Sustainability – and sustainable marketing by implication – matters more now than ever before. 

Between carbon emissions, natural disasters, plastic pollution, habitat depletion and several other social and environmental issues, an ever-brighter spotlight is being shone on the needs of the earth. Simply put, humans can no longer ignore the consequences of their actions.  

As global citizens living through a climate emergency, it is the responsibility of us all to live more sustainably. That includes businesses and business owners, entities and individuals who are able to lead by example on policy change to ensure sustainability is embedded into their organisational cultures and practices.  

Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the impact of their choices. There is a growing understanding that without fundamental change, there may be no planet left for future generations to enjoy. Therefore, purchasing patterns are being adapted accordingly.  

One survey reveals that 85% of consumers have shifted their buying behaviour towards being more sustainable in the past five years. Meanwhile, IBM states that purpose-driven consumers – those who prioritise brands that align with their values – now make up the largest consumer segment. 

Understanding sustainability in marketing – and how to be a sustainable marketer – is key as companies are being forced to respond to this shift, prioritising not just profit but equally planet and people.  

Today’s consumer wants to buy from the brands aligned with its values. They no longer simply care about how well a product or service fits their needs – they now want to know who’s behind it, where it came from, how it was made, and any negative impacts it might have had in reaching them. 

Sustainable marketers can create this bridge between a company and its customers. Traditionally responsible for communicating brand and product developments, they must now also look through the lens of sustainability in marketing to adhere to these new expectations. 

Critically, there is a lot of noise to cut through. Consumers are bombarded with information overload, making it imperative for brands whose key focus is sustainability to get their message across effectively.  

What is sustainable marketing? 

In simple terms, sustainable marketing is all about positioning your brand to be an active proponent of a social or environmental cause. If done well, it can make your company appear to be more human and stand as another reason why customers may select your over your competitors. 

Interestingly, Nielsen research found that 66% of consumers would happily pay a premium price for those products and services that are committed to instilling positive social and environmental changes.  

The business case for incorporating a sustainable marketing mix is therefore clear, IBM also stating that roughly four in five consumers say sustainability (alongside health and wellness benefits) is important to them when choosing a brand. 

A marketer’s role is to ensure a brand and its offering are positioned to answer their customers’ pains and priorities. If your research and insights show that sustainability is important to your customers and across your brand’s wider market landscape, sustainability simply must be on the marketing, and business, agenda.  

And that agenda begins internally. The first step is to engage senior stakeholders and communicate to them the impact a sustainability policy (or lack of) can have on both the business and the wider world. They should be made aware of the potential competitive advantage from building customer loyalty and developing a more attractive recruitment proposition in line with prospects’ values.  

On the flip side, failing to incorporate sustainable policies increases the risk of the business falling behind the pack – important custom could be lost, and the best talent may be lured elsewhere.  

Be authentic or be found out   

Get the policy and subsequent marketing strategy right, and you’ll be able to demonstrate your ability to unlock demonstrable value for your organisation. But sustainable marketing isn’t as simple as making a few quick wins. 

Consumers need to be shown that each product or service offers both real and relevant benefits, without compromising on performance. Companies can’t simply appear to be taking steps to be greener. Savvy consumers will quickly see through this façade – known as greenwashing. 

Sustainability in marketing is therefore a massive commitment.  

It’s easy to say one part of your brand is eco-conscious – but what of the other aspects? There’s little point in shouting about switching to paper straws if your food ingredients aren’t sustainably sourced for example. 

Consumers will see through any greenwashing marketing attempts. You need to consider everything – carbon offsetting; efficient manufacturing; sustainable materials and supply chains; providing remote working opportunities; encouraging green commuting; enhancing recycling and much, much more. 

Even if you cannot achieve immediate results, being open and transparent with customers about how you are taking steps to be more sustainable can significantly improve brand image and consumer purchasing decisions.  

Indeed, it’s important to remember that when you’re positioning your brand on contentious issues such as sustainable marketing, authenticity is key. So, avoid greenwashing in your marketing efforts at all costs.

Where to get started?  

Being a sustainable marketer is something we should all aspire to. As marketing professionals, we are among the best-placed people to impart positive change by educating and inspiring those around us and our businesses.  

If this sounds like something you want to drive in your organisation, there is no better place to start than by signing the Sustainable Marketer Manifesto 

Comprising three key commitments, it unites like-minded marketing and communications experts in pledging to use our skills as a force for good, both within and outside of our companies.   

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