The New York Times

The New York Times


April 21, 2009, 10:03 am

Of Buying Green and Being Green

By Jeffrey Marlow

Getty Images Visitors peruse the trade stands at “UK Aware, 09,” a green lifestyle exhibition held in London over the weekend.

Last weekend, several thousand Britons gathered at UK Aware 09, “the U.K.'s only green lifestyle exhibition,” for tips on leading more climate-friendly lives.

One of the visitors was Will Rayward-Smith, a Cambridge University student who made the trip to London to survey the field of green businesses and organizations. “Some of the ideas here are great,” he said – though he added that some businesses seemed only interested in cashing in on the current wave of green popularity. “It is surprising how successful they are becoming,” Mr. Rayward-Smith said.

Indeed, compared to last year's event, UK Aware ‘09 hosted 40 percent more exhibitors and a few thousand additional visitors – an impressive feat given both the faltering economy, and the fact that buying and selling additional goods as part of a movement ostensibly dedicated to reduction presents something of a paradox.


In one corner of the expo, Colin Murtagh, the founder of CompoViz, was selling arboreal-themed compost bins which allow buyers to “recycle in style.” Mr. Murtagh admitted that composting could be done equally efficiently with “just four pieces of cardboard,” he said, but his products do offer an aesthetic advantage.

That may sound trivial, but research suggests that an environmental message alone is unlikely to motivate most buyers.

Ritsuko Ozaki is a senior research fellow at Imperial College London who studies the effect of green marketing strategies on consumer behavior. She has noted that the most effective campaigns move beyond a strictly environmental pitch. “People need to use more mainstream marketing strategies,” she says, “not just using the term ‘green.'”

In practice, this means tying a given product to more immediate benefits, like lower costs, better taste, improved health – or even higher style.

Green products “can be quite fashionable, and some people like that aspect,” Ms. Ozaki said, adding that people buy products for a range of reasons, and if an appeal to style will attract new business to the environmental sector, then so much the better for green entrepreneurs.

Whether it's good for the environment, of course, is for some an open question. Lucy Brindley, whose eco-friendly party-supplies were on display at the expo, suggested that “not using anything at all would be the best option.”

But, she added, “you're never going to stop people buying things.”

In the face of inexorable consumerism, Ms. Brindley said, “if you can offer a product that will have less of an impact, then that's better.”