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To Be or Not to Be (Green)

Does Communication Experts’ Environmental Sensitivity Affect their Marketing Communication Plans?
  • Ebru Belkıs GüzeloğluEmail author
  • Elif Üstündağlı Erten
Living reference work entry

Abstract

The rise of environmental sensitivity stands out as one of the most thriving trends of the twenty-first century that has gradually been reflected in marketing communication strategies. In this research, we aim to find out to what extent and how communication experts reflect their environmental sensitivity to the marketing communication strategies they develop. By purposive sampling, we choose senior communication students as the unit of analysis since they represent the forthcoming communication experts. Using a mixed-method approach, we follow a three-stage data collection procedure: In order to evaluate environmental sensitivity at an individual level, we first carry on a survey based on the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) scale. In the second stage, we ask participants to develop a green marketing communication plan for a brand that they choose. After analyzing the survey results statistically and the communication plans with content analysis, we move on to the last and the final stage in which we did in-depth interviews with representative participants from the first two stages in order to go in deeper in our discussion. We discuss our results on the basis of the similarities and differences between the strategies and the ideological preferences reflected in communication plans and interpret how ideology and practices rather converge or diverge from each other. Finally, it is found that there is significant convergence between experts’ green ideologies and the communication strategies that they planned which reflects one of innovator, investor, and propagator roles and characteristics.

Keywords

Marketing communication Green Ideology Communication experts New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) 

Introduction

The rise of environmental sensitivity has come to the forefront as one of the most important tendencies of the twenty-first century which has also been influential on marketing communication strategies. Development in communication technologies to retrieve information in the postmodern market has changed the agenda tendencies toward alternatives that consider the ecological environmental balance in lifestyles and consumption preferences such that the demand for this sensitivity turn into action causing businesses to review their strategies (Özkaya 2010: 251). To this effect, new social movements such as anticonsumerism, boycotts, and do-it-yourself activism have been on the rise since the 1970s. This sensitivity has become controversial and is now a foundation for criticism whereby the green transformation , led by businesses, is not trustworthy and/or is merely profit-oriented.

Comprehension and gradual acceptance of a green consumerism marketing approach, particularly in the 1980s, created two fundamental properties in the ascension of this concept through: an increase in green literature and academic research in green business development (Peattie and Crane 2005: 358). By the end of 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s, the pace accelerated with a new movement especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries and in the rest of the Europe (Chamorro et al. 2009; Chang et al. 2011). Within this frame, the sustainability concept that enables us to discuss the postmodern market environment and its fundamental actors creates a functional purpose for businesses to embrace all these developments under a single roof as “transformations” in business. (For a collective sustainability approach, please see “Moving from the Individual to the Collective approach to Sustainability”). In the 1990s, discussion developed around the gap between interest shown in the green approach and that of a transformed buying behavior that pointed to the limited success of green products. Publishing on the topic yielded two different schools of thoughts. One argued that green business was a fad and temporary, while the other asserted that green business was a recent trend procuring the attention it deserved. This second school of thought indicated that green business was not only environment-friendly but also a “good business” practice that would provide long-term prosperity (Gilbert 2007). The most influential consequence of these discussions, both in green literature and green consumerism, was when green ideology and the green transformation were included in academic studies, particularly in management, marketing, and communication. Today, universities orient curricula toward the green transformation by including courses, projects, and discussion platforms. Change in demand, led by green consumerism, has influenced universities to include educational programs that reflect contemporary discussions and developments. Of course, the effect this education has on forming a demanding consumer mass should not be ignored as it points to a reciprocal loop whereby each transforms the other. On a microscale, the green revolution is made possible through such training programs that equip managers, workers, decision makers, and planners with the skills to provide, encourage, and implement the green transformation in businesses.

The strategic dimension in environmental issues (Menon et al. 1999) has gained importance not only in businesses but also in macro fields such as state policy (Aidt 1998; Button and Pearce 1989) and sustainability (Tuxworth 1996), including the foundation for micro practices such as organic nutrition (Lockie et al. 2002). Dunlap underscores (1998) discussion has reached new levels through focusing on how environmental problems are perceived. With this comes the recognition that consumers and businesses may foster perceptual differences towards environmental issues and businesses. Especially marketing communication strategies and consumer decisions and actions have gained importance as they may vary due to expectations and observed values. All are affected by these transformations in the market environment. Inevitably new approaches will be adopted where businesses persuade consumers they should support environmental sensitivity or by making the marketing mix sensitive to the environment to convince consumers businesses are, in fact, green.

The starting point for this study is our observation that some important differences exist between the work and project presentations of environmental subject projects of students enrolled in the marketing communications course in the Public Relations program (Faculty of Communication), who are known to be interested in environmental problems in their daily lives, and other students who are indifferent to and/or whose interest level to environmental problems are unknown. Although they received the same education , due to the development of different project content, the impact of their individual sensitivies have caused us to explore this difference further. We believe it is important to determine the direction of this discrepancy and present it in our analysis. Koçarslan (2015: 130) points out that green marketing, which differs from traditional marketing based on a profit-oriented mentality, also simultaneously adopts an approach of avoiding environment harm when consumer needs are satisfied. However, there is a distinction between an employer’s adoption of the green transformation or green behavior while seemingly caring about the subject due to some necessities and opportunities. More importantly it is about how consumers perceive it. The role of communication planners, in terms of corporate and brand communication, emerges at this point. The difference observed among the students also pointed to this importance. Communication planners’ certain communication tactics might mislead public convictions through making false promises believable or by defending the company against the crisis activists cause, perhaps for the single purpose of creating a reality that even they themselves do not believe in and thus represent examples that may be evaluated as the foundations for these expectations and realities. Examining how communication planners make a choice between reflecting upon a reality such as the carbon footprint of a business/brand over its profits by seemingly adopting environmental sustainability may expose key findings between expectations and realities that will allow us to strategically evaluate environmental sensitivity. With this aim, using data accumulated from communication faculty students with previous experience designing a green communication project, answers to the above question will be sought throughout this research.

Every practitioner is a consumer at the same time. In a market environment, competition is intense, especially as a practitioner. They must weigh over issues of environmental sensitivity in consumption preferences while under pressure to ensure business profitability and how such success may influence their expected income as practitioners. During their education , Public Relations students learn strategies that will make businesses profitable and enable them to sustain their assets in the market environment, and are trained as decision makers of the future. However, considering that the decision process is not independent of their “green” identity, it is essential by means of sustainability, to consider what kind of dynamics are involved in their decision processes when it comes to a green communication plan.

Projects prepared by student groups are the starting point of our research. Within this scope, 17 projects in groups of between one to five students were subjected to content analysis according to planning decisions such as the purpose of promotion , message of interest, target audience, partners, and media tools. Within the cosmetics, food, tobacco, apparel, and furniture sectors, projects are diversified in product groups such as perfumes, oils, cigarettes, apparel, coffee, hair dyes, furniture, bicycles, creams, razors, tooth brushes, shoes, baby diapers. The students determined the sector, the product group, and the brand to work with and were only informed about topics such as purpose and target group. In the second phase of the study, to determine environmental sensitivity and attitudes of the participants, questionnaires using a purposive sampling method on a voluntary basis were collected from 93 students who took the course in marketing communications and who had previously completed a green marketing communication project. To determine the environmental sensitivity of the participants, the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) (Dunlap 2008) scale was used (Alnıaçık 2009 for scale adaptation in Turkish): I definitely agree – (5 points); I strongly disagree – (1 point) on the Likert scale. In addition to this scale, expressions of environmental attitude were included by the researchers in corollary with the purpose of the research. This scale was used to determine the individual environmental sensitivities of the participants. However, due to the ambiguity of agreeing or disagreeing, some statements failed as an indicator of environmental sensitivity and instead they are oriented to measure attitudes. The environmental sensitivity score was determined through finding the total score on the scale by individuals indicating an environmental tendency by choosing the statement: “I definitely agree.” Accordingly, the minimum score is 18 and the maximum score is 90. Students scored lowest with 54 points, while the highest scored 89. Other demographic characteristics are as follows:
  • 59.1% (55) of the participants were females; 40.9% (38) were males.

  • Participants were aged 19–29. The largest groups are as follows: 18.3% (17 participants aged 20); second group 38.7% (36 participants aged 21) and 25.8% (24 participants aged 22).

  • 90.3% (84) of the participants plan to work in the field of communication after they graduate.

  • 90.3% (84) of the participants identify themselves as “environmentally sensitive.”

  • Only 29% (27) of the participants voluntarily worked on environmental projects.

Project groups were analyzed in accordance with individual environmental sensitivity scores, explained in the second phase of the study, and individual environmental sensitivity average scores of the participants were generated to form environmental sensitivity scores. It is noteworthy that individuals with high environmental sensitivity scores tend to group together, while those with low environmental sensitivity tend to group together. Projects with high environmental sensitivity scores fully reflected the green ideology, while projects with low scores had more sales and persuasion-focused content. In other words, participants reflected their individual environmental sensitivities regarding the content by grouping with individuals who converged with them.

In the third part of the study, out of the participants whose individual environmental sensitivity scores were determined, in-depth interviews were made on a voluntary basis with 4 low-score and 5 high-score participants, thus in-depth knowledge was accumulated from projects students completed; how they handled green transformation in their working life; and their decision-making processes and partner relations. In-depth interview data were coded and themed as descriptive analysis in corollary with the study parameters based on content analysis made on the projects. The aim here is to highlight the ways in which they address the green strategy and green communication.

