Marketing eco-friendly products has two things going for it: They're eco-friendly, and they're products.
“People don’t always make their buying choices based on a company’s eco-friendliness,” noted Jeana Wirtenberg, an associate professor of professional practice at Rutgers University and CEO of sustainability consultancy Transitioning to Green.
On the other hand, she added, many youthful buyers and others do.
“Studies have indicated that businesses aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals enjoy enhanced branding, trust and reputation, and strengthened stakeholder relations,” Wirtenberg said. “They also benefit from increased consumer demand and increased employee engagement and recruitment.”
Commercial real estate vet Karen Halo launched Absolute Green, an Edison-based manufacturer and seller of all-natural cleaning agents, in 2008 after conventional cleaning supplies gave her an asthma attack.
“My primary target market is people who are concerned about the environment,” said Halo, whose products sell at Whole Foods Market. “Sometimes though, I speak to people at events or other places who aren’t into conservation [and] suddenly it’s like a light went off and they become interested.”
Halo said her annual sales doubled in 2017 after some national chains began carrying her products, which include lines of multipurpose and other cleaners, air fresheners, insect repellants and other items.
Wirtenberg said business owners looking to connect with the green marketplace should use social media to enhance the brand and build relationships. “Also consider hiring local workers and sourcing local products,” she said.
Halo said she makes a point of leveraging her business connections to create new ones.
“Being in Whole Foods in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut helps, since many of their customers are environmentally conscious to begin with,” she said. “Our products are also available on Amazon, and I’m active on social media channels like Instagram, and Facebook.”
The New Jersey Chapter of NAIOP, an industry group for commercial real estate developers, devotes a web page to its sustainability efforts.
“NAIOP NJ’s public policy positions are aimed at making New Jersey more attractive to employers and young talent,” NAIOP CEO Michael McGuinness said. “There is nothing more important than modern and sustainable infrastructure.
“[That’s because] it improves the environment and quality of life for everyone and is the foundation of a healthy economy,” McGuinness said. “NAIOP NJ took an early position in support of the voluntary use of green building technology. The intelligent use of energy, materials and other resources yield environmental benefits.”
Jeanne Gray, CEO of consulting firm AEP LLC, said it’s important for businesses to target the right prospective customers with their green-product marketing.
“It is critical that they get their message to the right targeted audience who they know value green in their purchase decisions,” said Gray, a board member of the New Jersey Green Association, which focuses on sustainability issues.
“People who value green often make the decision to pay a bit more for having that value,” she said. “So startups in particular should engage in some research and examine marketing channels where established green business are showcasing their products.”
Farmers markets are one option.
“You can try to introduce your products at organic or farmers markets, even in an urban area,” said Gray. “Although they tend to be restricted to the local population, you can sample your target market in a cost-effective manner. It’s also a good way to test your pricing strategy. See how customers react to changes in your pricing, and you can also easily see what other businesses in your space are charging for similar products.”
Halo did just that.
“When I first started Absolute Green, I was selling the products to my friends,” she recalled. “Then I went to farmers markets and used those people as my test market, which not only brought in more revenue but also gave me exposure and helped me to build a following. It wasn’t a sophisticated form of market sampling, but at least it was somewhat random. And it was better than calling on five friends and asking their opinion.”
Gray said it’s encouraging to remember the green marketplace is growing all the time.
“Eco-friendly, health and sustainability are growing trends, so this a good time to start a company in this space,” she said. “You know consumer sentiment is growing, so there’s an automatic boost. If you’ve got a good product you can take advantage of this trend while it’s still emerging.”