How to Avoid Eco-Fatigue

Not Only Marketers: Media Also Needs to Do Its Part to Keep Consumers From Burning out

By Published on .

Jennifer Maxwell-Muir
Jennifer Maxwell-Muir
People are getting sick. A wave of green fatigue, eco-exhaustion and environmental anxiety is spreading among consumers. Overwhelmed by choices, disgusted by corporate hype and living with the fear their efforts will never be enough, people are tuning out, say the experts.

One could argue the media industry is just getting sick of its own reporting -- who hasn't done a "green" issue? -- and is looking for the next trend. The Columbia Journalism Review in June reported that the press has moved from "environmental exigency to exhaustion." From The New York Times to Wired magazine, reporters are talking up the weary consumer.

It's not all hype. Greenwashing is happening left and right. Over-the-top claims by companies jumping on the "eco" bandwagon are being met with suspicion and are eroding consumer trust. Then, sadly, when true progress is made by companies pushing the boundaries, such as Patagonia and its Footprint Chronicles, little is mentioned in the mainstream press.

There also is growing uncertainty about the effectiveness of personal actions, despite the truest of intentions. People are so bombarded by "helpful" advice that they're becoming consumed with anxiety over making the right decision. Local or organic? Carpool or green tags? Bath or shower? The choices are endless. And just when you think you're making the right one, such as using Nalgene as refillable water bottles, you find out that's not right either. Now you've got another thing to worry about: BPA.

For the media industry, CJR is recommending that journalists "avoid the flimflammery of 'green consumerism' (itself, an oxymoron) unless there is a truly useful discovery or breakthrough to report. Perhaps that would assuage some of the eco-anxiety out there, and allow readers to think about more meaningful ways to help their planet."

Good advice. Are you listening? What is "breakthrough" is news. Everything else is just interesting. Or even expected of you.

7 Tips to Avoid Eco-Fatigue

1. Be remarkable. You can make the "greenest" product on the planet, but unless it solves a significant consumer problem, works or tastes better than anything in the market and offers a good value in ratio to price, consumers won't buy it.

2. Be green because it's something you value, not as a marketing gimmick. Can coal really market the industry as being green and clean? What is Kermit the Frog doing with the Ford Escape? People smell falsehoods, and you go from bad to worse.

3. Don't be bashful. A lot of truly "green" companies are afraid to speak up because it feels too self-righteous. Consumers actually appreciate your efforts, no matter the size, as long as they're earnest and a step in the right direction. The amplification of your message can increase with your commitments.

4. Make it fun and engaging. Green doesn't have to be staid. The average consumer doesn't even know that the "hip" home cleaning products (is that an oxymoron?) made by Method are even green. And that's entirely the point. This fast-growing brand wants consumers to love its product first -- because they're well-designed, smell beautiful and work well. They're also planet friendly. Method's attitude is: Why wouldn't they be?

5. Partner with an established nonprofit. When Kettle Foods wanted to add a cause element to its new Backyard Barbecue flavor, it immediately thought of wildlife habitat protection because it's something it does in its own backyard. To inspire consumers to apply the same principles at home, Kettle partnered with a respected nonprofit, the National Wildlife Foundation. Then it encouraged people to get involved by creating their own backyard wildlife habitats. Who wouldn't want a bag of free chips as thanks for attracting local birds?
Jennifer Maxwell-Muir heads Maxwell PR, a boutique public-relations firm that brings a consumer-centric approach to its work for national brands, many in the natural/organic industry, including Alima Pure, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Castor & Pollux Pet Works, Kettle Foods and ShoreBank Pacific. She also serves on the board of the Food Alliance, a nonprofit offering the most comprehensive certification program for sustainable agriculture in North America.

6. Invite consumers to join you. A flushable diaper doesn't sound like a product that would inspire a cult following, but gDiapers realized early on that its core consumers were a vocal bunch. So gDiaper empowered them. By creating gMums and gDads, the company arms independent, trusted "spokespeople" with free product and the tools they need to spread the word. Doesn't get much better than that.

7. Move beyond green. Green is a fad. Sustainability is continual improvement. If you're only looking at energy consumption, you're just scratching the tip of the iceberg. Businesses that endorse a "triple-bottom-line" approach -- Organic Valley Farms, New Belgium and Clif Bar, to name a few -- also address their affect on society in their communities. Environment is the third leg of the stool, but without the other two, you wouldn't have a place to sit.
Most Popular
In this article: