Can marketing be used to ‘save the environment’?

How can marketing ‘save the environment’?

Social marketing is about marketing activities to benefit society. Consider marketing against smoking. The “4 Ps of marketing” or “marketing mix” (product, place, price, promotion) can be used to limit cigarette sales. You can place cigarettes behind the counter (place), price them ridiculously high, make awkward packaging (“smoking kills”) and forbid public marketing campaigns (promotion).

We can also use marketing to encourage behaviour, which is good for the environment (such as using low energy light bulbs) and discourage other behaviours, which are bad for the environment (e.g. showering long).

Changing behaviour is not easy. People might not be aware of the necessity, be able to act (e.g. because of financial constraints), or willing to act (e.g. because they may not care). How can we use marketing for such a range of people? Perhaps, the most successful marketing campaigns use all the elements (product, place, price, promotion) of the marketing mix simultaneously. Also, if people do not care about the environment necessarily, they may want to be convinced about other benefits of behaviour change.

Consider the product life cycle of a T-Shirt: the product life cycle starts at sourcing the raw materials (e.g. cotton), which is made into yarn, which is subsequently made into fabric, sewn together, shipped, stored in shops, bought by a consumer, washed, dried and perhaps ironed, and hopefully reused many times before being sent to a charity or recycling bank. This is a very complex system of activities. Over the life cycle of a T-shirt washing and drying the T-Shirt many times constitutes the main environmental impact (carbon emissions) (see Allwood et al., 2006).

A designer can decide to change the product so that it does not have to be washed too often. Think about using sweat-wicking materials, or: removing the armpits from garments and coating areas where most stains usually appear (presented by an eco-fashion designer a few years ago!).  The other benefits of washing clothing less often, can also be emphasised on the clothing tag: your clothes may last longer (promotion). The financial benefits of washing at low temperatures and not tumble-drying (price) and not having to iron by leaving your clothing to dry on a hanger may convince others that this is a good thing to do. Retailers may want to place the most environmentally friendly products (e.g. made of good materials, using long-lasting design) at a prominent place in their shops.

In short, using the marketing mix, convincing consumers of additional benefits of eco-friendly products or behaviour (e.g. not washing my clothing too often keeps them nicer for longer), and educating about issues through the brand (nice-looking products with a convincing story), may be useful strategies for companies to pursue to reduce their ‘product life cycle impact’.



Allwood, J., Ellebæk Laursen, S., Malvido de Rodríguez, C., Bocken, N. 2006. Well dressed? The present and future sustainability of clothing and textiles in the United Kingdom. University of Cambridge, Institute for Manufacturing:

Bocken, N., Allwood, J. 2012. Strategies to reduce the carbon footprint of consumer goods by influencing stakeholders. Journal of Cleaner Production 35 (2012) 118-129