Human Focused Action on Environmental Worldview

Participants take an environmentally sided stance at the point where they believe that nature is fragile and that nobody has the right to design nature according to their own needs, and that if this continues we will soon encounter a major ecological disaster. But somehow, if the human mind understands how to overcome problems and learn how nature functions, it equally understands that to control and develop it, a view that plenty of resources are already present in nature tends to prevail. Therefore, environmental problems are not linked to human activities but to people’s inability to understand how to manage the situation. In short, the problem lies in management failure. Another point worth highlighting is that the participants are unaware of the fact that plants and animals also have the right to exist in the world and that the ecological crisis is overrated. The idea that people do not have the right to organize nature in accordance with their own needs or that they were not created to dominate the part of nature other than themselves is, in fact, only ideologically supported. Acceptance of human supremacy over nature is contradictory to the power and skill of people to dominate, which leads to an attitude that shifts between these two extremes. The environmentally friendly attitude that participants demonstrate in terms of “understanding” environmental problems is transformed into a human-focused comprehension of “action.” This is particularly the case with business-based behaviors and opinions. Environmental sensitivity is considered more important than profitability, but it is stated that businesses are not conscious. The incommensurate approach of “seeming to be sensitive to the environment” raises an environmentally suspicious perception of the activities of businesses with a view that supports environmental sensitivity as a trend to be followed, bringing an environment-skewed doubt towards the activities of businesses. This approach is also supported by the view that businesses use these activities as marketing communication activities. This unfavorable attitude towards businesses is transforming into a committed responsibility for employees in decision-making and action-taking. According to these findings, which can also be interpreted as an impasse against negative views, participants say that they will not give up their environmental sensitivity activities for profitability and that environmental sensitivity is duly a responsibility of marketing communicators. However, some participants were undecided about whether environmentally sensitive individuals would reflect these attitudes in their marketing communication strategies and admit that they may have to “ignore” antienvironmental activities. The difference between ideology and action is also observed here. From business perspective, companies pretend to be green applying convincing green communication strategies, they are accepted as “vocal” while the opposite (nonconvincing) is accepted as “silent” indicated by Delmas ve Burbano (2011). At this point, it is possible to make the following interpretation: Individuals who are idealistic may not put these ideologies into action (Table 1). The aim of this research is to determine the extent to which these ideologies are reflected into action. Findings from the in-depth interviews will shed light on this discrepancy gap.
Table 1

Green strategic match between consumer and business perspectives

Business aspect Consumer aspect

Green business

Pretend to be green business

Consumer believing/persuaded in green action

Win-win situation

Leverage effect on marketing communication

Latent green washing – Strong marketing communication

Consumer not believing/persuaded in green action

Weak or false marketing communication

Apparent green washing – Poor marketing communication or strategic silence

Differences among the groups were examined in terms of gender; the degree of communication in their discipline upon graduation; identifying themselves as “environmentally sensitive”; and the participation of volunteer work in their field. These characteristics were observed not to create dissensus among the participants but rather to reveal that they generally replied to the statements in similar ways. However, it is possible to say that nongender factors have a positive integrating effect on environmental sensitivity. Because the participant group is homogenous and assembles under a mutual education focus, there is evidence to suggest that education constitutes an important factor in environmental sensitivity and transformation of this sensitivity into action and creates a sphere that homogenizes the group and neutralizes other demographic elements.

The research of Bodur and Sarigöllü (2005) found consumers who have high environmental sensitivity are educated and more affluent. These participants also exhibit a tendency to take pleasure in meeting new people. The group disinterested in the environment largely tend to focus on making a living and meeting household expenses due to limited financial means. In fact, “being green” is not just the problem of liberal, educated, and wealthy people, it is the problem of all individuals. However, the idea that the upper class have the money, thus the power to control the world, causes the perception that they already control everything (Grant 2007: 19). Therefore, interest in environmental issues is influenced by demographic characteristics, particularly factors affecting lifestyles , education, and economic possibilities in corollary with their decisions and behaviors. (also see “The LOHAS Lifestyle and Marketplace Behavior”). In this study, due to participants possessing common educational qualities, other demographic factors lessen in importance thus supporting the authors’ emphasis on education.

In the role of marketing communication actors, participants’ educational development, strategies, and reactions demonstrate differentiation in their consumer identity which consists of a wide range of factors such as the level of acceptance of green ethics ; ideals in business culture; management expectations; belief in the green activities of an enterprise; and reaction to the practices of internal and external actors. So, when there is a chance to build and manage a green strategy and all the elements involved in this management, what constitutes the planners’ individual environmental sensitivity and environmental worldview?

Green Strategy: Environmental Sustainability and Going Green

In today’s business world, factors such as competition, internal or external pressures, legislation, influence from voluntary organizations, and consumer demand are forcing businesses into a responsible transformation (Koçarslan 2015: 103; Cinioğlu et al. 2016: 199; Özdemir and Topsümer 2016: 235). While the sustainable transformation of companies in the market necessitates the reorganization of business activities with more ecological input-output processes, it also raises the question of whether supply and consumer demands should be met and harmonized. John Elkington states that it is possible to produce sustainable resolutions when the following three perspectives are taken into consideration: economic welfare conservation (profit); environmental sustainability (planet); and social justice (people) (cited from Stanković and Strižak 2015: 16). For this reason, the concept of sustainability has a broader meaning than “green.” However, the thought of using resources for sustainability and the green transformation without seeking profit means the loss of profit for companies born out of the liberal system (Hussain 1999). From this point of view, it is possible to say that planners of the future must approach this process in accordance with their level of environmental sensitivity. Planners with low environmental sensitivity are more likely to differentiate green strategies from business activities or demonstrate a profit-oriented approach. Participants with high environmental sensitivity emphasize with this environmental stance and take the risk of foregoing profit for the assurance of green sensitivity.

Now, there is a capitalist order. I mean, at least there is an economic system. Consumer society exists and one perspective of influencing this society is this order. And I think that as a company, your goal is never to be sensitive to the environment, but if you are sensitive to the environment, you do not start a company nor work in one (Male, score 65).

Actually, I will contradict myself if I say this. If I am marketing and selling a product, it would be ridiculous for me to tell you not to consume or to consume less, but I would have said consume necessarily or consume correctly (Female, score 81).

Corporate ethics are shaped by the creation of a moral value system, which itself, applies to the company. Sustainability, framed by corporate ethics, makes it possible to relinquish pragmatist targets for general well-being , particularly natural and human resources, to ensure long-term planning and consistency in implementation. Some companies may choose to create value for their world, society, and ultimately their own existence by making a sustainable transformation with a holistic view. Especially, planners with high scores offer a perspective that consists of a corporate culture that creates and fosters these values: “The company already has ethical values, there is a basic vision and mission. There is corporate culture, and sensitivity to the environment which must also be harmonized and taken as a value. I think that is how it should be (Female, score 77).” However, the thought of the debt to be paid to society and a part of the profit to be spent for society, nature, and the world drives the corporations into a contradictory situation between taking an ethical stance and profitability in their management decisions (Steinmann 2008). For planners with a high score, not only output matters. The quality of the journey that leads them to outcomes is as important as the outcomes themselves. This view is mostly due to the current situation in the market environment. Capitalist market environments and current technologies do not meet an environmental conclusion as the high score planners desire. For this reason, (good) intention of the business comes to the forefront.

Green production is a type of company or production that harms the environment at a minimum level from input to output until it reaches the consumer. Of course, you will fail at some point, because if we consider it, the cost is high. But here the mindset is important for me, the way you begin (Female, score 70).

Another condition that reinforces good intentions is that the brand name should not be involved in a negative event or being purchased by a company with anti-environmentalist behavior. This condition creates a “staying clean” perception (Female, score 80) and separates the brand from other brands, thus giving the above-mentioned “on the journey” insight. This also suggests that high score planners are aware of the rational attitude toward failure of the system. For participants with low scores, the limit is profitability. Particularly, at points where interests are at stake, environmental activities can be stopped. One participant expressed this situation as follows:

I think if the costs are influencing the work itself, you can only think of the environment to a certain extent. Otherwise, what will be left [in terms of gain] for the owner of the business if this condition occurs (Male, score 62).

To rationalize this controversial situation within the behavior of businesses, it is of utmost importance that a corporate ethical framework be transformed into a win-win relationship between the company and society. The rise of social demands for green has also opened the door to profit-oriented investments, resembling that of ethical behavior, and green product transformation has also become a trend that creates new market opportunities. It is possible to see companies that do not want to miss these market opportunities with products they position as green or with a single product in many sectors. From this perspective, it is possible to cultivate an ethical stance, including sustainability, into a two-axis structure between a holistic transformation point and a pragmatist point, where profitability goals are met.

In terms of planners, this stance is not at the point of profitability but within the dimension of “making ends meet” and “interests.” Thus, the macroperspective of businesses reflects the planner in terms of individual expectations and anxieties. Planners are responsible for the decisions they make or not/apply or not, and as units, they (agents) are the ones to implement these actions . However, when their sense of responsibility conflicts with individual susceptibility, on the one hand, planners with high environmental sensitivity scores tend to persuade the business to “turn green” against antienvironmentalist action or “quit their job” with no compromise, while on the other, planners with low scores admit they would do what is required within the framework of their “job description” to secure interests.

I will talk about the ambitions of the company as I am an ambitious person myself. As you will eventually be married at the age of 40 or over, there is the issue of leaving your children a livable world. I believe I would contradict myself. Because, people want to get promoted. And you must do what the system requires to get promoted (Male, score 62).

It is a highly risky situation in my view. I would resist, but if they insist, I would have nothing else to do, because everybody has their own job. And our job is public relations which is related to persuading or fooling others. Fooling others is an offensive discourse, let’s say, it is about persuading them or forcing them to think about something. So, we should get used to these kinds of things (Female, score 61).

Is it the opinion of the person or do we need to look at the company’s own corporate culture? I am in the corporation. I look at it as a public relations expert, it is not my opinion. I am of the mindset that when a person should be seen differently when he/she comes to work and when he/she finishes work. Life gives us direction (Male, score 60).

I would look at what is in it for me, what do I have to gain or lose? If the signature takes 15 from me and gives only 10 back, I would definitely not sign the document. Again, it comes to the case of interest. What is my benefit here? If it is something that I can risk, I can also bear the consequences (Male, score 60).

On one side of the scale, I would put my job and life, and on the other, the environment and nature. How long am I going to work? What will I do after retirement? I also have dreams. I am 21 but I want to be in nature after 45. I would not have accepted it otherwise and have quit the job immediately. I am serious about that. If they wanted me to manipulate people against the environment, I would take the risk of quitting my job at that moment (Female, score77).

I am not a person that would cling to that much money. I would quit and start over again. I would not give up, because why would I support something that does not suit me? (Female, score 80).

Maybe if they do not support me [in green activities] there will be a chance to quit and leave the company. And of course, if I do support them, many more things can be done if I get support from the company (Female, score 81).

There is an issue of “surrender” in low-score planners that turns into an “inquiry” in high-score planners.

There is an internal customer concept. If you cannot make your employees happy, you cannot be happy. If management does not value my ideas, why do I work there if I do not see respect for my ethical values? I am environmentally friendly person. I have a sensitivity to nature and I want a project related to this. If you want to manipulate me on top of it, I’ll give you a minute. But I should move on to a little convincing part, so I would have convinced you ... I will try everything... Try everything for everything. Certainly, I believe that I will convince my manager because we already have the power to turn around. We take it from nature and I absolutely believe it. There is a point that absolutely affects them (Female, score 77).

Recognition of their expertise as planners and the acceptance of their identities to the point of valuing their views is also important. In the decision process, the acceptance of individual sensitivities holds weight by transforming their field of expertise into practice. Life-care anxiety brings to the agenda a persuasion over executives but may also mean leaving the job when there is no possibility to persuade.

About “being green” we can generally define three or four categorical grades. Prakash (2002) identified three levels: value-addition processes, management systems, and/or product levels. Value-addition processes are aimed at reducing the environmental impact at all processes with new technologies or technology modifications. Management systems focus on the decision at all levels of the company to adopt green, while product level transformations center on making the generated outputs green with strategies such as reconditioning, remanufacturing, reusing, recycling, and reduction (p. 286). In terms of green strategy, the levels are defined by a similar perspective: strategic greening, quasi-strategic greening, and tactical greening. At the strategic greening level , a change in the philosophy of the enterprise is the aim for an integrated transformation, while at the quasi-strategic greening level , application-specific transformation occurs only in certain parts of the system. Tactical greening , on the other hand, refers to a transformation that is more on the level of promotional activities about environmental issues in relation to the product (Polonsky 2001; Polonsky and Rosenberger 2001; Polonsky 2005 ). In the “shades of green” approach, which focuses on a different segment that includes market conditions and stakeholders , green conversion is defined at four levels: light, market, stakeholder, and dark. The dark green level implies that sustainable green principles are accepted as business principles of the company; where planet reputation is preserved in the process of value creation; and at this level, investors, managers, employees, and customers are bound by and agree to these principles. The stakeholder green level defines a process focusing on the development of relationships, where the green transformation is adapted to all company processes and is shaped by the involvement of partners. In the market green level , market demands are better taken into consideration and the green performance of the products and services are emphasized. Light green levels indicate a transformation, where fulfilling legal obligations is the focus and where the goal is process-oriented through technological adjustment (Freeman et al. 1998: 345–347, 2008: 15).

Finally, as an expanded approach to marketing, Kotler et al. (2010: 153–159) distinguishes the role that companies can play in environmental sustainability into three categories: the innovator, the investor, and the propagator. The innovator is the company that develops products that are not environmentally harmful, as well as companies that make major investments in research activities for the development of these innovations. The investor companies do not see environmental sustainability as their main business, but drive green growth in corporate culture and continue their investments in order not to drift from the potential green trends in the future, and who continue these activities to relieve themselves from pressure or include additional income from a share of the green market. The role of the propagator involves contributing to green businesses by way of raising environmental consciousness and sensitivity, in addition to their job. This role has the mission of supporting green-sensitive groups and lobbyists by raising green sensitivity in the public. From this perspective, a company’s integration into environmental sustainability, behavior, and communication is shaped in relation to the role and status of the company and its commitment to environmental sustainability. While the role of the innovator requires the highest risk, it also increases the level of participation in environmental problems that shapes the way these issues are handled in strategic management. Each adopted role brings different levels of acceptance and approaches to the agenda. The higher the level of integration in question is, the more this transformation penetrates the company’s culture.

In conjunction with sustainability and external pressures, companies are making as much commitment as they can to meet green transformation obligations. According to, one dimension of this transformation is the degree to which the ecological ideals of the company culture are accepted (environmental orientation), while the other dimension is the degree to which environmental issues are reflected in the strategic planning process (environmental strategy) (cited in Neagu 2011: 211). Suggest an internal and external structure as an integrated management system in terms of sustainable development and green marketing. In accordance with this, the organization culture is shaped by human resources, managers, and employees. Company culture that is shaped by the practices of business and the market includes internal factors that involve understanding and perception along with technical counseling from the sector, and a management system structured in a way that it involves external factors constituting different public participants such as customers and partners (cited in Stanković and Strižak 2015: 9–10). In accordance with this realization, companies shape a new stance in the market through involving internal and external environment factors, which then strategically reflect on marketing activities, most of the time.

When we talk about green transformation and the reshaping of a corporations’ stance in the market, the reorganization of specific elements and actions may be necessary. Peattie and Crane (2005: 366–367) mention some elements as recognized indicators:
  • Redefinition of the “product”

  • Desire to change markets

  • Focus on forthcoming benefits of product usage over pleasure of product possession

  • Marketing communication that aims to inform rather than impress

  • Focus beyond present consumer needs

  • Willingness to manage demand and expectation

  • Focus on cost rather than the price

  • Taking more responsibility

When a company’s market stance is in question, it is vitally important that they be appreciated by the consumer through this transformation effort in bearing the costs of a green transformation. The messages to the stakeholders , and especially to the consumers, give an idea of the level at which the transformation takes place. Neagu (2011) underlines that how the message is declared in terms of the strategy will create a change in consumer attitudes. According to this, three types of effects are mentioned, namely, agreement, identification, and internalization (p. 211). Agreement is the result of relationships between parties with authority involved in the communication process. The attractiveness of the communication source depends on the way the recipient perceives the characteristics. If the buyer perceives the sources (physical, lifestyle) as familiar and similar, or enjoys some features, communication becomes interesting and an attitude change is achieved through self-identification. While identification includes messages oriented at defining and introducing the product or the process to the consumer, how the consumer should feel because of the buy supports him/her through the message. Internalization harmonizes with the consumer, including the message that aids in the development of the attitude. The consumer is an active part of the message and every new reception brings with it new meaning. The consumer’s perception of the message content is internalized, and a link is established between the source and the receiver to play an important role in the cultivation of relations.

The degree of interest and attention to social and environmental problems whether they relate to the sector(s) in which the company operates can have a dramatic effect on the company’s relations and transformation in the public perception. The basic issue here is, beyond the inner and outer periphery of the company’s own existence, how sensitive it is to the environmental agenda. In relation to the green transformation strategy, the level of “green responsibility” a company fosters can differ. The reason for any companies’ existence is its profitability. Economic profitability is stated as one of the fundamental dimensions of conventional corporate social responsibility (CSR) theories and related approaches (Carroll 1991). Over time, however, it can be said that CSR efforts have broadened to include a range of policy goals, stakeholder expectations, and approaches and theories that add to ethical concerns and values. Institutional social responsibility theories involve four main perspectives: economic, political, integrative, and ethical (Garriga and Mele 2004). Van de Ven (2008: 354) mentions the following three approaches: an ethical product differentiation approach; creation of a virtuous corporate brand; and a reputation management approach, of which all are shaped by CSR efforts. The reputation management strategy focuses on the basic requirements of running a responsible business to obtain permission and maintain activity from the community. This strategy is particularly well suited for companies that systematically address the needs of key stakeholders and respond to criticism from the wider external environment of the company. A venerable corporate branding strategy exceeds the reputation, protection, and remediation strategy, as it has a clear commitment to stakeholders and public that it is superior to CSR efforts. The product differentiation approach focuses on the ethical codes of the product and its production processes. Van de Ven underlines the need to base one or more of these strategies on a strategic argument that corresponds to the ideal identity of the company otherwise companies may face crisis.

Increasingly, segments of conscious consumers, spontaneous interest groups, or Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) unite around environmental issues, and despite they are noninstitutionalized initiatives, they wield a fair amount of pressure on shareholders of companies in such a way that they uproot economic balances and relations. These developments force companies into CSR efforts and to embrace ethical codes like sustainable transformation, human rights, and the common good. Carroll (1991: 42) mentions that charitability is the least important, whereas the most desired and rewarded is corporate social responsibility. This can be attributed to companies approaching CSR from a pragmatist and neoliberal perspective (McDonnell et al. 2015: 35). Pragmatist targets for corporate responsibility are even closer to the crisis that companies will create through forms of activism.

In terms of environmental sustainability, this can of course lead to wider CSR initiatives than what is volunteered or rather more than what is envisaged for enduring CSR expenditure. However, in the long run, it may be the case that the responsibility of public expectation combined with corporations’ willingness to engage will also be shared with the public. Thus, the risk of reputational erosion that creates crises due to the actions of activist opposition might be reduced through relations that are constructed with trust, transparency, dialogue, and participation. On the other hand, it can also be said that forms of social movements enable a new approach for companies to discover. Today, a corporate activism approach has emerged which takes social problems out of the public domain and places them in the center of the business world, representing a public role in the business world that also leads to the advocacy of interest groups. Dodd’s (2016) conception of the relationship between the business world and society is addressed with an approach that challenges the profit argument that Friedman put forth in the 1970s. This approach assumes business leadership will meet public expectations based on democratic rights rather than a choice of corporate responsibility. In this manner, corporate activism can be an important agent of change with an understanding that CSR activities are directed by consumer demand for transparency (Disparte and Gentry 2015).

As you see, there are many criteria in the literature that determine a company’s green strategy and its stance in the business world. To analyze how a company pursues this strategic structuring in green transformation and how it is positions this strategy, the subject of green strategies can present road maps. In this respect, considering the distinctions and definitions in the literature, green strategy subjects are listed as the first set of analysis criterion and communication planner projects are examined accordingly. In our analysis, a total of 17 projects were found to diverge into three distinct clusters (Table 2). According to the cluster result:
  • The first three projects with the highest scores (77–83 points) were developed to provide the product/brand with Innovator characteristics.

  • Six projects with middle scores (71–76 points) were developed to give the product/brand Investor characteristics.

  • The last eight projects with the lowest scores (65–70 points) were found to develop the product/brand with Propagator characteristics.

Table 2

Strategic issues for green conversion by projects of three groups

Referring strategic rolea

Product

Ethical perspectiveb

Adoption of ideals and strategies reflections degreec

Structuringd

Going green levelse

Shades of greenf

Green marketing activitiesg

Reshaping indicatorsh

Expected message effect on consumeri

Business activism tendencyj

CSR approachk

Innovators

Coffee 1 (83)

Holistic

Strategy and orientation

Both

1

Darker

1

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8

3

Activism

2,3

SportShoes (81)

Holistic

Strategy and orientation

Both

1

Dark

1

3

Leadership

3

Furniture (77)

Holistic

Strategy and orientation

Both

1

Dark-stakeholder

1

2,3

Leadership

2,3

Investors

Apparel 1 (75,5)

Holistic and Pragmatist

Strategy and orientation

External

2

Stakeholder-market

2,3

1,2,3,4,6,8

1,2

1,2

Apparel 2 (75)

Holistic and Pragmatist

Strategy and orientation

Both

2

Stakeholder-market

2

1,2,3,4,7,8

2

2

Perfume (75)

Holistic and Pragmatist

Orientation

Both

2

Stakeholder-market

2

1,2,3,4,8

2

2

Apparel 3 (74,25)

Holistic and Pragmatist

Orientation

Both

2

Stakeholder

2

1,3,5,6,7,8

1,2

1,2

Bicycle (72,2)

Holistic and Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Market

2

1,2,3,4,6

1,2

1

Vegetable oil (71)

Holistic and Pragmatist

Orientation

External

2

Stakeholder

2

1,2,3,4,7

1,2

1

Propagators

Apparel 4 (71)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Market

3

1,2,3,5,6

2

1

Cream (70,2)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Market

3

1,3,5,7

1,2

1

 

Hair dye (70)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Market

3

1,3,5,8

1,2

1

Dental brush (69,25)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Market

2

1,3,4,5,7

2

1

Razor blade (68,6)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Market

3

1,3,5,6

2

1

Cigarette (68)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Light

3

1,2,3

2

Coffee 2 (67)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Light

3

1,2

1

Baby diaper (65)

Pragmatist

Orientation

External

3

Light

3

1,2

1

aStrategic position or role for green: The Innovator, the Investor, the Propagator (Kotler et al. 2010: 153–159).

bEthical Perspective: (1) Holistic conversion shaped by ethical framework, (2) Pragmatist conversion rationalized by win-win principle.

cAdoption of Ideals and Strategies Reflections Degree: Environmental orientation and Environmental strategy (Banerjee 2002; ve Banerjee vd, 2003 cited in Neagu 2011: 211).

dInternal Structuring and External Structuring (cited in Stanković and Strižak 2015: 9–10).

eGoing green levels: (1) value-addition processes (firm level), (2) Management systems (firm level), and/or (3) Products (product level) (Prakash 2002).

fShades of green: Light, Market, Stakeholder, Dark (Freeman et al. 2008).

gGreen marketing activities in three level: (1)Strategic greening, (2) Quasi-strategic greening, (3) Tactical greening (Polonsky and Rosenberger 2001; Polonsky 2005: 124).

hThought and Practice Reshaping Indicators: (1) a redefinition of the “product,” (2) a willingness to change markets (“alternative” forms of production and consumption), (3) an emphasis on benefits from product use, (4) aims to inform rather than just impress, (5) a focus beyond current consumer needs, (6) a willingness to manage demand and expectation, (7) an emphasis on cost instead of price, (8) taking more responsibility (Peattie and Crane 2005: 366–367).

iExpected Message Effect on Consumer: (1)Agreement, (2) Identification and (3) Internalization (Neagu 2011: 211).

jBusiness Activism and Business Leadership (Disparte and Gentry 2015; Dodd 2016).

kCorporate Social Responsibility Approach (1) Product differentiation approach, (2) Establish a virtuous corporate brand, (3) Reputation management approach (Van de Ven 2008).

