How to Market Green Gadgets Better

Consumers are peeling back the eco-label and examining what makes gadgets green. Few electronics makers revel in this kind of scrutiny, but the smart ones will view it as an opportunity.

Yesterday, my Netgear WNR834B wireless router kicked the bucket. With little time and no online access to research my options, I rushed out to buy another, this time a WNR2000.  There were other models on the shelves of my local Best Buy, some cheaper, but this one had an Energy Star label and the box extolled the benefits of “Green Networking.”  It was time, I thought, to put my money where my mouth is.

Sadly, it pains me to tell you that I’ve fallen victim to a bit of greenwashing. Mind you, I’m grateful that the packaging is made of 80 percent recycled materials. But beyond that and the Energy Star label, the “Green Networking” claims include just one other feature: an on-off switch. I’m not sure that’s really a high-impact green design issue. Granted, features and performance always come first, and in this regard the new router excels. After all, if a device doesn’t deliver what you require of it, what does it matter if it’s green?

For electronics makers, green is a potential differentiator in an industry where products in the same device class typically perform comparably. Some even share chipsets and many must adhere to standards set by trade groups and regulatory bodies like the FCC.  A “green” marketing campaign can help otherwise unremarkable products stand out from the crowd.

Even so, manufacturers might be tempted to coast on this issue. That wouldn’t be smart. According to data from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), 22 percent of the consumers polled would pay more for green gadgets — up to 15 percent more, in fact. The problem is that what “green” means is starting to matter to a growing number of consumers. According to the same CEA study, 58 percent want more specifics on what makes products worthy of the label.

Inspired by my recent experience, I’ve compiled some pointers for the Netgears of the world that are thinking of courting those eco-savvy, premium-price-paying shoppers.

  • Furnish energy consumption data. Short of connecting a device to a Kill-a-Watt, consumers don’t know how much electricity a device consumes, let alone if it beats out similar models. The data already exists. Compile it, drop it into the product literature and web site, and you’re done. And no, burying it in a PDF spec sheet somewhere doesn’t count.
  • Be specific and clear. My new router is Energy Star compliant. That’s nice, but it only applies to the power supply, it turns out. Energy Star 5.0 computer hardware is popping up and my dollars, and those of like-minded geeks, are going to follow the wares that make that distinction crystal clear.
  • Don’t skimp on the features. Wrapping yesteryear’s handset in recyclable plastic doesn’t cut it. Samsung and Sprint’s Reclaim phone is a good example of a job done right. On the flipside, don’t play up a standard feature as a green innovation. Netgear saw it fit to include the inconveniently placed power button on my new router as a green bullet point. Color me underwhelmed.
  • Design with the Earth in mind. E-waste has crept into the public’s consciousness and other countries may soon stop accepting our electronic junk.  Companies that take an active approach to stemming e-waste by creating hardy, serviceable electronics or reclaiming end-of-life goods can end up with a loyal following.

In the end, I’m keeping the router, mostly to avoid having to return it. Netgear may have scored this sale, but its bad green marketing cost it a loyal customer.

Question of the week

Do green claims make or break your purchasing decisions?
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