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Will green marketing keep growing?

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The now-official U.S. recession will be a protracted one, if the pundits are right. They paint a grim, scary picture, full of unknown variables. While it's undoubtedly true that there will be financial misery, at home and abroad, for the remainder of this year and into next, might there be a silver lining? Might that lining be green? This issue of BtoB includes our first special report devoted entirely to green marketing (see page 22). A few months ago, when we began collecting sources for this report, it was immediately apparent that this iceberg—sadly, unlike its real-world counterparts—is growing. That's quite a change from just a few years ago, when General Electric Co.'s landmark “ecomagination” campaign hit the airwaves in 2005. At the time, BtoB and others lavished awards on GE and its agency, BBDO, for the work. But GE was the exception that proved the rule. The question now becomes: With the dreadful economy, will the trend continue? No, according to at least one recent report. In September, BtoB sibling publication Advertising Age reported on a study by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, which found chief marketing officers “distracted by the downturn are placing less emphasis on cause-related and environmental issues.” My bet is that smart b-to-b marketers will continue to play up their companies' legitimate (read, no “greenwashing”) initiatives—not because green is deemed an admirable social cause but because “sustainability” will be tied to messages about tangible benefits such as energy efficiency and cost-savings, which are perennial interests of businesspeople. It's also likely that President-elect Barack Obama, who plans to revitalize the nation's economy around clean energy technologies and products, will raise the profile of green businesses. As Cindy Commander, an analyst with Forrester Research, points out in our special report, business customers are gravitating to green operations and green suppliers not because of save-the-earth politics but because they are being compelled in this direction by their trading partners. “Businesses want all their partners to be taking steps to be green and are asking that they uphold the same green standards that they are,” Commander said. Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, which bills itself as a “resource of environmental information, tools and data aimed at the mainstream business community,” puts it this way in our Q&A with him (see page 23): “Customers, b-to-b and consumers alike, aren't looking to save the earth with their purchases. They want products that meet their needs. ... Green is almost never the principal purchasing criterion.” A green tint also appears in the annual Vertical Outlook special report in this month's issue of Media Business, our monthly magazine for publishing executives. Steve Reiss, VP-publishing director of Packaging Digest, published by Reed Business Information, said sustainability continued to be a key marketer driver in his industry this year. He noted the trend has evolved from a focus on materials to overall best manufacturing and supply chain practices, such as how companies can use less water and energy. This issue of BtoB also includes our “2009 Marketing Priorities and Plans” survey (see page 25). The standout finding this year? Despite the recession, nearly one-third of b-to-b marketers plan to increase their marketing budgets next year. On the downside, a quarter of those surveyed plan to cut their budgets. From the staff of BtoB, we wish you a productive and prosperous 2009. Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.
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