These three groups have been compared with the three roles (Innovator, Investor, or Propagator) (Kotler et al., 2010: 153–159) that companies can utilize for environmental sustainability, and in terms of other criteria, the distinctions become clearer in accordance with the literature. The sequencing shows that the projects developed are designed according to the level of individual environmental sensitivity when planners have the chance to design and manage a green strategy. This implies that communication planners with a high level of individual environmental sensitivity are more likely to position the brand and/or organization as an Innovator and have the tendency to attribute the role of Investor and Propagator to the emergence of low levels of individual environmental sensitivity. It can be argued that young communicators’ individual environmental sensitivities have a significant influence in their decision-making on green strategy communication plans, as they are seen to have designed the most successful green communication plan for their chosen brand. Particular emphasis should be given to the fact that participants are not informed about the role they play regarding the literature from Kotler et al. (2010) and that these groupings represent the clustering of strategies created by the participants: Taking into consideration how well planners think they create the green transformation strategy, the visibility of the strategies they choose are within the context of the roles Kotler et al. (2010) emphasize as a reflection of their individual environmental sensitivities. In other words, green strategies created by planners with low environmental sensitivity scores will not cause stakeholders in the market to perceive them as “investors” or “propagators.” This creates a situation in which businesses converge “to look like green” (Kardeş 2011) and are sincerely questioned by the stakeholders . Moreover, low-scoring planners have already stated that this should be the case:

The company will never be sincere, because it is a company. But the fact that the company is not sincere does not mean that you never do something like that because the company is not sincere but it seems to be profitable for some people who seem to be intimidated by such things(Male, 65).

[...]Because it comes to the point ‘we’re the only ones not doing it.’ If everybody is green and if we don’t do so too, you feel alone but when you look at a company that goes [brand name] searching for oil in the poles and they know they’re melting, no one says anything. Or on purpose they know this but get in on another activity there. So, humans enter the environment, even knowing the environment they get used to consuming it...they think the environment is designed for them and don’t need to worry that it may finish. Probably, I once felt comfortable thinking this way too(Male, score 62).

The activities of well-known brands become a legitimizing tool for low-score planners. Rather than thinking about transforming the market environment, it is more likely they will become complicit in the partnership by cooperating with companies operating in this direction.

Planners with high environmental sensitivity scores seem to be more successful having drawn from their own consumer insight. For this reason, these activities can be described as “deceiving people.” An important factor is that they cannot distinguish their green identities from the decision-making process, and therefore the activities they are doing – wrong in themselves – are turned into identity conflicts. For this reason, internally, this process is not as effective as low-score planners. This leads to the development of attitudes about businesses and their activities.

It’s nothing more than a swindle. Because you haven’t thought about it you can’t say anything to anyone else. That’s when I feel bad [...] It’s only like you’re saying, ‘look we’re green too’ so it’s all smoke and mirrors to me(Female, score 70).

High Score Group “77–83”: Market Role as “the Innovators”

In the green strategy analysis, it can be said that projects in this group aim at a complete transformation of the products and processes for a selected institution and/or brand. Planners forecast the conversion efforts they initiate for any product group to be transformed along with other product groups over a short- and mid-term. Long-term targets are structured to ensure a complete “green transformation” by way of raw materials, technology, processes, and product outputs. Moreover, if deemed necessary for a robust green transformation, as exemplified in a project like furniture, the aim is to reduce production volumes and diversity to invest more in technological research and development activities thus providing simplified life habits by fulfilling multiple needs with additional functions added to products. For a coffee project (Coffee 1), the aim is to utilize the distribution network to be “cleaned” through advanced technology to serve other social services.

Another common feature of projects in the innovator group is that the green strategy is structured by both internal and external management system factors as Stanković and Strižak (2015: 9–10) point out. What is envisaged is that the internal axis management system will deeply penetrate green values and ethics into the company culture, especially the employees and management. However, governance refers to the role of protecting company values expressed in ethical codes , such as fairness, honesty, transparency, and being clean, at any cost, even before economic benefit. From the point of view of an externally oriented management system, it is evident that all the projects in this group include consumer motives, activists , initiatives, public institutions, independent research companies, and universities who operate under the motto of collaborative co-production . In the project with the highest score (Coffee 1), an activist role was embodied to transform a company, while in the other two projects environmentalists could reorganize other organizations and institutions like NGOs and suppliers to persuade nonclean companies to transform, even become leaders themselves to gain a competitive edge, to promote solidarity through creating and sharing new technological information. Business leadership approaches used in these project groups lead companies to “dark green” as Freeman et al. (2008) predicted. However, in the highest-scoring project (Coffee 1), stakeholders who do not engage in green transformation efforts were studied and policy decisions were taken to create a mechanism to pressure such pseudo-actors through exclusion from the chain of suppliers. This project was described as “darker” (see Table 2 and also “Ecopreneurship for Sustainable Development”) because Freeman et al. (2008: 14) included a step closer to the views of “dark green logic is not anti-business, though many people will believe that it is.” Another noteworthy feature is that of the consumer desire to transform their lifestyle and shopping habits. Especially in one project (Furniture) need and consumption are redefined by equipping and streamlining a product with as many functions as possible. In all three projects, it appears that political actors and legislative mechanisms have been included in the process of transforming their sectors and other relevant sectors, with emphasis on ensuring that ethical codes are guaranteed by legal regulations disseminated across all sectors.

Another commonality among project groups is the premise that rather than businesses using corporate social responsibility for competitive advantage , it is pertinent they firmly establish a transformative stance. In the first two projects, this principle is emphasized. For this group, the stance about being green “is taken as necessary, it can’t be any other way” and use this principle to turn companies into green entities. In these types of businesses, close relations are created with stakeholders who espouse the motto “collaborative production” to promote transparent governance as sharing partnerships underscored in their annual reports (Coffee 1).

Middle Score Group “71–76”: Market Role as “the Investors”

In the projects of the second group, planners were positioned as companies investing to become green, attributing investor characteristics. In these companies, it is evident that the green transformation began with special series and products. However, it seems that only a product or a special series of the produced brand was emphasized. Production of existing products can continue when new products or series are brought to the fore. As for future planning, it was determined that short- and mid-term targets were established for green transformations in these projects. However, for long-term goals and/or targets, no cleanup, improvement, or green transformation was mentioned in all the processes.

In terms of structuring these projects, it has been determined that internal and external as well as external management mechanisms are included in the process. In the internal structure, more employees are mentioned and some projects emphasize the sensitivity of employees regarding green transformation to encourage a cleaner life in terms of consumer lifestyles (Apparel 3). While the projects underscore visible improvements in some processes, in product production in general, more than one sustainable benefit is highlighted. In two projects, it is mentioned that ethical elements such as animal rights, employee rights, and fair trade should be adopted as company values besides green conversion (Apparel 2 and Perfume). It is noteworthy that although projects can be said to be green in most respects through the affirmation of sustainability, stressing that projects should be “green” under company values, only pragmatist targets are explicitly or implicitly stated.

In this group, some strategic decisions become apparent such as the use of existing government incentives (Apparel 3); preference for existing organic producers; farmers and natural fragrance suppliers (Apparel 1, Perfume); utilization of ongoing green consumer trends (Bicycle); and joining new business sectors with recycling processes (Vegetable oil). Unlike the high-scoring group, the strategies in this group involve interrogation, such as which points can be earned from the green conversion they make and which trends will provide a faster return for the company. For example, in a project, the green cycle of the production process is predicted at certain points, targeting bio-diesel fuel production with the waste conversion system mentioned for the mid- or long term (Vegetable oil). In another project, it is stated improvements will be administered with the addition of cleaning technology in the environment by taking advantage of this trend in corollary with an increase in consumer cycling habits (Bicycle).

Stakeholders and the market environment are considered important determinants in the project strategy. Unlike the projects in the first group, it is important to note that companies form strategies based on green values and pressure groups, differentiated from an original value set definition for a green policy. Finally, in terms of the corporate social responsibility approach, it has been observed that the product differentiation approach is dominant in general even though there are strategic plan steps to be a virtuous institutional brand in some projects. Furthermore, we are aware that the principles and practices related to corporate social responsibility are mentioned in the products and processes although not a clear transformation is planned (Apparel 3, Vegetable oil, Bicycle). No business activism and leadership trends were observed in any of the projects in this group.

Lowest Score Group “65–70”: Market Role as “the Propagator”

Projects in the last group were observed as the lowest level of green conversion reflected in the scores. Yet it is possible to clearly distinguish green strategies within their business plans. In terms of planning for the future, it is not possible to arrive at any conversion goal. Although there are messages about environmental sensitivity, it is believed that projects in this group are attributed to propagators because of limited green performance when compared to the other two groups. The projects focused on a product that is generally produced by the company brand. The green strategy is associated only with the product and often with a stage in the production of the product (frequently used raw material or added natural substances) to emphasize green conversion.

It was observed that the projects were entirely focused on external management mechanisms and consisted of suppliers, consumers, and some civilian stakeholders. Topics such as sales promotion, image, and profitability are clearly declared in their targets (Cream, Shaving Blade, Baby Diapers), and these targets seem to be the main reason for creating an environmental tendency. In the plans, pragmatist targets appear in the foreground and the fruits of investments are expected to be accrued in the short term. As a remarkable feature, in some projects, the function required from product expectations superseded environmentalist tendencies (Cream, Shaving Blade). Environmentalist features appear as only small, marginal additions.

