The Secret(s) Behind (Good) Green Marketing

“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.
Paulo Coelho de Souza, Brazilian lyricist & novelist


Environmental sustainability. Green products. Corporate social responsibility. Conscious consumers. 


Already, we can feel you glazing over. 

It’s natural. High-minded, business-centric buzzwords might go over well in corporate boardrooms – time and a place, after all – but the trouble is this: to the individual, they tend to go in one ear and right out the other. 

It’s hard for real people to connect those grand ideas with real environmental issues: things like carbon emissions, sustainable agriculture practices, the natural environment, recycled materials, renewable energy, and climate change. 

The marketing industry – reusable water bottle in hand – has made forays into the environmental narrative. And kudos to the brands that do. Advertising is about changing the way people behave, via the way they think; so, power to the pioneers. 

But, as an industry, are we doing enough? Or, to put it another way: could we do green marketing and sustainable advertising… better?

Watch The Greenprint Webinar for Free

Hosted by Jon Evans and featuring representatives from ITV, M&S, and Richard Shotton, author of The Choice Factory.

Growing Concerns

Many consumers recognize an urgent need for change. Moreover, they want brands to guide them in sustainable choices. The challenge, though, lies in effective communication.

Brands must tread carefully, ensuring that their green messages are clear, honest (in line with BCAP codes), and don’t sacrifice profitability in place of environmental benefits. But changing human behavior is never an easy hoop to shoot. 

  • As Richard Shotton highlights – even with environmentally-conscious consumers – you can’t hang your hat on presenting a problem and expecting viewers to simply ‘do the right thing.’ Routine behaviors are more deeply-entrenched than that. 
  • Additionally, perception of ‘important changes’ doesn’t always stack up with activities that make a significant difference. Of the 8% of ads that touch on environmental issues, the three most-commonly featured actions (recycling, renewable energy, and packaging reduction) actually rank 60th, 4th, and 38th in terms of real-world impact.
  • Compounding this is the fact that there’s no such thing as a ‘green dividend.’ Our Feeling Seen diversity report found that inclusive advertising is especially effective among the groups it represents. But there is no comparable boost when it comes to green marketing.  

And on top of all that, we can’t forget: ultimately, the central metrics of any advertising campaign are built on sales and long-term brand growth. Without: 

  • A high Spike Rating (predicting short-term ad effectiveness), and
  • A high Star Rating (indicating long-term growth potential), green marketing strategies will, at best, be lost in the noise.

Brands that Get It Right – With Examples

A good green marketing strategy needs more than just an environmental message. To really hit the mark, it requires some compelling brand storytelling that goes beyond mere virtue signaling.

Environmental messages alone won’t secure a competitive edge or drive substantial behavior change. That said, there are some key green marketing practices that can transform ads into powerful tools for commercial success and inspiring action.

Make Change Easy. Very, Very Easy

The enormity of the climate crisis can make individuals feel that addressing it requires monumental lifestyle changes, creating a psychological barrier to action. 

Green marketing initiatives work better when solutions are not only environmentally-friendly, but also clearly convenient and demonstrably cost-effective.

This taps into behavioral principles of loss aversion: people are often more motivated to avoid losses than to pursue gains. Successful brands focus on minimizing perceived losses associated with eco-friendly choices: for instance, by reassuring consumers that organically sourced fruits taste just as good as alternatives… or, better yet, are actually more flavorful.


Bosch – Live Sustainable

Here, Bosch shows us that small and easy lifestyle choices – like using dependable power tools, water-saving appliances, e-bikes, and smart devices – represent little choices that make a big difference. (It helps that the beat is pretty catchy, too.)

Identify – Then Pull – the Trigger

What do we mean by ‘trigger?’ 

Well, it’s about triggers for change. That moment that makes people think: “OK – from now on, x behavior stops. Y behavior starts now.”

For brands focused on green marketing initiatives, the wider cultural context often serves as a goldmine for effective triggers. 

The buzz around events like the UN Climate Change Conference, Veganuary, or World Ocean Day can elevate the relevance of environmental issues, making it easier to catalyze personal change. 

And research shows us: ‘fresh-start moments’ create windows of opportunity when people are more open to altering their behavior.


Co-op: You Can Now Recycle Soft Plastics at Co-op

In the UK, supermarket chain Co-op told us the simple story of an older gentleman walking to the store to recycle soft plastics. OK, but what’s so timely about that? Well, not only did it coincide with COP26, it also came at the moment lockdown ended for the population. Interest in both of these ‘events’ was high, and as a result, Co-op fairly stole the show with a 5.1 Star-rated ad.

Be On the Right (Brain) Side

In Lemon and Look Out, building on insights from Dr Iain McGilchrist, Orlando Wood discusses the industry’s creative crisis. The left and right brains don’t function separately to one another; rather, they approach the same things in different ways. 

When it comes to ad response, each hemisphere informs our subsequent actions.

Things like close-up product shots, repetitive rhythms, and monologues: they speak to the narrow-focused, goal-oriented left brain. This is useful to know for consumers already in the mood to buy.

But for the long game – for that lasting brand and behavior impact – you need to play to the right brain. Unlike its analytical counterpart, the right side loves the stuff of life: character betweenness, subtle cues, catchy melodies, familiar settings, and a healthy dose of humor. These are the things that engage our emotions and trigger enduring effects.


McCain: Let’s All Chip In

Frozen food company McCain Foods takes these lessons onboard as it speaks to the viewer’s right brain. We see tangible, human interaction between Scottish comedian Iain Stirling and a potato farmer; moreover, there’s a chipper, melody-led banjo soundtrack, humorous subversion of language, and an identifiable farmyard setting to lend it that homespun feel.

Environmental Sustainability & 5-Star Green Marketing Strategies

Let’s wrap up with a final nugget for your green marketing strategy, drawn from Richard Shotton’s work in behavioral science and the EAST framework.

Behavioral science and green marketing? Yep, they do work together – and work well. 

  • Easy: People love easy. Make your green initiatives as seamless as a Sunday morning. Convenience is everyone’s friend in the quest for sustainability.
  • Attractive: Green doesn’t mean boring. Make it cool, make it sleek, make it Instagrammable. The more attractive, the more hearts and minds you’ll win.
  • Social: If everyone’s doing it, it’s right… right? Make your green practices a social movement. People love to join the eco-friendly wave.
  • Timely: Timing is everything. Leverage moments when people are already in the mood for change by pushing your green message at just the right time.

When it comes to highlighting sustainable business practices: show, don’t just tell. The green marketing practices we’ve outlined in The Greenprint prove to consumers that your brand doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk.Environmental initiatives are laudable; and it is possible to leverage them for behavioral change and for brand growth.

How? Well, it’s about more than product promotion. It means selling a story, a planet-friendly movement, and a lifestyle. Do that, and your brand will be doing its bit – and reaping the commercial benefits, to boot.

Watch The Greenprint Webinar for Free

Hosted by Jon Evans and featuring representatives from ITV, M&S, and Richard Shotton, author of The Choice Factory.

At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident, creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand monitoring platform which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.