Sustainable marketing – is there even such a thing or are we once again just trying to use the word “sustainable” in yet another context?

Eco-friendly and sustainable – these are frequently used words we marketers use in different advertising and marketing contexts today. But what does it really mean, and is it all the same when it comes to the world of marketing? The simple answer is no.

Lets start by looking at some of the definitions that exist today. The original definition of sustainability is the ”development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the needs of further generations”(1). Eco-friendly on the other hand is defined as “not environmentally harmful”(2) , which essentially means that everything from production to packaging should be safe for the planet. To be truly sustainable an organization must generate environmental, economic, and social benefits without causing pollution throughout the whole life cycle, in the present as well as in the future.

Based on the former definition, we can say that a marketer’s primary role is enabling this development through communication and activities. However this may leave marketers feeling as if they have little influence or power to be “sustainable” in their practices given the various components, departments and people that are involved in the production of products and services; we´re talking about the whole supply chain here and not just the bottom line and what messaging we include in an advertising campaign.

So is there anything we as marketers CAN do and WHY should we bother?

Let’s start by looking at the WHY.

One simple reason (and important one most organizations) is that the sustainability market size is expected to reach 41.62 billion USD by 2028 (compared to 9.57 billion USD in 2020 (3)) . Other benefits include increased brand recognition and customer loyalty, improved effectiveness, increased ROI whilst reducing costs and waste.

Another reason is the customer – the people who actually purchase our products and services. To understand the importance of sustainable marketing lets take a closer look at what the customers value and want in 2022 (4):

  • Almost 4 in 5 consumers say sustainability and health and wellness benefits are important to them and when selecting brands, attributes such as environmental and personal wellness matter
  • 50% say they are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products and services such as “clean” products with non-toxic ingredients (62%), greater health and wellness benefits (60%), organic ingredients (50%), and environmental responsibility (50%)
  • Consumers are willing to pay a premium for products and services that align with their values (also known as purpose driven consumers) and they represent a whole 44% of consumers. These consumers are more likely to change their shopping habits and as such become valuable long-term customers and ambassadors in the future.

Consumers want to ensure that whatever they purchase, the brands they choose make a difference and reflect their values. It’s not enough to simply launch a campaign promoting a “sustainable” product and hope your customers will choose your brand let alone come back and purchase again. A more grandiose plan is required and you need to align your strategy, your brand and goals with activities that respond to customer expectations.

And what CAN we as marketers do?

Being a sustainable marketer requires involvement across the entire organization, from C-level to strategy, to product development and integrating sustainability KPIs into the business agenda. It means taking a really close look at what you are offering, how you package, promote and deliver the products to your consumers. The first step when it comes to marketing is of course to make sure your product or service is actually sustainable (no greenwashing) and then you really need to focus on the consumer. Align your strategy with your products and campaigns and make sure your marketing strategy and what you communicate is:

  • Customer centric
    ○ Respond to consumer needs, interests, expectations and values in a clear, honest and credible manner
    ○ Be open, authentic and transparent and connect with your customers and what they care about
    ○ Make sure your engagement is visible and trustworthy, using certificates, foot print and supply chain information that is legally compliant
  • Value based
    ○ Ensure there is true value in what you are promoting, through higher quality, competitive prices and availability
    ○ Provide a seamless customer experience and help your customers along the way. Make it easy for them to find your product, help them make the sustainable choice and inform them of why they should choose it and what makes it sustainable. Educate them, how they as customers can contribute to being more sustainable by for example taking care of the products they are about to buy.

Sustainable marketing cannot be done without incorporating other areas of the business. However we can ensure that we as marketers do our part and create value for our customers and help both consumers and businesses understand what a brand stands for, what aspects of a product or service make it sustainable and how consumers can make a difference and contribute to a greater good by making the right choice. Communication needs to be considered across the entire spectrum, not only from a promotional aspect but from product, packaging, purchasing and distribution channels and delivery. And tying it back to our definition earlier, whatever we do here and now needs to be considered from a long term perspective.

1. World Commission on Environment and Development Brundtland report 1987
2. Merriam Webster Dictionary – eco-friendly
3. Globenewswire – Green technology and sustainability market Nov 2021
4. IBM report: What consumers want 2022


Author: Magdalena Lindquist


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