In most of the projects, a special event in which the product is highlighted and operates through a sponsorship is coded as corporate social responsibility. In some projects, nongovernmental organizations are articulated in CSR studies, but NGOs unrelated to the green transformation have also been selected as stakeholders (Apparel 4, Hair Color, Shaving Blade). Finally, none of the projects in this group had any tendency towards business activism and leadership. One participant described this situation by saying, “Of course, some of the public will ask questions (Female, score 79).”

Green Communication: Corporate Social Responsibility and Marketing Communication

The distinction between “being less harmful to the environment and being environmentally friendly” to which Polonsky (1994) refers is the topic of green marketing; essentially a compromise in environmental communication that forms an environmental consensus that will create actions to “restore and rehabilitate the harmed environment.” provides two definitions of environmental communication at the formal and informal level. Environmental communication is defined as informal communication that affects both our perception of the environment and each other, and our relationship with nature. Formally, it is defined around environmental issues as well as an understanding of our relationship to nature and the environment as a symbolic means of negotiating different responses in society to these problems (cited in Jurin et al. 2010: 14). The International Environmental Communication Association (IECA) considers environmental communication as a communicative device in the context of two social functions. Environmental communication is primarily used to inform, persuade, educate, and alert others or to organize, discuss, reconcile, policy defend, raise sensitivity, change behavior, influence public opinion, cooperate, legislate, or challenge hypotheses. Effective communication requires attention because it influences results (Meisner 2015).

According to Van de Ven (2008) and Benoît-Moreau, and Parguel (2011), the product differentiation approach involves the discernment of a product or service based on environmental or social elements. Therefore, CSR studies and communication are inevitably at the center of brand positioning. A vigorous corporate branding approach also has an open promise to the public and stakeholders, and open communication is necessary as proof. In the publication on ethical codes , corporate communication tools such as websites and marketing communication tools like advertising , sponsorship , public relations, and promotion are used. However, this communication is viewed as risky and has received less attention in recent times. One reason being there is a risk that responsibilities and consumer expectations may surpass CSR commitments. According to the Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker analysis (2012, 2015), 84% of American CSR companies with respected identities, whose aims are to continue progressive activities, remain committed in their mission to create and report effectively their progressive agenda. If CSR results are not reported, 40% of the participants said they would not buy a company’s products or services.

On the other hand, the concept of “green” reputation management converges with CSR approaches with an ethical focus; the company’s philosophy has penetrated and aggrandized the green ethic code to foster a greater comprehension of CSR efforts. Stanković and Strižak (2015: 16) define this as eco-centric CSR independent of the benefits of companies, with an aim to protect and improve the environment and its potential, and who act in a manner that recognizes and ultimately respects the environmental dependence of existing and potential resources. From this perspective, it can be said that by supporting eco-centric CSR with reputation-oriented communication efforts will provide great benefits for the company. However, as Benoît-Moreau and Parguel (2011) also pointed out, there is no open communication around the climate-focused CSR approach. In fact, according to some research, it is possible to create risks whereby some companies become clear targets for activism. This can be better understood by looking at two factors (reputational halo effect and reputational liability effect) investigated by King and McDonnell (2012: 6) regarding a reputable CSR approach. According to their research, having overall positive publicity and pro-social activities can be argued as a means or rather duty of a company to stave off future targeting by activists. This situation is called a halo effect. An increase in the likelihood of activists to target companies with a positive reputation separates and protects them through pro-social actions described as a reputational liability effect. King and McDonnell (2012) found that CSR communication activities increased the perception of being targeted through public visibility in the media. In other words, from the moment activists choose a company to boycott, it is the responsibility of the halo effect to come to the fore whereby high-visibility, socially responsible companies will channel their efforts toward audiences with the highest expectations (p. 20).

Marketing communication activities include another type of strategic communication effort employed to emphasize “greenness.” Unlike the reputation management approach, marketing communication elements and tools are often preferred options for virtuous corporate branding , or for companies that only choose product differentiation. Branding and product differentiation-focused positioning activities involve clear communication about the sharing of green promises with corporate environments through green marketing communications activities and the demonstration of necessary actions. Unlike profit-oriented institutions, nongovernmental organizations or organizations such as green initiatives can also develop marketing communication strategies. Talpos and Meltzer (2013: 38) address strategic decisions to minimize negative effects through such means as determining communication objectives, identifying stakeholders and target groups, message design, determining communication tools, and environments to stage an effective environmentally integrated marketing communication plan that makes a good impression on the public through its dissemination. However, if marketing communications efforts are being implemented by profit-oriented organizations, risks in consumer interaction may become more visible. For planners with high environmental sensitivity scores, it is possible to achieve both profitability and environmental objectives:

I think that we can reach the targets of the institution by considering environmental sensitivity, I mean, both can be realized logically. The public relations specialist at that institution already takes on the whole task him/herself. Of course, one must work with the top management to create an image for the target group, but as I said, it must be sincere (Female, score 81).

The nature of marketing communication goals can be cognitive, informative, affective, and conative. At the cognitive level, organizations inform consumers so they can compare environmental properties indifferent products. The more information consumers have such that they adopt this approach, more “environmentally responsible” actions will be discovered. At the affective level, communication should trigger consumer emotions about environmental problems like destruction, pollution, not feeling, or taking responsibility for the future of the planet. Communication must be creative to illicit impress and persuade environmental sensitivity. Conversely, message receivers should be encouraged to act out their pro-environmental behavior. For all these levels to be effective, the source of communication needs to be strong, effective, and reliable (Palekhova et al. 2015). Especially for planners with high environmental sensitivity scores, this situation is conical, while the approach to conservation on an individual level is considered as embedded activities. Therefore, the green strategy for these planners is a feature that must already exist. When a participant specifically refers to the communication strategy, he expresses it as follows:

In the message part, yes, I am a green production, but I would have planned a message saying that this is not a privilege for me. So, everyone should be like this. For me to do this for you shouldn’t only be my privilege, I would have created a message that would make people think about changing their conscience, with that kind of a message I would reach my target audience (Female, score 80).

For low-scoring participants, promotion is important. While businesses that effectively use powerful green messages can help attract customers, the word of mouth effect is likely to provide a positive or negative sense of the business:

There is a mass of the public that uses green, and when it appeals to the audience, when you introduce your green project more prevalently, when you say, ‘we are a company sensitive to the green environment’, the customer base will grow. For one thing, I think that the good is not bad. It sounds like all kinds of things. Even if you do not like the green project, you can listen to it in a way. It is a familiar thing that spreads from ear to the ear (Female, score 61).

Messages sent to consumers in communication plans involving the preservation of the environment positively shape the attitude of the consumer if the messages are convincing. Messages that are not perceived as “sincere” will arouse suspicion on behalf of the consumer and therefore will not have the expected positive impact on consumers’ attitudes toward the brand (Kardeş 2011: 167). The level of environmental sensitivity affects the positive perception of environmental attitudes and environmentally friendly products (Yılmaz et al. 2009: 8). Alnıaçık (2009: 74–75) found that brands in some product categories had higher scores indicating positive attitudes over those in environmentally friendly communication studies. This positive difference in favor of studies involving environmental claims becomes even more evident in people who are sensitive to the environment.

I think green consumption should be explained more accurately. I think it’s inadequate. So, people must be conscious about green. It is necessary to show the harm people do to nature by taking nature into consideration. I think we can do this by showing the opposite or inverse dimension to people. I mean, we may create a message reflecting that people are not living in a green world, and how can they live in such a world, or if they have such a green world, they have to question how they can live in a non-green world to affect them more emotionally (Male, score 80).

In the target of every green communication plan, some themes arise in terms of environmentalist claims. Green message themes generally focus on paying attention to an area related to the environment (care), eliminating harmful contents (free), protecting an area related to environment (save), and/or focusing generally on the environment, nature or the ecosystem (friendly). These claims are often reinforced with a message of benefit that customizes the perception of the product or service in the minds of people.

In the literature, the value proposition presented with environmental claims is achieved to shape and strengthen the link established with the consumer through a creative strategy for a product or service that can be: (1) functional, (2) perceptual, or (3) symbolic (Erdem and Swait 1998: 136). Additional reinforcement includes eco-labels, environmental product declarations, cause marketing, and third-party supporters. While eco-labels are particularly effective in creating demand through marketing, environmental product declarations provide approved statements about the effects of products on a life cycle (Ottman and Mallen 2014).

Groups and stakeholders as the target of these claims comprise an important strategic aspect of the communication plan in terms of their qualifications. Yet perspectives and reactions to environmental problems are different (Jurin et al. 2010: 14). According to the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA), from the most passionate environmental advocates to the hardest opponents of ecological conservation, everyone who participates in these discussions is a part of environmental communication (Meisner 2015).

Heijungs et al. (1992: 19) refers to three target groups related to environmental efficiency in the product life cycle: consumers in need of information to make decisions regarding purchase and consumption; producers who need information for innovation; and the public sector that needs to be aware of new developments and regulations. Nowadays, consumers who have become stronger, thanks to the effect of social movements and NGOs’ efforts, have also become the main actors in environmental issues. Interest in the consumer as a strategic target is an important leverage in explaining corporate social responsibility communications and practices (Benoit-Moreau and Parguel 2011).

In general, customers, suppliers, employees, competitors, consumer communities, institutional structures such as financial and commercial associations, international organizations, specialized NGOs, political groups, governmental agencies and local public administrations, and the national and local mass media are considered as key stakeholder groups (Polonsky 1995; Freeman et al. 2008; Ertuğrul 2008; Talpos and Meltzer 2013). In some green communication studies, the public are considered the broadest group (Talpos and Meltzer 2013). While the public are important stakeholders in terms of management strategies, they are in fact a vehicle of consumption and a common platform where all stakeholders come together in terms of action, behavior, and attitude. In other words, we can say that every stakeholder, whether institutionally or individually, comes together around a “consumer” identity, and consumers who are more related to the environment tend to engage with green products (Schuhwerk and Lefkoff-Hagius 1995).

Today, standards set by legal regulators, media publications, reference and pressure group demands, and sectoral recommendations and expectations of environmental groups (Stanković and Strižak 2015: 9–10) have become the driving force of green transformation.

They force green promises to become more visible and make green positioning an essential aspect of a brand. For this reason, marketing communication elements and decisions should be considered as decision areas that are shaped according to target groups and stakeholders. As mentioned in the literature, the dimensions of green marketing communication such as advertising , public relations , sponsorship , promotion , internet marketing, exhibition, lobbying, noncommercial activities, viral and guerrilla activities, as well as communication tools such as television, radio, outdoor and web profiles, accounts, social networks, and electronics are frequently utilized. The credibility of the media makes it an important communication platform as well as media preferences of target groups and the effectiveness of communication tools and formats. With the rise of computer and mobile communication tools, we can see more sustainable solutions and modern technologies such as electronic media instead of printed media in communication activities (Benoit-Moreau and Parguel 2011; Ottman and Mallen 2014; Palekhova et al. 2015).

As for the participants of this study, especially high-scorers, technological tools are viewed as an important factor in both reaching target groups and reducing the amount of environmental damage. Thus, activities are directed toward these platforms.

