There are a lot of ways to make yourself heard in the world of marketing – but effective tactics aren’t just about being the loudest or the most prominent. They involve a clear understanding of your brand values, what matters to your company, and how you intend to carry on business in the future.
Because of these forward-facing considerations, many organizations are seeing the value of “marketing sustainability”. More than just a cheap sticker on the label, or a few hasty lines on a website, this phenomenon means that brands are considering sustainability from the core and infusing it into everything they do. And this, in turn, is paving the way for the relatively new world of sustainable marketing.
What is Sustainable Marketing?
Sustainable marketing is the promotion and prioritizing of environmental and socially responsible products, practices, and brand values. It is about more than using eco-friendly packaging, or cutting down on paper use; it is a holistic, company-wide decision that is meant to combine economic success with the added value of environmental and social considerations. If you’ve ever made a purchase decision based on a brand’s commitment to local sourcing or 100% recyclability, you’ve encountered this type of marketing.
The core of this approach is to position your brand as an active, dedicated figure toward an important issue. It takes more than simply the will to make change happen; it takes purpose – a purpose that drives your actions and keeps you moving towards a greater goal. One that aligns with your values and motivates you to manifest them in the world. When done correctly, this will humanize your brand messaging and garner a lot of favour with potential customers, helping to differentiate you from the competition – but it takes real, legitimate care to do well, and those same customers will see right through a half-hearted effort that doesn’t come from the top down.
However, it’s worth it to put in the time. Millennials and Gen Z put environmental issues at the forefront of many decisions, and one Nielsen report placed the number of them willing to pay more for sustainable options at nearly 75%. As time goes on, more and more consumers want not just green packaging, but solutions that consider the entire life cycle of a product or service, and more responsible approaches to them. Whether that is packaging, labour, food, or something else, it is now a factor that is impossible to ignore.
How to Implement Sustainable Marketing
There are a few key elements to marketing sustainable and effectively, and all of them tie in to our favourite advice: staying authentic to your brand values. Real sustainable marketing plans must be long-term, consistent, and truly responsible, ingrained into a company’s strategy and executed in an ethical way. If you are only hopping on the bandwagon to make a few quick dollars, without any long-term thought to how you will embrace new practices and ideas, your work will eventually backfire and create substantial and negative public perception.
If you still need a bit of guidance along the way, here are some useful dos & don’ts of sustainable marketing to get you started (and keep you going):
- Integrate sustainability completely: instead of making single comments about sustainability on a single page of your site, address it fully and directly. Understand changes in consumer preferences and respond with real efforts to address them.
- Educate your customers:explain your actions, how they help, and how your customers can assist you in doing them. By doing this in a meaningful way, the results will always be stronger, and your base will be extremely loyal.
- Follow your own path:while there are plenty of places from which you can draw influence and ideas, we recommend choosing your own path for sustainable marketing. Without a single, “correct” solution, creating your own way is important in establishing yourself as a leader.
- Partner with green suppliers: many companies have found themselves in tough situations for using manufacturers or suppliers without sustainability commitments – just look at the recent “paper bottle” news to see how quickly it can happen. Some manufacturers won’t even supply to brands that aren’t environmentally responsible, and there’s no reason to think this trend won’t continue.
- Avoid greenwashing:this refers to companies claiming sustainability when they are doing the bare minimum for the cause. Depending on the nature of your business, you might focus on zero waste, reducing water use, using biodegradable packaging, using local sources, and so on; whatever you do, be honest and set attainable goals. Greenwashing won’t work, and has an incredibly high chance of harming your reputation.
- Don’t be afraid to celebrate the wins: It’s okay to tell the world about your work, as long as you’re not overly boastful about it. Tactfully let customers know how you are helping the cause, end enjoy the opportunity to spread your message.
- Don’t alienate people:customers want to help in your mission, and to assume otherwise denies both your company and your base the chance to do so. Let them in to help.
- Don’t break the bank:start small and build a strategy appropriate to your business. As long as you are being genuine and doing what you can, customers will appreciate that.
Examples of Sustainable Marketing
Details of its specific impact aside, everyone can agree that less plastic in the world is a good thing. So when companies began replacing plastic straws with paper ones, most people applauded the effort – except in cases like McDonald’s, whose waste management providers could not recycle the material. Customers were told to throw the straws away, defeating the entire purpose of the initiative with a different kind of waste.
But examples like this make the good decisions stand out further. We’ve talked before about companies like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, who are well-known for their environmental and social work – and even within our own client roster, we have some excellent role models, too.
Orano’s commitments for the protection of our climate and environment. (from Orano.group/en)
In northern Saskatchewan, the uranium mining company Orano is redefining what it means to make a minimal impact and focus on long-term sustainability. These principles are built into their brand, leading to a great respect for the land and the communities that populate it. No new actions are taken without exhaustive researching and planning for the environmental effects, meaning that even on former mine sites, they return for years afterward to ensure that reclamation is successful.
Sustainability Consulting & Communications. (from RadicleBalance.com)
Radicle, another example, also shows how balancing sustainability and profitability is not only possible, but positive for all aspects of operations. They support businesses in measuring and managing their carbon footprints, creating actionable plans to address and reduce that impact, and ultimately monetizing emissions reductions. For example, they navigate carbon pricing to help pay for emission-reducing technologies. Their rapid growth shows that putting the planet first doesn’t have to come at the expense of people or profits.
Interested in Sustainable Marketing?
Are you thinking of ways that your organization can act more sustainably, and identify a larger purpose that goes beyond your brand? The WJ team can help you navigate the process and how you can use your values to tell a different story – one that is compelling, authentic and differentiated from everyone else, and establishes your place in the world.