A Hedonistic Approach to Green

A few months back I took part in a fascinating exchange on the LinkedIn group “Women Growing Green Business.” The conversation kicked off when one member of the group posted a link to Green marketer Joel Makower’s post Earth Day and the Polling of America, 2010: Me First, Planet Later.

In it, Makower dolefully detailed a number of studies indicating that “with the exception of committed environmentalists – a relative sliver of the populace – the mood (of American consumers) has switched from ‘What can I do to be helpful?’ to ‘What’s in it for me?'”

Perhaps Makower is rightfully cynical. But in the eyes of this particular group of women – many of them talented Green marketing experts as well – this “Me First” attitude regarding Green products represents not just a challenge but an exciting opportunity.


In fact, one participant, Green market researcher Wendy Cobrda, has gone so far as to coin a term for it. She calls it “eco-hedonism” and insists it’s not a bad thing. In her own words:

Instead of Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability – the great majority of people are motivated by Lifestyles of Hedonics and Economics, doing things that bring them pleasure and those actions are shaped in many ways by their means or economics.

For example, for the longest time, I’ve been a fan of Muir Glen fire-roasted canned tomatoes. While I’m not a gourmand by any stretch, I do enjoy cooking, and even more so when what I cook brings smiles of pleasure. On a whim, I tried those tomatoes and for years now, that’s all I buy (unless I can’t get them!) Why? Because they taste good. I appreciate that they are organic, I like the mission of the company, but I come back time after time because I like how they taste.


Remember the old saying, “Keep it simple, stupid?” Green marketers would do well to heed it. Like it or not, the act of shopping is the modern equivalent of foraging for food, shelter or other primitive necessities. Foraging usually doesn’t involve complex, ethical decisions. If it looks good, tastes good, smells good, take it! f it doesn’t appeal, leave it. And by all means, if it’s scary or suspicious, run! Simple. That’s what we’re wired for at a deep animal level.

It’s not that people don’t care. It’s just that the environment and the challenges we face as a species and as a planet are anything but simple. The average person has a very hard time grasping the importance of the issues themselves, let alone how their choices may influence those issues. Choosing a product based on its eco-friendliness involves thought patterns that may also include feelings of uncertainty and confusion – not emotions that readily lend themselves to buying.

When your product appeals to a person’s hedonistic self-interest you’re speaking to them on a super-simple level that requires little thought. We’re talking animal instincts. Great taste. Comfort. Savings. Sex appeal. It may not be spiritually enlightened, but it’s powerful stuff, and that’s where the main thrust of your marketing messages should be.

And Green messaging? Should we even bother with it?


As Green marketer Jacqueline Ottman noted in the thread,

What I believe is that people do care about the planet – that is evident- but when they go into supermarkets and put on their “shopper hats” they have to make sure that the products they buy satisfy their primary reasons for buying the products in the first place -getting clothes clean, buying nutritious and tasty food, etc. This is even more important in a recession when consumers need to ensure they are getting value for their money.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about the planet. For the entire 20 years that I have been tracking green marketing, environmental, and increasingly social, benefits have played an important secondary role in influencing purchases. (One of my colleagues coined the phrase, “The tie goes to the dolphin”.) Green then is the added source of value that can break a tie at the shelf. But, when truly integrated into the value proposition, green can enhance primary benefits -the organic produce that tastes better. That is true green marketing heaven!

So absolutely weave green messaging into your promotions. (As long as you can do it ethically and truthfully, of course!) But don’t make it the main dish. Think of it as a scrumptious dessert to top off an already mouthwatering meal – tipping the balance from tempting to irresistible!

– Anne

P.S. Just a small but very important caveat: this article was penned with the generic, mainstream American consumer, or mildly Green consumer, in mind. Your company’s target market(s) are unique and may require a different approach ranging from not mentioning sustainability issues at all, to making them the main focus of your messaging. It’s all about understanding the prospect!

Anne Michelsen is a freelance copywriter who helps Green and sustainable businesses improve their sales and lead generation through persuasive content and effective sales writing. Subscribe to her bi-weekly newsletter and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.