Going green is only good business

One of the questions I have been marking on the 1st year BA PR course at Bournemouth University relates to whether corporate social responsibility is good business.

Taking good business as meaning profitable, Catherine Bennett reflects on “green marketing” and its role in boosting profits.  The message consumers seem to have readily accepted is that environmentally it is okay to keep on shopping provided you switch to “green” products.

The mantra of “” seems to be lost in the current “green movement” – where marketing efforts have been redirected to using the “environment” as a selling message. 

“Green” products may be better in certain environmental terms than alternative options (although not as much as some of the advertising claims), but this is still consumerism.

But can we blame – or credit – marketing/public relations for the burgeoning “green” business?  Aren’t the same techniques being used by environmental groups, local authorities and others who seek to change behaviours?  Is it a case of bigger budgets influencing publics more? 

At the start of the 20th century, efforts of public relations practitioners such as – used shopping to create ; turning the population into consumers rather than citizens, by fulfilling their desires, not just their needs.

A century later, it appears the power of this strategy – fuelled by the needs of business and governments – remains.  The public will change their behaviour – but only if they can carry on shopping.  Are we really that selfish or easily manipulated?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

4 thoughts on “Going green is only good business”

  1. Of course we’re easily manipulated otherwise marketing and PR people wouldn’t have a job! 🙂

    With the increased time pressures that everyone is finding themselves under the time to actually think about anything is a luxury that few bother to do, or even think they need to do. Given that Green has also been hijacked by politicians and now guilt is being thrust into the equation along with all the alchemy of marketing and no wonder we’re where we are.

    Short answer to a much more complex question.

  2. Richard – I suppose what I was pondering in part was how the marketing/PR seems to work best when reinforcing behaviour that apparently makes us feel good – so Bernays was successful in encouraging women to start smoking (which he linked to female empowerment) but it has been much harder to use the same techniques to persuade people to stop. That was partly because smoking was associated as a pleasure, stress relief, etc from early marketing – but also the “myth” (for the vast majority) of addiction as a barrier to behavioural change provided the opportunity for cognitive dissonance (it’s not my fault I cannot stop smoking – when it’s banned I’ll have to stop).

    Similarly, we adopt “green” behaviour which actually reinforces carrying on as usual. This shows the power of “peripheral” messages – as you say, where not too much time or effort is required in cognitive processing. Carbon offsetting – environmentally and logically a stupid idea – but easy to do without pain or effort (especially if you are rich, famous or a politician).

    The theory of reasoned action brings in the power of social norms as a factor in likelihood to act in a particular way.

    Unfortunately, our busy lifestyles, the vested interests of marketing/PR, political machinations etc all result in less freedom of thought or action by the individual and more likelihood of enforcement to change behaviour, as with smoking.

  3. Great response Heather. Guilt has more to do with how we behave when it comes to anything remotely green. It’s not that it makes us feel specifically good to ‘go green’; it’s that it stops us from feeling so bad.

  4. I’m going to explore the concept of guilt further I think – with a bit of psychology research. Carbon guilt is definitely something that is being pushed at present.

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