Building Sustainable Communities: The Marketers’ Perspective applied to Indian Society (ID 25)

Building Sustainable Communities: The Marketers’ Perspective applied to Indian Society

Building a Case for thinking ‘Green’ from the marketers perspective

Participant ID -25
Medhajournal, India

When Indians – a large section of them – today are lured by money – various modes of making it and million routes to spend it – sustainability and thinking in that direction seems too low on the pecking order. What sustainability has suffered today is the trickle and minute local effects. How many people in India would embrace locally made polished Shahbad stone to Italian Marble? How many celebrities would embrace ‘green’ living? When people are here to show off and out do the others in spending – will they ever spend on something cheap because it’s locally available?

We need to understand the intrinsic quality that humans have which differentiates a human from the rest of the pack. The quality that gives us the power to erode Nature. Well that’s often missed link between Eco and Ego. Ego is the reason for consumption – rather excessive consumption – a need to be different from the rest – a need to show off – a need to disregard anything beyond the self – leading to deterioration of natural resources. If its ego that drives the erosion – what needs to be addressed in any sustainable development activity – is this very small three letter word– to not only arrest the erosion of natural resources but also work towards restoration.

The effort towards building sustainable communities has been limited to a ‘niche’ segment. The Crusaders. The Intelligentsia. The Purists. People who truly believe from within that green living is the best for the Nature and hence for them. It is discussed by Medhavis, implemented by individual or a small group of Medhavis either for themselves or for a community that does not know how to read or write – forget understanding sustainability or green living. What is needed today in the arena of ecology and sustainable development is moving beyond the paradigm of ‘small is beautiful’. In this era of comparisons, peer pressure and subtle show offs, is there a need to go beyond the traditional thinking of sustainability? Is it always good to look at it from a purists’ perspective? Or does it make sense to shift the frame of reference to marketing?

Now is the time to pack sustainability as a concept, develop products and market them as shrewd brand managers would market a service or a consumer product to a set of consumers who are ready to lap it up. The sociological impact of consumption is usually studied by marketers / ad gurus to see how the consumers are thinking to predict how they are going to consume. This understanding needs to be incorporated effectively in any sustainable development activity to truly make a difference.

Any trend or thinking gets to the masses or reaches its tipping point when a large group of influencers follow the trend religiously and the middle mass follows the influencers religiously. Eco Living and sustainability needs to be first targeted at the luxury end of the market. When the rich, affluent and successful start implementing sustainable living in their lives because it’s the most fashionable thing to do or an uber cool thing to be – only then will we start thinking beyond communities and start thinking about societies, states and countries. Its time to think BIG.

If we need green living to reach and remain at all levels of the society – we need to have different approaches to address the separate consumer categories. Just like a brand planner or manager would. If green living is a concept that we need to sell to a set of people who care two hoots about it – well we do have a marketing challenge there!

Usually any society can be broadly categorized into three groups of consumers. The rich, the middle class and the poor. Every country has these categories. The nomenclature may be different. But the groups exist everywhere. What would vary from country to country is the percentage distribution across the groups.

Since there are three broad categories, we need to have distinct strategies to market sustainable living to each of them .If there is a universal umbrella brand called ‘Global Green’, then this would need to have brand extensions of Green Luxury (GL), Green Premium (GP) and Green Mass (GM).

These 3 umbrella brands of the Global Green Brand need to be customized locally just like a Pizza Hut introduced the Paneer Pizza in India. These brands need to be uber cool esp. for the GL and the GP segment. A policy and strategy that strikes a chord with the consumer will ingrain and instill these green values – even though the method may seem questionable. In today’s result oriented society, we need to play their game by their rules.

The section below describes each of the categories in detail.

Green Societele or Luxury (GS/ GL) This mindset needs to be built around green affluence. This group consists of the rich and super rich. It targets green living for the affluent. Imagine savvy builders who can charge a premium by having an eco building or an eco township right in the middle of the concrete jungle. Organic restaurants, organic retail chains, green schools and green holidays. Think green run way clothes, shoes, bags, gadgets, organic products etc etc. This sector spells the word ORGANIC.       

The whole idea is to market the concept that ‘green is always in’. Are you in?

It needs to play with the ego of various sub sectors of the luxury segments. The show offs and the subtle show offs. If you don’t follow green living, you don’t deserve to be rich. That’s the final message.

Is it a mere coincidence that green is the colour of nature, money and envy? How much are we leveraging these coincidences to influence this section of society to feed its snobbery and hence the planets needs?

Implementing GL: To begin with, we need to ideate on products that are green and can be made commercially viable for industries / companies to invest in them. Once a product is commercially viable, any company will be willing to invest in it. What we need here is a Green Product Development Company, Green Investors and Green Marketers.

Green PremiumThis sector comprises the Green Intellectuals. The purist and the non purist. The subtle show offs who truly care and the majority who pretend they care. Marketing needs to touch them at the intellectual plane.

We need practical, aesthetic, everyday green living here. Green Policy could work extremely well at this segment. For eg: Implementing carbon credit to everyday living.

Government policy that integrates accumulated carbon credit that can be redeemed like credit card points against personal tax, fuel surcharge or even bank interest rates!! This segment that aspires to be the luxury needs a clear distinction from the GM and the GL. A unique identity of its own. Sharp. Smooth. Sure. This sector spells NATURAL.

Eg: CNG cars. Green Spices. Locally grown natural vegetables (not necessarily organic which could increase costs due to process certifications) that are sold directly through colourful street bazaars. Cottons, Fruits, Car Pooling – anything that helps them save and show off subtlety – will work here.

Implementing GM: We need Green Lobbyists. Green SMEs and businessmen who can be influenced to invest in supply chain related activities to make green natural products reach millions of households.

Green Mass  This category has so many layers. From the under nourished to the self sustained. Since we are talking from the consumption angle – the under nourished would fall outside this category. This segment needs to be taught green from an Iconic and Savings perspective.

Instilling values through the Tulsi Virani and the Kumkums of the world would work here. Using besan over a soap that has animal fat. Using ghee made at home instead of dalda. We could also implement the carbon credit scheme here at different redeem centers. To buy Gas Cylinders. Against electricity charges. Discounts at major retail stores for everyday essential items which adhere to green processes.

Use of natural furniture (cane) over plastic Nilkamal. The agenda here would be to introduce them to green living and teach them how it helps them save money in their lives.

This sector spells Green SAVINGS.

Conclusions and Way Forward

 What we essentially need today is Integrated Green Thinking and Living (IGTL) and not just community based thinking and implementing green values.

There is a need to integrate green into mainstream banking. Green Banks which fund green companies, green PE funds, having savings of green people with a specified carbon credit and monitoring. The time has come to implement green at the policy level.

The bigger problem could also be due to the green paper called Money. Money is not linked to Nature in any more! It can be printed by the govt (read people) and consumed by people again and the cycle continues. When man has invented a system that’s independent of Nature – is it fair to expect that Nature will keep up to this man made system? Maybe its time to re link money back to nature in some manner. Maybe we need to re think The Fiat system.

We need also Green Schools – that teach green values across all kinds of students, green housing societies that follow a Laurie Baker System to replace slums and shanties. Green lobbyists who convince greedy slum lords that it makes more business sense to build green societies. Integration without disrupting existing evils in the society like corruption etc.

We need to have our agenda and focus clear. We need to get green to co exist with everything else that’s already present. We are not cleansers of any system. We are green crusaders. Smart, Savvy and Shrewd.

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