or to lower costs, not add costs to a printing industry already struggling to sustain itself. Utilizing digital print technologies is one way to do that by effectively eliminating massive warehousing, cash investment and reshipping costs and digitally printing what is needed, when it is needed and shipping directly where it is needed.

    Paul Edwards, CDC
    FormStore Incorporated
    Digital tour at:

  3. Heidi Tolliver-Nigro

    Hi, Paul.

    The point here is consumers’ understanding of terminology and issues, not that printers should go out and get FSC-certified. The point is that we throw around a lot of terms in this industry, and we shouldn’t assume that customers automatically understand what they mean or what the consequences of these things are.

  4. Tom Tozier

    You have brought up an excellent point regarding green business. I believe someone in the advertising business has coined a term that hits home: “Green Fatigue” which is what consumers are feeling with the bombardment of businesses declaring their “Green-ness.” Customers now expect you to be green. They assume that you are green because it’s a given that everyone magically turned green 3 years ago.

    What customers (we) want to know is relevance, what does it mean to me that you’re green, you’re sustainable, you’re environmentally friendly. How does this affect my contribution to the greening of the world effort? A simple but useful example is not just informing a customer how this reduces his/her “carbon footprint” but how that equals something like, taking 20 cars off the highway for a year, now there’s your relevance.

  5. Paul Edwards

    So Heidi, what words do you think consumers do not understand?

    “Sustainable?” “Recycled?” “Renewable”? or is it the gobledygook “FSC?”, “FSI?”, ” X% PCW?” or “FSC Mixed sources?” or is it clearly “If it costs more, I am not interested unless you as the manufacturers absorb all of the extra costs?”

    Let’s not confuse the consumer any more. Let’s just cut through the semanitics. Green is NOT and environmental term. Green is a political term. Consumers are just about fed up with political agendas that cost money and do not deliver any additioanl value over and above what intelligent people are already doing because it makes good environmental AND good business sense.

  6. David McKnight

    My hope that at least part of the reason consumers are confused by the hype of “Green” is that something isn’t ringing true for them. Green is a marketing term turned into a political term and I’m hoping this political correctness runs it’s course.

    Sustainability has three folds…environment, economic and cultural. Much of the focus is on the environment but I’d suggest at times a misrepresentative focus..does anyone really think moving things “on-line’ doesn’t have an energy “foot-print”. The economic impact is seen in the creation of companies, consultants, standards (FSC) and to what extent they create value- should be questioned. And finally, culture. The printed book has had an undeniable contribution to education and our culture. When humans, yes people, do not receive value from sitting down and learning from a printed book then by all means let’s get rid of them….until then, as humans do, let’s find ways to reduce the impact of production, lowering costs, so we can continue to educate the world and not leave some behind.

  7. Andy McCourt

    The majority of us respond to emotional stimulii. I agree with Heidi’s assertions that consumers are confused with the terminologies, also the misinformation and, well, outright lies and concealment of truth in what is ‘good’ for the Earth and what is ‘bad.’ Sustainilility, Green, FSC, Carbon Footprints – none of these are emotionally-stimulating terms and so humans tend to pretend they understand and believe the messages that have the most persuasive spin placed upon them. Hence, we hear, repreatedly, the lie that ‘books/newspapers/magazines kill trees; are bad for the Earth.’ And folks ingest this like Soma (Brave New World). Until we come up with emotionally-stimulating messages and images that present the truths about printing, in one concise Eureka moment, we will continue to be beaten by the internet (runs on coal, you know) juggernaut. Lastly, an example from the food industry. Tuna fish trawlers can also catch and kill dolphins and this is patently cruel. Along came ‘Dolphin-friendly Tuna’ and made all the rest almost un-sellable. That’s emotional; so our industry needs to find the equivalent emotional message – I wish I knew what it is.

  8. Larry Bauer

    I think the answer is clearly, “yes,” most end customers don’t always understand “green” terminology. My experience in helping printers and other BtoB companies market themselves is that we often make assumptions that customers know (or care, for that matter) about certain thingts as as we do. I learned early on when when selling print that customers have their own concerns that go far beyond what matters to me. You simply can’t say things often enough, in enough different ways in enough different channels when you’re trying to communicate. Keeping the message clear and simple is a good start.

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