[...] My study in public relations, my study in advertising, the size and dimension of deadly waste, if green consumption is hurting, my aim has always been to keep this damage to the minimum, the least amount, at least I tried alternate ways. For example, I remember we wrote a press release. If I should write a press release I would prefer to write it on the internet through alternative means (Female, score 80).

Both CSR-focused corporate communications and marketing communication plans are designed with phases such as communication objectives, message strategy, target audience and stakeholder selection, decisions regarding the mix of marketing communications, and choice of communication media tools. Based on these decisions, the expectation from the plans is to reflect a green-position and a green vision for the market. From this point of view, analysis of green communication plans will enable us to discover the green-positions that planners find appropriate for their brands. Thus far, green strategy projects have been separated into three groups whereby in the first part of the analysis we analyzed them according to the second criterion based on the decisions taken regarding each project, the communication strategies, and their applications (Table 3).
Table 3

Green communication issues by projects of three groups

Referring strategic rolea

Product

Communication aims

The nature of marketing comm. goalsb

Main message

Eco- message themec

Value propositiond

Third party supportse

Specific target groups

Stakeholdersf

PromoMixg

Communication channels, media, and toolsh

Innovators

Coffee 1 (83)

Achieve measurable goals in all processes in green strategy

Make a call co-production

Emphasize that the company is ready to serve the world with its capabilities

4

The least you can do for nature,

A coffee break to global warming, pollutions and waste

1,2,3,4

1,2,3

1,2

15–40 age old people

Consumer associations

Employees and families Employee unions

Coffee and cream suppliers

Vegan and green suppliers

Universities

Governmental organizations municipalities and city councils

Eco-friendly, animal friendly, vegan NGOs -initiatives

Mainstream and alternative media

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8

1,3,4,5,7,8,9,12,13

(1) TV programs, news programs, magazines, newspapers, outdoor advertising, and guerrilla activities

(2) Administrative and strategic meetings (with consumer and representatives, employees, trade unions, competitors, green suppliers, NGOs and initiatives, green company representatives, green idea leaders, universities and independent auditors, local government and councils) Training programs and seminars, press conferences and newsletters, lobbying for local government, councils and government agencies, POP activities.

(3) Responsible corporate web (activity reports, bank reports, audit reports, meeting reports and news), blog, forum and social network profile management, alternative media and green initiative links, viral works

Sport Shoes (81)

Achieve measurable goals in all processes, especially zero carbon in the green strategy

The call to use technology for the benefit of the environment

The call to ensure everyone’s participation

3,4

Only leave real footprint

1,2,3

1,2,3

1,2

18–65 age old people

Employees and families

Competitors

Green suppliers

Green NGOs

Green opinion leaders

2,4,6,7,8

1,2,3,4,5,7,8,9,10,11

(1) TV programs and advertisements, Radio programs,

(2) Administrative meetings (with consumers, employees, competitors, green suppliers, green NGOs, green opinion leaders)

Training programs and seminars, press conferences and newsletters, lobbying for local government, councils and government agencies, Sponsorship and special events.

(3) Corporate web (activity reports, meeting reports and news), social network profile management, green blog links, viral works, web ads.

Furniture (77)

To promote simple life with multifunctional products produced by recycling

To raise awareness of green process outputs

3,4

Everything for your home, Everything for earth

1,4

1,2,3

2

Society

Employees

Competitors

Green suppliers

Opinion leaders

1,2,3,4,5,7

1,2,3,4,5,10,11

(1) TV commercials, outdoor advertising, sponsorship and special event planning

(2) Administrative and strategic meetings (with consumers, employees, competitors, green suppliers, NGOs, green opinion leaders, and green bloggers) Training programs and seminars,

(3) Corporate web (activity reports, meeting reports), social network profile management, social media ads.

Investors

Apparel 1 (75,5)

To raise awareness of natural product

To publicity supporting green producers and production with governmental incentives and collaborations

2,3

Apparel 1 will keep the word, people will win by nature

We are not as you know

4

1,2,3

1,2

Middle and upper income group

Those who give importance to the brand name

2,3,4,5,7,8

1,2,3,5,7,8,9,11

(1) TV commercials, outdoor advertising, news programs

(2) Administrative and strategic meetings (with employees, green suppliers , NGOs, green opinion leaders, and governmental organizations) training programs and seminars, press conferences and newsletters.

(3) Corporate web (news), social network profile management, social media ads.

 

Apparel 2 (75)

Promoting cyanide-free production with the use of 100% linen and cotton

Awareness of improving worker conditions

3

Add your elegance to your nature

Charm in green

1,3,4

1,2,3

1,2

18–45 age old people

People who care about environment and have never had a Apparel 2 customer before

2,5,7

1,2,3,5,8,10,11

(1) TV commercials and programs, radio programs, outdoor advertising, Magazines

(2) Administrative and strategic meetings (with employees, suppliers and producers, NGOs, green bloggers) training programs and seminars,

(3) Corporate web (news), social network profile management

Perfume (75)

Awareness of natural products and emphasis on reducing consumption with longer durability

To persuade investors and partners to support the green conversion

3

Live with nature scent

2

1,2,3

2,3

Young and middle-aged women and men

Employees

Green NGOs

Investors and partners

2,4,6,7

1,2,3,4,5,8, 10,12

(1) TV programs, magazines, TV dramas

(2) Administrative and partnership meetings (with employees, suppliers and producers, green NGOs, opinion leaders)

(3) Corporate web (news), social network profile management, word of mouth marketing, and viral works with vlogger and bloggers

Apparel 3 (74,25)

To show that 50% recycled clothes from wastes reduce the harm done to the environment

Take a respectful brand position

2,3

What nature wants

1,2

1,2,3

1,2

Loyal consumers

16–45+ age old consumers,

Environmentalist

2,4,6,7,8

1,2,3,4,5,8,13

(1) TV commercials and programs, Newspapers Outdoor advertising,

(2) Administrative and partnership meetings (with employees, green suppliers, producers, shareholders, NGOs, and opinion leaders)

Sponsorship and special event planning

(3) Corporate social network profile management, and viral marketing.

 

Bicycle (72,2)

To gain attention to the product that produces oxygen with the use of bicycles

To create an eco- sensitive consumers

To gain attention to the brand

3

Another pedal for nature

1

1,3

2

People interested in cycling,

People who are willing to protect environment

18–45 age old people

7,8

1,3,5,8,9, 11

(1) TV commercials, sport programs, sport magazines, outdoor advertising,

(2) Sponsorship and special event planning

(3) Corporate social network profile management, and viral marketing.

Vegetable oil (71)

Producing biodiesel from waste oils

Protecting nature

To support healthy production and consumption

2,3

We produce, we consume, we transform

we care...

1

1,2

1,2

Society

1,2,7

1,2,3,4,5,10

(1) TV commercials, outdoor advertising, and guerilla advertising

(2) Administrative and partnership meetings (with consumers, NGOs, car manufacturers, local governmental agencies,) Sponsorship and special event planning

(3) Corporate social network profile management, and viral marketing.

Propagators

Apparel 4 (71)

To Sell 500 thousand organic pants in 3 months

To Donate 200 thousand saplings in 3 months

1

Friendly with your body and environment

Organic fashion

4

1,2,3

1,3

Young and middle-aged people

People sensitive to the environment and those who care about their health

Green hippies or organic product user “cool” peoples

4,5,7

1,2,3,5,8,9,10

(1) TV commercials,

(2) Partnership meetings (with green NGOs, opinion leaders and investors), training programs and seminars, POP activities

(3) Corporate web and social network profile management, viral marketing with vloggers

Cream (70,2)

Increase awareness of our green production

Replacing the image with nonparaben herbal products

1,2,3

Totally natural, friendly to your skin

Stay young, shine

3,4

2,3

1

18–60 ages people

Trend followers

1,7,8

1,2,3,5,9,10,11

(1) TV commercials, Woman magazines and ads

(2) Partnership meetings (with consumers and representatives) special events, press conferences with celebrities and opinion leaders, POP Activities.

(3) Corporate web and social network profile management, viral marketing with vloggers

 

Hair Dye (70)

To promote product with decontaminated contents for woman

To feel good about hormonal changes

1,2

The most colorful state of nature

4

1,2,3

1,2

Pregnant women

High income group

Women who care their hair care and health

1,7,8

1,2,3,5,8

(1) TV commercials, magazine ads, product placement ads

(2) Partnership meetings (with consumers, green NGOs), special events and Press conferences

(3) Corporate web and social network profile management, viral marketing with bloggers

Dental Brush (69,25)

To promote 3B functional product

1,2

3B (Beneficial care, basic design, balanced ecology)

1,4

1,2,3

1,2

Loyal consumers

Environmentalists

Trend followers

1,2,7,8

1,2,3,4,5,8,10,11,12

(1) TV commercials, Magazine ads, product placement ads, Outdoor advertising, mobile ads,

(2) TV and Radio programs, guerrilla activities

Partnership meetings (with consumers, green NGOs, green suppliers, opinion leaders), Special events and press conferences

(3) Corporate web and social network profile management, viral marketing with bloggers

Razor Blade (68,6)

To promote sharper, nonirritating and water-saving formula

1

Natural as water

1

1,3

1

Men

All environmentalists over 14 ages

2,7,8

1,2,3,4,10,11

(1) TV commercials, Magazine ads, Newspaper ads, Outdoor advertising, TV dramas.

(2) Partnership meetings (with NGOs and suppliers), sport events sponsorships, special events and Press conferences with opinion leaders and sportsmen

Cigarette (68)

To promote our environmentalism by placing seeds in canvases

1

We created the cigarette blue, now in the green

4

1,3

2

Smokers

7

3,4,9,10

(3) Corporate web and social network profile management, viral marketing

 

Coffee 2 (67)

To gain attention to the product

1

Naturalness in your coffee

4

3

1

Environmentalist

18–40 age old coffee consumers

5,7,8

1,2,3,5,8,10,11,12

(1) TV and radio commercials,

(2) Partnership meetings (with employees, green NGOs and governmental organizations), Special events and press conferences with artists.

(3) Corporate web and social network profile management, viral marketing with bloggers

Baby Diaper (65)

To position the product as a green,

To ensure that it is preferred, and thus to make consumers feel that they are helping nature

1

We brought quality and nature together for baby cloth

1,4

1,2,3

1,2

Baby-owned parents and pregnant women

7

1,2,3,5,8,10

(1) TV commercials, magazine ads, newspaper ads.

