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A study on the evolution of green communication

21 Jul 2021 —
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Since the beginning of ecological awareness in the 1960s, the question of how to communicate on this subject has arisen. In fact, the term "green marketing" was first used in 1975, when Karl Henion and Thomas Kinnear published their book Ecological Marketing (American Marketing Association). In simple terms, we have moved from marketing environmentally friendly products to producing, promoting and packaging products in a more environmentally friendly way. In a way, there has been a reversal of focus, where sustainability has lost its centrality and became a tool of communication.

Since the beginning of ecological awareness in the 1960s, the question of how to communicate on this subject has arisen. In fact, the term "green marketing" was first used in 1975, when Karl Henion and Thomas Kinnear published their book Ecological Marketing (American Marketing Association). In simple terms, we have moved from marketing environmentally friendly products to producing, promoting and packaging products in a more environmentally friendly way. In a way, there has been a reversal of focus, where sustainability has lost its centrality and became a tool of communication.

Over the past two decades, environmental awareness and the increase in sustainability claims by various brands have led to a twofold evolution. On the one hand, eco-responsible brands and environmental NGOs have had to become creative in order to remain visible. On the other hand, creative agencies and brands have had to become sustainable in their operations and communication campaigns.

brochure from Cyclus and Cocoon Papers

Daniel Reed for Arjowiggins Graphic, ‘Raymond’, brochure on Cyclus and Cocoon Offset 100% recycled paper

When sustainability becomes creative

From the early 1960s until recently, ecology was considered a subculture. Green products were only of interest to a segment of consumers who rejected mainstream brands. In the absence of a general concern for eco-responsibility, communicating on the subject was almost enough to be heard (by the few who cared). A brand like The Body Shop, founded in 1976, was unique enough to attract customers with its cruelty-free and environmentally friendly approach. Today, however, environmental awareness has forced all eco-responsible brands and institutions to raise the bar on marketing creativity. This is the case with major NGOs, such as WWF, which have successfully developed innovative and impactful campaigns. From large-scale initiatives such as Earth Hour to experiments such as the five-foot elephant hologram created outside St Paul's Cathedral in London to draw attention to the possible extinction of endangered species, these large organisations have learned to leverage marketing strategies.

Recycling paper image

A marketing campaign to encourage businesses and designers to use recycled paper.

 

However, while NGOs and established brands have had to change, new entrants to the 'sustainability business' have also had to make an extra effort to stand out. One example is the English company "Who gives a Crap" founded in 2010. This sustainable toilet paper retailer sells responsibly sourced, plastic, and chemical-free products and was founded with the principle of giving a share of their profit back to charities helping to provide clean water and sanitation in disadvantaged areas. Although sustainability, both environmental and social, is at the heart of the brand, it is its colourful and light-hearted communication that sets it apart. From the brand name to its packaging to its social media campaigns, 'Who Gives a Crap' relies on fun brand identity, a far cry from the dreary, sanctimonious communication we used to associate with green brands.

This element is perhaps one of the great changes of the last decade. Whereas green brands and NGOs often relied on guilt to attract the public, they are beginning to embrace the idea that sustainability can be fun and enjoyable. Another big change is also the increase in information available to the public. Paradoxically, as we see more and more green-washing campaigns, the public is more discerning, and a brand like BP would find it much harder to pass for green today, as it did in the 1990s, claiming to be "the world's largest solar power producer”

Recycled toilet paper image

Who gives a crap, 100% Recycled Toilet Paper produced with bamboo or sugar cane.

 

Creative campaigns must include sustainability

With the rise of eco-consciousness, consumers expect brands to be more sustainable. In fact, a 2020 survey by the US National Retail Federation found that 80% of consumers surveyed said that sustainability was important to them when choosing a product. In response to this new factor, brands have had to evolve in the way they produce and communicate their products. A shining example is the clothing brand Patagonia, which has fully embraced the sustainability argument, dear to its target audience of high-income outdoor enthusiasts, as a core brand value.

1st for the planet image

This new need for environmental responsibility has an impact on the whole chain, from production to packaging and communication, to the way the brand's offices are supplied with energy. In terms of graphic design, the evolution is quite clear. Up until the last decade, specific elements, like the use of the colour green, or earth-related symbols like trees or leaves, were enough to differentiate a sustainable brand. Today, sustainable brands are brands above all, with a need to create a unique recognizable identity. We find more of a minimalist trend, as well as a move towards uncoated papers with a more 'natural' feel – paper manufacturers have picked up on this trend, with a growing range of papers with a recycled look as a selling point. The way we communicate has changed dramatically. The extended dematerialised communication movement, which was thought to be more environmentally friendly, has shown its limits, particularly be-cause of the use of energy-intensive servers. The need for sensory experiences, com-bined with the increased sustainability of paper production, now makes it the ideal material for sustainable creativity. In one of our previous articles, we talked about Dieter Rams and his "Less is More" approach as a model for eco-design. The strong impact of tactile communication on customers' memories could be a good solution for sustainable communication. But beware, sustainability is becoming the new normal, and for the foreseeable future, brands should not expect to gain too much from highlighting their green approach (although refraining from it could be costly), we are looking forward to seeing what the next decades will bring in terms of the dynamics between creativity and sustainability.

 

Arjowiggans Recycled & alternative fibres image

How the ANTALIS GREEN STAR SYSTEM™ works

Antalis is committed to protecting the environment. To help their clients choose paper with a better impact on the environment, Antalis has developed the Green Star System™, a tool that attributes each paper product a rating from zero to five depending on environmental performance.

  • Origin of the fibre: For a product to be eco-responsible, the wood fibres must either be FSC®/PEFC™ certified or at least 50% recycled from post-consumer waste with the remaining in line with FSC® or PEFC™ standards.
  • Manufacturing process: For a product to be defined as eco-responsible, either the mills that produce the paper must carry ISO 14001 certification (based on a  framework for the development of an environmental management system  –  EMS  –  and the supporting audit programme) or the paper must carry the EU Ecolabel (lifecycle-based approach).

 

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