Terminology Primary for Green Marketing

Alright my people, time to get the poindexter cap on and learn about the language of the “new green” movement, expressly for marketers. It may have been an emerging trend in 1970, but its now a swelling movement. It is the hope of the Earth Day Network, that the year 2010 will mark the beginning of the Green Generation: an age of sustainability and a break with the past.

As a way for all of us to learn the meaning of the language being used in marketing and business forums, I’ve pulled definitions primarily from the Presidio School of Management. They have a project called “the dictionary of sustainable management.” I’ve included only those terms that seem applicable. Take a look.



Biofuel is any fuel derived from an organic material that is not fossilized like coal or petroleum. Common sources of biofuel grown for the U.S and European markets are corn, soybeans, flaxseed and rapeseed. Biofuel can appear in solid, liquid, or gas form. It is used to produce heat or electricity, or to power machinery using burners, broilers, generators, internal combustion engines, turbines or fuel cells. Biofuel is a renewable energy, but there is some controversy that it is not sustainable due to the harvesting of biomass and the byproducts produced during the burning of biofuels.


Often referred to as a promise or expectation, a brand is the collective market understanding or perspective of a company, product, or service (either from the perspective of customers, competitors, partners, or peers).

Brand Experience

Often confused with a corporate identity or package design, a brand experience is the total interaction of customers with a company, product, service, or other offering through all senses, media, and touchpoints (such as television advertising, customer service, product use, etc.).

Carbon Footprint

The total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly and indirectly to support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of either carbon or carbon dioxide. Carbon footprints are calculated by countries as part of their reporting requirements under the Kyoto Protocol, as well as by companies, regions, or individuals.

CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

A business outlook that acknowledges responsibilities to stakeholders not traditionally accepted, including suppliers, customers, and employees as well as local and international communities in which it operates and the natural environment. There are few accepted standards and practices so far, but a growing concern that the actions organizations take have no unintended consequences outside the business, whether driven by concern, philanthropy, or a desire for an authentic brand and public relations.


A phrase invented by Walter R. Stahel in the 1970s and popularized by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their 2002 book of the same name. This framework seeks to create production techniques that are not just efficient but are essentially waste free. In cradle to cradle production all material inputs and outputs are seen either as technical or biological nutrients. Technical nutrients can be recycled or reused with no loss of quality and biological nutrients composted or consumed. By contrast cradle to grave refers to a company taking responsibility for the disposal of goods it has produced, but not necessarily putting products’ constiuent components back into service.


Waste materials generated from using or discarding electronic devices (such as computers, televisions, and mobile phones). E-waste tends to be highly toxic to humans, plants, and animals and contaminate water, air (often when burned), and dirt (where dumped or spilled). E-waste is a particular problem since technological devices are superceded so quickly, causing them to be thrown-out more quickly than many other product. Few of these devices are upgradable, easily reusable, or easily separated for recycling of components or industrial nutrients.


Any label that attempts to certify or distinguish a product or service in terms of environmental issues. The ISO 14021-14025 standards outline four different categories of eco-labels:

Type I labels are product seals licensed by governments or third party private entities based on multiple criteria regarding lifecycle impact, such as the US-based Green Seal or Sweden’s Nordic Swan. Type I seals can vary substantially in their criteria, which may or may not be known or understood by customers.

Type II labels are informative, self-declaration seals about the environmental qualities of a product, such as “contains 75% recycled paper.”

Type III labels offer quantified product information based on a life cycle assessment. These labels are best for comparisons between products or services. There are few examples of Type III labels in use. One in development is the Reveal label.

Type IV labels are single-issue seals licensed by companies or organizations. Examples include: the Leaping Bunny (signifying no animal testing), the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, Underwriter’s Laboratories insignia, and the Forest Stewardship Council seal.

Ecological Footprint

A term coined by ecologist William Rees and Mathis Wackernage to describe the total ecological impact (the amount of land, food, water, and other resources needed) to sustain a person or organization. This is usually measured in acres or hectares of productive land. It is used to determine relative consumption and is frequently used as an education and resource management tool. When addressing large populations (such as countries), the total productive capacity of the Earth is sometimes used. For example, on average, the population of the USA consumes so many resources that were the rest of the world’s population to consume at the same level, several more Earths would be needed to meet the demand.


A common metaphor referring to environmental association based on the shared secondary color of many plants. It is often used to associate products, organizations, political parties, or policies with environmentally sensitivity.

Green Marketing

The positioning and segmenting of consumers by ecologically-driven concerns and the development of strategies and solutions that will meet their needs and desires with as little negative impact on the Earth as possible. Products and services which satisfy or appeal to these consumers are often called “green” and their advertising and promotion often make claims of less environmental impact in terms of energy, materials, processes, or toxic substances.

In addition, green marketing includes the representation of a company, product, or service as less harmful to nature. This can lead to greenwashing when this represenation is neither sincere nor accurate.