(2) Partnership meetings (with opinion leaders) and press conferences

(3) Corporate web and social network profile management, viral marketing with bloggers

aStrategic position or role for green: The Innovator, the Investor, the Propagator (Kotler et al. 2010: 153–159).

bThe nature of marketing communications goals: (1) Cognitive, (2) Informative, (3) Affective, (4) Conative (Neagu 2011; Palekhova et al. 2015).

cEcological MessageTheme: (1) Care, (2) Save, (3) Free, (4) Friendly.

dValue proposition with product/service: (1) Functional, (2) Perceptual, (3) Symbolic (Erdem ve Swait 1998: 136).

eThird party supports: (1) Ecolabels, (2) Environmental product declarations, (3) Cause marketing (Ottman and Mallen 2014).

fDirect/Indirect-Internal/External Stakeholders: (1) Consumers, (2) Suppliers, (3) Competitors, (4) Investors, (5) Employees, (6) Shareholders, (7) Regulators and auditors, (8) Media (Polonsky 1995; Freeman et al. 2008: 13; Ertuğrul 2008: 206; Talpos and Meltzer 2013:39–40).

gPromotional Mix: (1) Advertising, (2) Public relations, (3) Sponsorship or cause related marketing, (4) Noncommercial activities, (5) Internet marketing, web and social media, (6) Exhibitions, (7) Lobbying, (8) Word of mouth advice/viral marketing, (9) POP activities, (10)Packing, (11) Sales promotions (12) Guerilla activities, (13) Internal events and trainings (Benoit-Moreau and Parguel 2011; Ottman and Mallen 2014; Palekhova et al. 2015).

hCommunication channels, media, and tools: (1) Mass Communication channels, (2) Interpersonal communication channels, (3) Digital media and social networks (Benoit-Moreau and Parguel 2011; Ottman and Mallen 2014; Palekhova et al. 2015).

Planners share a common view that green products are expensive for their target market. In the role of consumers themselves, planners jointly recognize the obstacle for buying green products is because of current limited purchasing power. However, the point at which their common view diverges is that participants with low environmental sensitivity scores assert green products will not be purchased, while high-score participants believe there is an inclination that they will be. This situation effects how target markets are chosen. Planners with low-scores choose high-income groups as their target while high-score participants do not distinguish, seeing all with green tendencies as their potential target market, believing they can render green products accessible and consumable by all.

The topic of green products is currently discussed on the internet by people who take a lead role because they read, foresee, research and it is through these people that I can reach my target market. In my other work, for example my public relations work, I can direct my efforts to those who are not yet green consumers (Female, score 80).

The target market for green are from a bit higher income bracket, or rather, should I say exactly this category? It’s like that.[...] Once you get into green, it seems you are free to set the price and so I have some apprehensions about these issues (Male, score 62).

Innovators: Presentation of Green Identity and Ethics

Looking at the communication objectives in the projects to which the Innovation role is attributed, it is seen that the aim of the transformative green strategy is emphasized among the first set of conditions. The objectives are to promote sensitivity in the target groups in relation to the dissemination of green technologies and the output of these green processes. Another issue that emerges in the purpose of the communication projects in this group is that making co-productions calls into action the actors in the marketplace such as consumers, competitors, and suppliers (Coffee 1) and allows for a provision of everyone’s contribution (Sport shoes) to transform the sector. These projects also emphasize the use of technological know-how and other company possibilities for the general well-being of the environment and society. The nature of the marketing communication goals is predicated on participation of the internal and external circles in the process together, but it is also aimed at influencing behavior change (encouraging contribution, encouraging a simple lifestyle, etc.).

Messages are also structured in such a manner as to highlight a company’s green responsibilities and to emphasize the role they can undertake. In the first two projects with the highest score, main- and submessages were directed to cover almost all dimensions while all projects in this group emphasized functional, perceptual, and symbolic value proposals. The green-labels for this group can be viewed as a natural consequence of the activities carried out. So ecological, environmental, and animal-friendly labels are not the goal of only being clean to be well received but were the actual result of possessed values. For this reason, the perception of marketing activities is observed as actions that cause an underestimation of what should be done.

When it is said ‘marketing’, something like ‘hanky-panky’ stuff is coming to my mind, however when green marketing is asked to me as there is ‘marketing’ in it, it creates the impression of bringing [unavailable] something in being, I mean I think yes there is green there but that ‘green’ word is neutralized [devaluing] by ‘marketing’ word. I mean it adds negative meaning in it. While one is positive, as the other is more negative, it becoming dull. I do not believe that it is sincere. (Female, score 80).

For planners with low environmental sensitivity scores, marketing and communication activities are viewed as mere tools. There is an attitude that green activities only pacify consumers. For this reason, there is a belief that messages must be sincere.

I don’t believe it but I think people generally believe. I think it’s because people believe whatever you show them and it depends on how convincing you are as to whether they will believe. In this case it seems to me more like we are kind of fooling them (Male, score 62).

In the three projects in this group, a broad target group in the environmental market has been identified as the whole of society. For consumer groups that were categorized by age from a wide selection range, the justification for “everyone’s participation” was made in the first two projects (Coffee 1, Sport shoes). The expectation was that suppliers, as stakeholders, comprise an institution to be targeted in all processes of the green transformation. Additionally, we understood that the suppliers, the state institutions, and the local governments are included in the stakeholders because the projects are aimed at an integrated transformation in all the related sectors. Besides environmental NGOs, another group of stakeholders that emerged in this group were green initiatives and activist organizations. Representatives of these structures have been included in strategic planning processes as opinion leaders.

In all three projects, almost all promotional mix elements are included in the communication plans. Predominantly billboard advertising and public relations were used as the communication mix in the projects. Advertising remained quite limited in the plan, although mainstream media like TV, magazines, and newspapers were used as news and program media as opposed to advertising mediums.

Moreover, project plans included administrative, strategic, and advisory meetings with consumers, employees, labor unions, competitors, suppliers, NGOs and initiatives, green company representatives, green idea leaders, universities, and independent auditors, local government and local councils in the process. In contrast to other groups, as a distinctive promise in the first project which differentiated them from other groups, stakeholders in this group are positioned and integrated as proprietors, as part of the organization and its activities, such that they be a “responsible corporate entity.”

This planning reflects the communication pattern proposed by McDonnell et al. (2015). Researchers have shown that companies react to negative activism efforts with CSR effort. This effort has often been achieved by establishing CSR committees with the participation of stakeholders such as NGOs, initiatives, and philanthropic organizations within the company or by reporting CSR efforts (p.36–37).

Because cooperation is so important at an individual level rather than that of the institution, plans focus on interpersonal channels rather than mass communication. In these projects, the media is also assessed as a stakeholder and it is used effectively in the creation of pressure groups for lobbying activities. Another prominent feature of the projects in this group is the effective use of corporate web and social media profiles for activities, auditing, meeting reports, and news about promotional endeavors. Links to profiles related to green initiatives and activists have been added, including active participation and interaction in green blogs and forums as planned in these projects.

Investors: Presentation of Green Image

In the communication plans of companies in the role of the Investor, the prioritized goal is to raise awareness of products and the visibility of green investment. The objective of some projects is to encourage investors and to increase green production through the provision of cooperation in the marketplace (Apparel 1, Perfume, Bicycle, Vegetable oil). Marketing communication focuses more on influencing target groups to inform and change behavior with new products. Because most projects refer to the green consumer market, it is important to be able to appeal to green consumers, to have a competitive advantage over competitors, and to become a priority choice in the green product market. Functional, perceptual, and symbolic value messages are also found in this group. Unlike the first group, in general, all green conversion efforts are planned to achieve compliance conditions envisaged in green labels, even if not necessarily by way of sectoral or legal regulations. For example, “a brand known to be experiencing a major crisis due to activists” was emphasized as “cleaned up to get a green label” (Apparel 1). For another brand, “self-verification” was emphasized (Apparel 2). In other words, it appears special importance is given to both consumers and stakeholders in the market. In these projects, the green labels function as evidence of cleanliness, but the action of green conversion was only limited to having the message stipulated on the label.

As stakeholders , the focus is mostly on consumers, NGOs, and raw material suppliers and it seems no specific strategies have been developed for other stakeholders and processes. In most of these projects, it is strategically important to meet the expectations of green consumers and implement improvements they may anticipate. For example, one project highlighted that “it is important to get the opinion and approval from people and groups who give importance to green products and are as environmental as an expert” (Apparel 3).

In this group, fewer projects mention environmentally friendly raw material suppliers and generally work with suppliers who produce green raw materials as output, not those who provide green conversion through all their processes, as in the first group. In the projects, green consumers were evaluated both as stakeholders, encouraging target groups to buy, and as target markets themselves. Specialized groups such as green consumers (Coffee 2, Razor Blade), green hippies, or organic product “cool” user people (Apparel 4) are deemed niche target markets . Opinion leaders and influencers are assessed during strategy development and promotional mix activity. Their “green, environmentalist, or activist identities” play a central role when included in the communication plan.

These groups of projects, again as in the first group, utilize promotion mix elements. However, unlike the first group, advertising applications are given more importance. In these projects, mainstream mass media channels and interpersonal channels are given almost equal importance. Unlike the first group, the stakeholders in this group are often positioned as “collaborative” in structure both in the green conversion process and for promotional activities.

Regarding promotional efforts, stakeholders have collaborative involvement and play an active role in communication activities such as press conferences, special events, and sponsorships. In some projects, stakeholders even appear to reinsure and prove green appearance and performance. For example, in one project, green consumers may prefer or accept a brand more easily if the support of green stakeholders is provided (Apparel 2). Digital media tools are often preferred in this group. Communication activities are managed better through social networks and viral efforts with influential vloggers and bloggers. Additionally, special events and sponsorship activities help cultivate a responsible company profile.

Propagators: Presentation of Green Appearance

There generally appears to be clear sales-driven objectives inclusive of goals to increase awareness of green-invested products in communication plans of companies in the propagators role. Additionally, communication messages in these groups have a comparative advantage by stipulating which benefits (natural and healthy, high performance experience, good feeling) are offered in products presented as “green” (Cream, Hair Dye, Dental Brush, Baby Diapers). For this reason, marketing communication goals in this group tend to be mostly cognitive (Palekhova et al. 2015). In the lowest-scoring project (Baby Diapers), a campaign goal is presented as follows: “to position the product as green, to ensure that it is preferred, and thus to make consumers feel that they are helping nature.” In these plans, green labels are used as a positioning tool without the goal of reaching any standard. Approaches such as using labels for a “clean image” (Dental Brush) and boasting through the label alone (Cream, Hair Dye) are striking. Environmental claims are emphasized by declaration without any proof of being green. It seems planners in this group consider “being green” as a “marketable” element.

After all, we are also talking about playing a kind of devil’s advocate, because we are studyingit, or I am not a green person, but I can market green, after all, because there is a benefit for you or your company. Here, work ethic and morality emerge(Male, score 62).

