When most people hear the term sustainable marketing, it seems more or less a marketing buzzword used to make their company seem modern and ‘cool.’ The phrase has become so popular that it’s become hard to distinguish what its true meaning is.
Mitchell Grant on Investopedia succinctly defines sustainability as “actions and concepts that focus on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Over the years, most markets assumed that sustainability entails the organization’s self-preservative strategies without considering the company’s responsibility to the environment and the future generation.
Looking at sustainability only from an angle of meeting the immediate and future needs of the company goes against the fabric of the term. Being accountable as an organization related to eco-friendly teaching methods, low carbon, non-polluting, and green-collar to your processes, sales, marketing forms the cohesive whole of what sustainability is.
Think of it this way, every company’s end goal is to make profits, increase downlines and continue to do so in subsequent years while meeting the needs of their customers. But how can your company meet your consumer’s needs when there are no consumers, to begin with? This might seem bordering on the extreme. Then again, climate change is extreme.
Every day more people are aware of the adverse effects of climate change. It’s no longer a debatable subject but one that commands concern. According to Views for Change, 90% of customers will trust and be loyal to a socially responsible brand for its actions rather than a brand showing none of these traits.
Does going sustainable entail extra cost?
Most businesses fear that going ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ are fancy words that incur extra costs on their businesses.
There’s no doubt that a switch to sustainability would have an additional cost on your operations, but effective ways of sustainable cost reduction are effective.
It first starts with having a clear understanding of what your business wants to accomplish, setting thoughtful goals with action plans, as it follows with any vision.
Taking cues from Lego, the childhood-loved brand pledged that their ambition is to “make Lego bricks from sustainable sources by 2030 without compromising quality or safety.” Using recyclable and renewable materials, they’ve made a bold decision to be socially responsible for the environment. The company’s partnership with World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers Program in 2013 made them the first toy company to join the program. Their official statement to go completely green was released in 2018. This means the plan is a 12-year and ongoing one. That’s long-term by any standards.
Can sustainable marketing be self-profiting?
Going green would sometimes involve a huge initial investment, for instance, switching from the grid system to installing solar panels at facilities. This investment can be offset by the cost saved in subsequent years.
Sustainable marketing and products are on the rise and are becoming a given rather than peculiar. According to a report by Neilson IQ, more than 50% of customers are more likely to pay extra for products and services because they contribute a positive change. Being responsible is attractive to a huge percentage of socially conscious consumers. As more consumers are conscious of the adverse dangers of consumerism to the environment, your brand can be at the front of positive change.
You can leverage the psychological draw of sustainability to improve sales and downlines. Sustainability is now mainstream. It’s worthy to note that there are a lot of trends around the subject. Terms such as plastic-free, zero waste, net-positive or negative carbon impact are likely to influence consumer perception of your brand.
Companies that leverage sustainable marketing
1. Faith in Nature
Faith in Nature is a UK-based ethical brand that focuses on haircare, skincare products, and natural soaps and washes. Being around since 1974, the brand has proved to be environmentally conscious and responsible. They promote biodegradable, cruelty-free, and recyclable products to consumers who trust and love their brand for it.
The brand is an example that any company can take responsibility for their actions and go sustainable. Over the years, they switched from conventional factory power to sustainable biomass energy. They continued to make other positive changes such as switching to 100% recycled and recyclable bottles, creating a refill policy that allows customers to send back their products, eliminating the need for virgin plastic, and partnering with environmental bodies to promote actionable sustainability.
2. Adidas Shoes
Since 2015, Adidas has partnered with Parley to produce shoes out of plastic waste from the oceans. Plastic waste is one of the major ocean pollution problems, making up at least 80% of all marine debris. Three hundred million tons of plastic are produced every year, and 8 million of it ended up in the oceans. Why make virgin plastic when you can convert existing ones to make shoes just as solid and durable for athletes?
In addition, the company also pledged to use only recycled polyester to produce shoes by the end of 2024.
Adidas’ partnership with Parley goes beyond just producing recyclable shoes. They encourage their direct and indirect audiences to join in the movement to protect the ocean and coastal communities that feel most of the impact of pollution. Through a series of fundraisers, events, a global clean-up network, the progressive brand is leading others to take concrete action to make a change. It would seem that Adidas is living by the words of late Captain Paul Watson, ‘if the oceans die, we die.’
3. American Express
American Express is another company leveraging sustainable marketing the right way. The brand has honed the word ‘zero net’ and ‘carbon neutral,’ which has eliminated their carbon emissions. Being a financial service brand, most of the sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and directbecause environmental impacts come from their operations at office facilities, data centers, corporate trips and travel.
The brand announced that it had become carbon neutral in 2018, powering all its operations with renewable energy and sustainable methods. They continue to market sustainability by celebrating world environmental holidays and spreading the good gospel of protecting the Earth for future generations.
4. Beyond Meat:
Beyond Meat is one of the bold companies whose brand values scream sustainability. The brand had successfully positioned their brand as environment-conscious and future-centric. Beyond Meat poses a daring and relevant question, why make meat from plants? By shifting from animal to plant-based meat, they solve more than one negative environmental impact.
Meat production has significant environmental issues, from feed sourcing, manure sourcing and direct because of its effects on climate change, not excluding the controversial issue of animal welfare.
The brand has pledged to retain healthy plant-based meat that tastes just as good as animal meat, if not better (considering the fact that a bite potentially saves the planet).
Beyond Meat educates their audience on how their methods reduce the negative impact on the environment and enlighten them about how buying their product helps them make a difference.
How can you incorporate sustainable marketing into your brand?
1. Start with your values.
You can’t claim to embrace sustainability if it’s not something that you believe in.
2. Carry out a brand audit:
What are the aspects of your brand that negatively contribute to the environment? Start there, whether it’s the air emissions, waste arisings, land contamination, abuse of natural resources (wildlife, forestation, water, fuel, etc.).
Understand what area your brand is falling short in. Make a switch to reduce the effects or contribute to making the planet carbon negative.
3. Start with simple steps
You might worry that your company can’t go green completely. Still, you can start with small and actionable steps.
What to do:
- Recycle/make only recyclable products
- Switch to renewable energy sources.
- Go paperless or use paper from alternate eco-friendly fibers such as bamboo and stone.
- Use the services and products of green suppliers
- Partner with environmental bodies to raise awareness concerning green practices.
Find out other ways you can be sustainable as a company.
Leverage the psychological draw of sustainable marketing
Although the concept of sustainability influences consumer behaviors, it requires concrete actions that go beyond exciting ideas. When your brand decides to go green, be sure that your customers will take you to task for it.
You have to be sincere in your approach and really stand for the values you claim to abide by. Also, if you are not ready to switch completely, don’t. This is because sustainable marketing affects the entirety of your operations. It is a mission that doesn’t act in isolation; instead, it involves all other brand elements.
The effects of not incorporating your new values into your operations can still backfire, especially when other elements are not given careful thought.
This can be seen when McDonald’s in 2018 decided to phase out paper straws in favor of plastic counterparts, but they released a statement that it was too hard to be recycled. What started off as a great mission backfired and turned out to be a thorn in their not-so-green garden. The whole of social media came after them as being ‘deceptive.’
Although the company producing the straws, UK-based Transcend Packaging, later clarified that the straws were indeed recyclable but couldn’t be recycled everywhere, the situation had already earned them a bad image.
The psychological draw of sustainable marketing is genuine and goes on to influence most consumers’ buying decisions. Instead of being on the fence, incorporate sustainability into your overall marketing strategy to improve brand perception while positively impacting the environment.