A term merging the concepts of “green” (environmentally sound) and “whitewashing” (to conceal or gloss over wrongdoing). Greenwashing is any form of marketing or public relations that links a corporate, political, religious or nonprofit organization to a positive association with environmental issues for an unsustainable product, service, or practice.

In some cases, an organization may truly offer a “green” product, service or practice. However, through marketing and public relations, one is wrongly led to believe this “green” value system is ubiquitous throughout the entire organization.

See a recent post on GM’s commercial for the Volt. Tell me if you agree with my suspicions…

Natural Capital

One of at least four forms of capital used by people, organizations, corporations, and governments, to build and maintain their livelihoods. Natural Capital includes all forms of resources from the environment, including minerals, water, air, sunlight, heat, plants, animals, and other organic matter. Sustainable organizations seek to maximize their effectiveness and efficiency in using natural capital as well as practice policies that sustain the quality and quantity of natural capital sources in the future.

Opportunity Cost

The benefit that could have been received by taking an alternative course of action. Opportunity Cost is used to determine if a business investment is worthwhile in light of other opportunities. It should be a component in projecting cost flows.


In regards to food (both plant and animal) and other agricultural products (such as cotton), a term describing the absence of pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers and other toxic materials in cultivation. In some countries, “organic” has a legal definition. For example, in the USA, it is defined in the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 and refers to food and products that are at least 95% free of toxic and synthetic materials as described in the USDA National Organic Program.

Pollution Offset

The attempt to offset the results of pollution from some activity of process by improving the environment in an equal benefit. Carbon trading, for example, allows carbon polluters to offset the effect of excess carbon in the environment by trading credits with those whose activities reduce an equal amount of carbon. Pollution offsets can exist for any kind of polluting materials as long as an equal and direct benefit can be established.


Recycling is the process of reclaiming materials from used products or materials from their manufacturing and using them in the manufacturing of new products. It is different from Reuse, where products are not destroyed and remanufactured but cleaned and repaired to be used again, also known as remanufacturing. Another strategy to use resources more efficiently includes reducing the use of materials needed for product and process manufacturing, also known as dematerialization.

Many products are now marked with a variety of recycling symbols meant to help consumers and waste managers in separating recycled products and materials. Not all materials and products can be recycled, however. Those designed for disassembly or made from one material are the easiest. Even when used materials and products are recycled, often there is no economically viable market for these materials and they are either disposed of with other waste or stored in warehouses for future uses.


One of the most sustainable strategies is simply to reduce the amount of energy and materials we use and, thus, are required to be manufactured. This reduction has an exponential effect as it further reduces packaging, recycling, transportation, cleaning, disposal, and a host of other costs.


Any material or energy that can be replenished in full without loss or degradation in quality.


Often, the most sustainable option is to reuse materials and objects already manufactured, either for their original or new purposes, rather than recycle them into other products. This decreases further energy and materials use in recreating them into a new form.


Responsible caretaking; based on the premise that we do not own resources but only manage them, and are responsible to future generations for their condition. Making decisions regarding the care of our environment with the goal of passing healthy ecosystems on to future generations.


Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

This definition was created in 1987 at the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission). It is enshrined in the Swiss federal constitution. It is similar to the “seventh generation” philosophy of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy, mandating that chiefs always consider the effects of their actions on their descendants seven generations in the future.

There are many ways to measure or define sustainability. As described in the book Natural Capitalism, in business, these should include the sustainable development and use of, at least, the following four types of capital:

* Financial Capital
* Manufacturing Capital
* Natural Capital
* Human Capital

Sustainable Development

An approach to developing anything that recognizes the need to meet the challenges of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Tipping Point

A way of looking at the way change happens in the world, put forth by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book, The Tipping Point. The book contends that ideas, behaviors, messages, and products spread through society similar to disease, and that societal changes are like epidemics: a tiny force can cause enormous shifts. The “tipping point” is the moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches “critical mass.”

Total Cost Accounting

Total cost accounting (TCA) is a financial tool used to provide a more complete assessment of the true profitability of an entity by taking into account a wider range of direct and indirect costs and savings. It uses longer time horizons that reflect the full economic or commercial life of the project, incorporates the time value of money, reveals hidden costs, and considers uncertain or less quantifiable costs.

Value Chain

Described and popularized by Michael Porter in his 1985 best-seller, Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance, the value chain identifies the various value-adding activities of an organization or network. Often used as a tool for strategic planning because of its emphasis on maximizing value while minimizing costs.

Waste Reduction

The process of reducing waste material and energy in manufacturing, use, and disposal by techniques such as dematerialization, transmaterialization, recycling, sustainable design, closed-loop supply chains, etc.

Zero Waste

The goal of developing products and services, managing their use and deployment, and creating recycling systems and markets in order to eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials and conserve and recover all resources. Implementing zero waste eliminates all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health. Many cities and states already have set zero-waste goals. For example, San Francisco and other cities have set a goal to create zero waste by 2020.

Go Green!


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