The Diamond Model of Authentic Green Marketing: Evidence from the Sustainable Architecture Industry

AuthorAlan J. Krause,Ian D. Parkman
Date01 March 2018
Published date01 March 2018
The Diamond Model of
Authentic Green Marketing:
Evidence from the Sustainable
Architecture Industry
While “green marketing” has emerged as powerful competi-
tive force, many markets lack clear institutional standards
or knowledgeable customers to allow firms committed to
sustainable practices to differentiate themselves from
opportunistic, green-washing competitors. Within these
contexts we propose a firm-level lens based on authentic
firm reputation as an important, yet poorly understood,
competitive force. Drawing on interview data from the
architectural design services context we identify the ele-
ments that firms use to communicate their own authentic-
ity, as well as discourage green-washing behavior of peers,
and present these elements as the “Diamond” model of
authentic green marketing, consisting of: (1) The abili ty to
appear above commercial considerations; (2) The ability to
frame production methods as craft; (3) The use of corporate
visual identity; and (4) An organization’s social network of
Ian D. Parkman is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Franz Center for Leadership, Entrepre-
neurship and Innovation, Pamplin School of Business, University of Portland, Portland, OR,
USA. E-mail: Alan J. Krause is Assistant Professor of Management at the
School of Business and Leadership, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA, USA. E-mail: ajk-
C2018 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by
Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
Business and Society Review 123:1 83–118
stakeholders. We conclude by discussing the generalizabil-
ity and implications of our framework for practitioners as
well as opportunities for future research.
How do authentic firms differentiate their green marketing
activities from green-washing competitors in marketplaces
that lack clear institutional standards (e.g., the USDA
Organic labeling process)? Based on interviews of managers from
the architectural design services industry, this article proposes the
“Diamond” model of authentic green marketing, consisting of: (1)
The ability of firms to appear above commercial considerations; (2)
The ability to frame production methods as craft; (3) The use of cor-
porate visual identity (CVI); and (4) An organization’s social net-
work. This “Diamond” model provides organizations with a toolkit
to develop authentic reputations for green marketing, thereby dif-
ferentiating themselves from the opportunistic green-washing
actions of rivals. In addition, our article extends previous work of
Spence et al. (2001), Sorell and Hendry (1994), and Fassin (2009),
who expand stakeholder theory to include firms’ close competitors.
Further, this article contributes to academic discussion of “green
marketing”—i.e., marketing products or services as environmen-
tally friendly, energy efficient, or organic despite the reality that a
given firm’s use of green marketing is highly subjective, context
dependent, and often vague and confusing (Banerjee 2002; Chen
2010; Porter and Miles 2013; Saha and Darnton 2005; Savage and
Majot 1992). Moreover, as many industries lack widely accepted,
standardized, certifiable, third-party standards (e.g. ISO 9000) that
consumers and other stakeholders, can use to evaluate the veracity
of firms’ green marketing claims, it is all too common for organiza-
tions to engage in communications efforts that purposefully cloud,
misinform, or outright obfuscate their commitment to green mar-
keting—i.e., “green-washing” (Chen and Chang 2012; Delmas
2000; Delmas and Burbano 2011; Greer and Bruno 1996; Laufer
2003; Robins 2006). As a consequence, a variety of researchers
(e.g., Ottman and Terry 1998; Pecotich et al. 2003; Polonsky and
Rosenberger 2001; Sandhu 2010) have asserted that in many
contexts consumers face great difficulty in trying to assess firms’
images and reputations for “environmentally friendly,” “green,” or
“sustainable” products or production practices. As Grove et al.
(1996) argue, “Business commitment to the environment has often
been more evident in their (the firm’s) communications than their
actual practices” (p. 674).
This has led to increasing scholarly and practitioner attention to
the costs associated with green-washing and how authentic firms
may differentiate themselves from deceptive, opportunistic, green-
washing competitors (e.g., Green 1994; Hartmann and Ibanez
2006; Hult 2011; Martinez 2014; Ramus and Montiel 2005). This
literature, however, has largely focused on two distinct levels of
analysis: (1) a micro level that describes individual consumers’
reactions to green-washing—i.e., helping firms and managers
understand consumer decision-making processes for rewarding
virtuous organizations and punishing firms perceived to be green-
washing (e.g., Bernstein 1984; Delmas and Burbano 2011;
Maignan and Ferrell 2004; Moisander 2007; Swaen and Vanhamme
2005), or (2) the macro-economic and public policy issues related to
green-washing (e.g., Donaldson and Preston 1995; Mahjoub and
Khamoussi 2013; Prakash 2002)—i.e., the potential impact of gov-
ernmental regulation or industry standards which may influence
firms’ green marketing (Kassinis and Vafeas 2006).
We argue that this focus has led to a gap in extant literature
which largely overlooks the potential firm- and peer-level factors,
such as image and reputation, that organizations may employ to
develop and communicate the authenticity of their green marketing
efforts in order to differentiate themselves from less-authentic (i.e.,
green-washing) rivals. To address this gap, this article adopts
stakeholder theory as interpreted by Spence et al. (2001) and
others to include firms’ “degree of accountability” to competitors as
an intermediate-level lens. These authors expand the “narrow” defi-
nition of an organization’s social network of stakeholders beyond,
“employees, suppliers, customers, communities, and shareholders”
who are considered to be the primary stakeholders to which a firm
has a moral responsibility” (Werhane and Freeman 1999). This
mezzo-level captures the elements of authentic green marketing of
the firm and illustrates how authentic reputations for green mar-
keting are conferred and policed by peer-competitor stakeholders
in order to provide differentiation within competitive marketplaces.

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