In the past decade, green products have infiltrated the mainstream consumer market, and I’d argue that the biggest splash has been in the “luxury green” market. When I first noticed this happening, I was appalled–I’m not a luxury brand buyer and I don’t want sustainability to be associated with “upscale and expensive.” Sustainability, after all, is supposed to be inclusive, not exclusive.
Green products were initially in the niche “health and wellness” space, and some of these products carry a “hippie” stigma (I’m from New England so bear with me, West Coasters). This stigma is related to the perception of the environmentalist movement as liberal, activist, and hippie – hardly mainstream. In order for green to hit its tipping point, it had to be more accessible to the masses–this is the job of a marketer.
I still dislike the concept of luxury green, but I understand it better these days. When green products were first being manufactured, costs were higher because the technology and inputs were new, and the manufacturers didn’t yet have economies of scale. These factors limited producers to higher prices, and when trying to re-brand a historically “hippie”-centric offering, this may well have worked in their favor. So, instead of taking it to the masses initially, green becomes aspirational.
This worked for the producers because their costs were higher, and it worked for the marketers because by making green aspirational, they were going straight to the consumers with money and a desperate need to have the latest and greatest products. This also had a trickle down effect. Once demand was established, the costs of inputs decreased and the technology improved.
Now a lot of these products can be sold at lower prices to the masses. At this point, the masses are willing to pay a competitive price for them because these are products that they’ve watched the wealthier members of society consume. Now it’s their turn to indulge, even if in what they’re indulging isn’t quite luxurious anymore.
Green products should be priced similarly to conventional products, and they should also perform as well or better. I also believe that there are times when a premium is necessary because it is simply more expensive to produce the sustainable version (for example, the cost of organic vs. conventional produce). The key task for the marketer is to convey the value of sustainable product offerings across all pricing tiers and markets so that when products are necessarily priced higher, people understand the added value of green and