What is Sustainable Marketing?

Our Marketing Director, Claire Ashdown, shares her thoughts on the growing consumer demand for purpose driven companies and what Sustainable Marketing really means for brands and businesses.

by Claire Ashdown | Ethical | 16 June 2021

From image conscious to public conscience

Dial back a few decades and responsibility, conscience and sustainability were unlikely considerations for the marketing sector. Glamour, big budgets and expense accounts were synonymous with an industry intent on encouraging us all to buy now, think later, or perhaps, not think at all. Marketing methods weren’t always 100% legit, but as long as sales rocketed, that was considered success. Consumption was king. And brand image was everything.

While the days of high spend and high gloss may soon be relegated to marketing folklore, brand image still matters. But the view in the mirror is gradually morphing into something far prettier. Gone is the constant push for mountains of ‘stuff’, and in its place, a conscience and a growing awareness of the need for a more sustainable way of life.

The concept of sustainable marketing holds that an organization should meet the needs of its present consumers without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfill their own needs.

Philip Kotler

First, do no harm

The main goal of sustainable marketing is to improve quality of life by promoting products, services and ideas that protect the environment and avoid a negative impact on local / global society; think low-carbon and fair trade, for example. It comprises the best of both worlds: traditional, proven marketing strategy and methods, combined with new methods that serve consumers and also environmental and social initiatives.

Sustainable marketing should also be woven into the mechanisms of the corporate brand, its strategy, identity and values, how the company operates and the marketing techniques they employ. Today’s successful brands need to build sustainability into their core values and actively enable it to transfer into their products, services and customer experience.

Consumption with a conscience

Where consumers past simply aspired to a better quality of life, consumers present have taken it up a notch. Yes, they want a better quality of life, but not at the expense of society or the planet – and it’s informing their buying choices like never before.

There’s no doubt being seen as a socially responsible brand and marketing a sustainable product can work wonders for your brand image. But it cuts both ways. Sustainable marketing acts as both as a catalyst for changing consumer habits and as a response to changing consumer expectations and demands. It’s now also becoming increasingly common for brands to put responsibility into the hands of the consumer, challenging them to make the more sustainable, moral choice, where in the past they may have judged purely on price and affordability.

It’s a question of ethics

There’s been a lot of controversy in recent years about the ethics of some of our most trusted lifestyle and fashion brands. In the past, the work of activists to highlight the cruelty of animal testing for cosmetics changed the industry for good, and for the better. More recently, documentaries and news reports lifting the lids on working conditions and the pollutants created from ‘fast fashion’ have made a significant impact on buying decisions. According to Accenture research, a company’s ethical values and authenticity influences the purchase consideration for 62% of consumers, with 66% saying they wanted more transparency in how companies source their materials and how it treats employees fairly, etc.

Purchases with purpose

Today’s image-conscious consumers are also looking deeper – for purpose-driven companies that stand for something more tangible. Sustainable marketing goes beyond selling environmentally responsible products, to selecting brands that proactively seek to make positive change and have a human purpose beyond pure sales. According to Accenture research, 52% of global consumers surveyed prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for something bigger than just the products and services it sells.

A modern, competitive, sustainable brand is no longer just a home for a products portfolio, but a statement of intent. But again, your brand must prove it can walk the walk, whether it’s programmes dedicated to increasing the use of recyclable materials, reducing carbon emissions, becoming a b-corp business or however you choose to contribute to a better future for society and the planet, and it’s a big commitment. Customers can smell mere lip service a mile off.

So when it comes to sustainable marketing, which brands are getting it right?

  • Upfield Professional are aiming to create a sustainable food system, helping consumers make food choices that help our planet thrive. The company pledges to reduce carbon emissions and plastic packaging and help people better understand their choices.
  • LiveKindly Collective are a collective of activists on a mission to make plant-based living the norm through their brands and lifestyle media platform.
  • Engineering Net Zero is the commitment of global engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin, to create strategies and solutions for a Net Zero Carbon future for their organisation, their clients and future generations.
  • Amazon aims to achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2040, to pursue sustainable operations, from water usage to aviation fuel, to limit packaging waste and to treat their supply chain with dignity and respect.
  • Lego has introduced LEGO® Replay, providing consumers the chance to pass on their used LEGO bricks to other children. The company has committed to all packaging being made from renewable or recyclable materials and for zero landfill waste from its facilities by 2025.
  • Unilever are spreading their sustainable and ethical efforts across the board, with active commitments on climate, waste, equity, diversity and inclusion, nutrition, health and wellbeing, living standards and human rights.
  • Oatly, the world’s largest oat drink company, aims to live up to their ambition to operate as a ‘future company’ that is sustainable, efficient, healthy and inclusive.
  • DA-SH aim to do their bit for food waste by infusing their sparkling waters using wonky and crushed fruit that would otherwise go to waste.
  • Pact Coffee aims to ‘transform the coffee industry, one cup at a time’, placing quality over profit, and sourcing through the Direct Trade model.

Are you ready to walk the walk?

Then here are our sustainability top tips for brands and businesses:

  1. Integrate sustainability at every level
    Mission statements are not enough, sustainability needs to be hardwired into the whole business, from your brand identity and purpose to your company culture and your employees, all working together for a collective purpose.
  2. Do it your way
    We’re not all international giants. Look to the big guys for inspiration, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Think about what works for your own business, spot the opportunities and forge your own path.
  3. Partner green
    Going green under your own roof is only going to get you so far in the sustainability stakes. It’s important to establish an environmentally responsible supply chain if you want to put your money where your mouth is.