Projects in this group target green consumers in general terms. Additionally, target groups are directly related to special consumer groups in the product market (pregnant women, parents with babies). In this group, green producers are viewed as a new market to be targeted by planners. In some projects, it has been determined that selected opinion leaders and influencers have focused on their popularity without regard for any relationship with or closeness to the environment (Apparel 4, Cream, Dental Brush, Baby Diapers). Generally, popular artists, actors, and sportsmen are preferred as opinion leaders. However, environmental NGOs and green consumer groups are included in project plans at the promotional activity stage. A planner specifically describes the involvement of NGOs in the process as follows:

[NGOs] Having these sanctioning powers already makes them powerful. No matter what happens, you’re disclosed anyway. When you are disclosed by the group, your image is already shaken. It [NGOs] could be seen like a bridge, because if I were company manager and doing something about being green, I will definitely consult Greenpeace as it’s not your area of expertise. Whether you’re producing something for your business or providing a service in the service sector, you are hoping to get paid. You think about profit, loss, crisis management, you think about a ton of things, and think it’s your project, or I could say, only your point of view. Promotions will definitely be better when done with help from NGOs(Male, score 65).

“Strong” NGOs have great importance in making businesses “professional” by inciting them to communicate “more convincing” messages to consumers. These planners try to improve an image through “dealing with them” whereby they negotiate face to face with NGOs, even in the case of a possible negative situation. Therefore, where a negative situation is concerned, they place personal and private views aside to incorporate the professional interests of the company. One participant commented that “The place I work is not so much about morality, my job is not to check its morality already. My job is to try to solve the problem of that company. Think of it as like being an attorney (Male, score 65).” According to him, environment-damaging activities of a company do not concern the planner. The low-score planner does not feel any individual discomfort when the company is insensitive to the environment. This seems to be a coping strategy for the planner.

Projects in this group have planners citing vegetable ingredients in product content and positioning them as “natural” without mentioning the other harmful substances in the product contents (Apparel 4, Cream, Hair Dye, Cigarettes). Among the five unsuccessful manifestations expressed by Peattie and Crane (2005: 360–364) and Kotler et al. (2010), such efforts remind us of green spinning and green selling strategies. According to the authors, green spinning is prevalent in petrol, chemical, pharmaceutical, and automobile companies which are essentially “dirty” sectors who approach the market in an aggressive manner using the green logic “whatever is green sells.” When it comes to product development and research, they are not included, and instead, merely give the same products a green theme in promotional activities to entice green tendency consumers who have concerns about damaging the environment.

Most of the projects focused on providing a green appearance within elements of the promotional mix. The products’ green features are often highlighted by special events and sponsorships, and such efforts are presented as corporate social responsibility. In some projects, NGOs did articulate CSR efforts yet little attention was paid where NGOs were concerned. For example, the Apparel 4 project CSR activity was planned to secure the support of an NGO who was not interested in the company’s “green” agenda (Table 4).
Table 4

Attitudes towards operational activities and attitudes of planners with high and low green sensitivity

Business assumed to be employed in communication planner aspect

Business showing green activity

Business pretend to be green

Approach to activism

Believed/persuaded to show green activity high-scoring communication planner

Effective work performance, strong persuasion and effective marketing– Identity

Effective work performance and marketing communication

While activists react mutually-collaboratively with plan activists in the green business, whether positively or negatively; trying to understand what activists are reacting to planners and activists against the negative reaction of activists to the business which pretend to be green and questioning itself

Believed/persuaded to show green activity low-scoring communication planner

Effective work performance and marketing communication

Effective work performance and marketing communication

If the reactions of the activists are positive, activists are involved in the marketing communication process in a way that would create leverage effect; if the reaction of the activists is negative, it is either ignored or an effort is shown to persuade the consumer

Not Believed/persuaded to show green activity high-scoring communication planner

Trying to persuade the business executives to show more effective green behavior; questioning the green efforts of the business

Negative attitude against the business and/or quitting the job

Persuading the business managers in line with the reactions of the activists

Not Believed/persuaded to show green activity low-scoring communication planner

Sustaining the activities of marketing within the framework of the job description

Sustaining the activities of marketing communications within the framework of the job descriptions

Activists being ignored

Communicator running away from responsibility and quitting work in an effort to save himself/herself

The issue of activism is especially important in marketing communication activities. Low score planners view activists as a means of persuading consumers while high score planners treat them as people and organizations they can collaborate with.

I was able to organize an event for NGOs in such a way that enabled them to work with genuine sincerity, toward green aims and to depend on them. I also had them investigate our product. For example, I could include them in the time and processes of production (Female, score 79).

Where activists and businesses are confronted, the reactions and responses of planners differ from each other. For planners with high environmental sensitivity, recognizing the negative activities of enterprises is considered a problem that needs to be taken seriously. If the activist group misunderstands the activities of a truly green effort, high-scoring planners focus on incorporating activist groups into the process by trying to locate the “communication gap.” During this process, the planner judges him/herself and considers “where he/she was wrong” (Female, score 81). Another striking approach is to accept when “mistakes” are made and to include activists in the process by asking them to “reveal the truth.” Therefore, the aim is to adopt a collaborative approach and develop activities in this direction:

If I am confronted with activists, there must certainly be an error in communication. I ask myself what should be done again and again (Female, score 81).

I can do things like ‘admit to them there are missing things with the product. Don’t do anything, I am mentioning this to you directly’ and convince them of my honesty. Yes, we have some deficiencies but we are trying to manage them. Or like this… Yes, there are some deficiencies that the company is aware of and must correct and if the company flat out says no, then it isn’t right. I can’t commit to them; it’s not something I can do. But if the company is a bit flexible I can tell them: ‘This is the route we plan to take so please support us. These are our strong qualities, and these are our deficiencies and you can help us improve’ for example and by including them in the process together we can convince them (Female, score 79).

In the case of an inability to convince actors that corrections should be made to operational activities, high-scoring participants tend to prefer “changing side” on the side of environmentalist organizations and even tend to act against the corporation.

I swearI would expose the company. I would definitely do that. I do not care about the consequences (Female, score 80).

Participants with low environmental scores, on the other hand, adopt a more dialogical approach, especially when confronted with activist groups, and are more likely to develop a discourse on the part of the employer they work with. From the outset, activist groups get involved to find a “middle way” in communication by adopting the role of an “intermediary” and thus are involved in the process.

I definitely try to be a bridge because if the company already thinks about going green and works with community organizations or activists there must be adisconnected communication. Otherwise they must serve both. It can’t be otherwise. That’s why I try to find a middle way (Male, score 65).

The only thing I will practice, like in my life, is denying. Forever continuing without accepting anything in anyway. It’s a situation where you have denied something and it takes a while to get over it. I don’t think I’ll intervene too much. [...] If they do not accept just continue to deny (Male, score 61).

Thus, planners with high environmental scores showed an attitude that did not oppose (activist) discourse, while those with low scores showed an attitude toward advocacy (corporate) discourse.

Conclusion

This study aims to reveal how environmental sensitivity levels are influenced by decision-making processes of students who are educated in the field of public relations and marketing communication. Student choices especially determine how they will incorporate environmental sensitivity into decision-making and strategy-building processes as decision makers of the near future. Although they do not have clear results because they are not yet in professional careers, they do present important findings regarding “tendencies” in the business environment due to the fact they prepare their projects within the scope of their education and have an authority to supervise them as they are at the same time, as if in a workplace. What is important here is to show how decision makers of the future address environmental sensitivity according to the current market environment so that businesses will have a segmented view point to work with.

The NEP (New Environmental Paradigm) scale (Dunlap 2008) was an effective means to measure our participants’ environmental sensitivities in the study. Particularly in relation to content analysis and in-depth interviews, this scale shows very successful results. However, it would be more effective for the participants to support this scale with other data collection techniques to address how they approach to the issue. Strikingly, participants with high environmental sensitivity scores tend to collaborate when working on a project while participants who have low scores form groups among themselves and even lack the knowledge to do so. Uniting those who share similar individual characteristics in the work environment will have an accelerating effect and especially when combined with the objectives of businesses, successful strategies may be reflected in the market.

While low-score planners utilize their decision-making mechanisms in line with their job descriptions, they define acts opposed to business interests as “unethical.” On the other hand, since high-scoring participants see marketing activities as deceiving people, they define being part of these activities as “unethical.” Thus, we may conclude that decision-making processes that side more with businesses are observed in low-scoring planners, while high-scoring planners tend to shape their decisions and strategies taking environmental sensitivity into consideration both as a part of their identity and in projects they prepare. However, high-score planners, who are part of the capitalist system and operate in this dominant market environment, appear to be have more difficulty in complying with market demands and thus tend to experience more contradictions. Especially when businesses they work with harm the environment, low-score planners adapt easily, but high-score planners display a more interrogative and reactive attitude to the point of contradicting themselves. While this questioning attitude can be welcomed in terms of environmental sensitivity, it is unlikely we can state the same in terms of their willingness to embrace the market environment. This attitude leads high-score planners to leave their jobs when they experience potential antienvironmental attitudes by an employer. NGOs are stakeholders that should be emphasized. Because low-score projects treat NGOs as a part of the promotion mix increasing credibility, and therefore consumer interest, high-score projects become part of the process as a holistic green strategy. For high-score projects that aim to develop and transform processes and the market as well as for planners, it becomes a way of learning from NGOs and, more specifically, confirmation of implementing their identities. Low-score planners, in general, did not talk about NGOs during interviews. They either questioned who NGOs were or did not consider this group a stakeholder.

The existence of planners with high environmental sensitivity is a matter up for debate regarding the sustainability of the capitalist market environment. The existence of businesses that are profit-oriented organizations alters project content targeted by this group. For this reason, from a pragmatist perspective, middle-score participants are considered the most appropriate group in the current market environment. This group stands out as being both environmentally sensitive and as individuals who accept market implementation and do not suffer the tension that high-score planners experience by avoiding the pure market-oriented approach of low-score planners who are able to balance both market expectations with individual beliefs. The projects they created also shed light on this situation. The most desirable outcome of environmental idealism is that high-score planners and their projects are efficient and ensure visibility in the market. However, in realization of this idealism the market environment needs to be transformed. It is envisaged that the implementation of these strategies under the current conditions will become problematic for both individual and business practices.

The fact that this study was conducted within an educational environment and that discussions derive from the institution; this places emphasis on the importance of environmentalist educational. Institutions that provide education for planners help support students to overcome a sense of hopelessness prevalent in the capitalist system by making transformative approaches possible in the market as mentioned above. Predominance of a family element, especially in meetings, has also shown that out-of-school actors are also important in creating environmental sensitivity. Education provides an uplifting effect for every individual in terms of the green transformation. This effect is particularly influential on individuals that tend to be environmentally sensitive and even sensitizes individuals with low sensitivity. Environmental sensitivity is effective in the process of positive or negative decision-making and determines the strategies that will be applied.

This study presents varied perspectives regarding approaches that will likely appear in the market of the near future. Certainly, the future is unknown but knowing the fact that individuals will operate in the market with their individual sensitivities and identities shows that in terms of businesses and policy makers, there will not be any surprises when it comes to evaluating consequent activities and decisions.

Cross-References

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ebru Belkıs Güzeloğlu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elif Üstündağlı Erten
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Communication, Department of Public Relations and PublicityEge UniversityİzmirTurkey
  2. 2.Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of Business AdministrationEge UniversityİzmirTurkey

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