What is sustainable marketing?

Sat Sep 2022

What is Sustainability Marketing?

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Lydia Carrick

As humans, we all deserve to enjoy the environment we live in.

Clean streets. 

 Fresh air. 

Pleasant working conditions.

Sustainable business is a growing trend which sees companies of all sizes balance the triple bottom line of:

Gen Zs and Millenials are becoming far more green-conscious. Older audiences are starting to prefer eco-friendly products, which are often of higher quality than their plastic counterparts. 

But what about sustainability marketing? How do we market sustainable businesses? What are the dangers? And what are the things to look for?

 

What is Sustainability Marketing?

Sustainable marketing is a marketing strategy to promote a business's commitment to people and the planet while maintaining a profitable business. 

This might be a commitment to improving working conditions for the supply chain, reducing carbon footprint or helping to build the local community. 

Some businesses use their sustainability mission to stand out from the crowd or disrupt industries. Sustainability is becoming the standard business practice for some sectors, such as beauty. 

The sustainability commitment is promoted through the 7ps of marketing (Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Process and Physical Evidence) and the 4C of Sustainability Marketing (Cost, Customer, Communication, Convenience).

 

The Three Pillars of Sustainable Marketing

As we've explored already, there are three pillars of sustainability: People, planet and profit, also known as the triple bottom line. 

But what do these mean?

People

The social aspect of sustainability. This pillar looks at all people within and outside the organisation, such as employees, business partners, suppliers, customers and future generations. These are often referred to as stakeholders. 

People-related actions could be improving supply chains, like Tony's Chocolonely, a company whose goal is to remove modern-day slavery from Chocolate supply chains. They use this in every single part of their marketing campaign. 

Another action could be improving employee relations. Networking company Cisco try to create a close-knit company culture despite their company spanning multiple continents. They document this under their "We Are Cisco" banner, which posts content on their website, LinkedIn and dedicated Instagram page. 

"People" is usually the first hurdle when planning a sustainability strategy, as it is the most accessible pillar to solve for businesses of all sizes. You could create a CSR team whose job is to create engaging events and improve the workplace. You could give additional holiday or improve work-life balance. It could be as simple as giving gifts to staff to brighten their day.

 

Planet

The planet part of sustainability marketing looks at the environment, whether it's reducing the direct impact the business is having on the planet or something external to the business's practices, but it is essential to the employees.

Planet-related accounts could be companies such as the Body Shop, which has long campaigned against Animal Testing, or WeWood, which plants a tree for every product sold.

The Planet part is often tricky for businesses to solve, as the cost often puts businesses off. Spending a bit extra on a more environmentally friendly package can add up to massive sums of money over time. But, committing to it will help sway more customers to your business as they will fill good about shopping with you.

 

Additionally, you could create bee gardens around the office or work with the local council to sponsor a space. You could donate money to sustainable charities or try to reduce the carbon footprint by bringing your manufacturing locally.

Profitability

Profitability is the third pillar. While companies should be profit focuses, their strategies shouldn't solely focus on "Profit Ahead of All Else". After all, a business needs to be profitable to survive, pay its staff and invest in better systems which satisfy the People and the Planet parts. Some companies, like John Lewis, give their staff bonuses based on profitability.

SustainabilityPhoto by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company or organisation promotes itself as sustainable but doesn't make as much effort to minimise its environmental impact. 

Companies often do this to win favour with eco-conscious audiences but do not want to spend money on environmental matters or make decisions that directly oppose sustainable thinking. For example, Brewdog often promotes itself as a sustainable brand, even going as far as planting a forest, yet wanted to shoot any animals which strayed into their land - which isn't that environmentally friendly!

Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term "greenwashing" in 1986. He noticed that hotels were using "Save The Towel" campaigns to encourage visitors not to ask for their towels to be washed to save water. Yet, there were no visible signs of sustainable action throughout the rest of the hotel. He noticed it was a money-saving exercise, not an environmental one, and called the hotels out on the practice in an Essay.


 

What are the benefits of sustainable business?

Better Brand Image. 

Studies have shown that customers feel good when they knowingly shop with a sustainable brand. Plus, you can reap the rewards of positive PR, assuming you aren't greenwashing.

 

Happier Staff Means Reduced Turnover and Higher Productivity

People who feel positive about their work tend to stay in a company for longer. And it is cheaper to retain staff than recruit new ones, so keeping turnover low is beneficial to profit. In addition, happier staff are also often more productive, meaning they work harder, try harder and chip in with extra duties where needed. 

 

Stand out from the crowd

Not everyone is doing sustainability, and companies who are will have completely different approaches. You have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Make sustainability your unfair advantage. Show your happy staff or your journey to a sustainable product. 

 

Access to extra investment

Many business grants and funding are available to those on a sustainable journey. Lots of angel investors are looking for green technology and are also looking to implement that technology into businesses that want it. Committing to sustainability and making changes is often enough to be considered for these investments. 

 

How do you create a sustainability marketing strategy?

 

Review Your 7ps and Find Areas for Sustainability Improvement 

The 7ps of marketing covers the fundamental parts of a business:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion
  5. People
  6. Process
  7. Physical Evidence

Review each aspect and ensure there is something in place for each. 

 

2. Celebrate Relevant National Days

There's a national day for pretty much everything these days. But as well as "Ice Cream Day" and "National Smile Day", there are many sustainable-themed national days which are brilliant to jump on if you're suitably sustainable. 

You could create blog content, long-form videos for youtube or Shorts/Reels/Tiktok videos. You could create a Pinterest board with information to cross-promote on Social Media. You could also create an email newsletter with all of the above content.

You can find national days on websites like Days of the Year or nationaldaycalendar.com.


3. Show Your Journey

Sustainability is an endless journey, and nobody is perfect. Claiming you're a completely sustainable business will end up with accusations of Greenwashing.

Talk about your sustainability journey and where you want to be. Don't be afraid to be honest, and admit mistakes, but follow them up with what you are doing to make it right. 

Ask your customer base and other stakeholders what improvements they want to see. Open communication with your stakeholders means you can create products and services your customers want.


 

4. Build a Community

Building a community is vital to sustainable marketing. You should aim to get involved in local events, engage in conversation online and maintain a level of personalisation across the website. Attend networking events to gain an understanding of the local business environment. Offer help and advice to those who need it and become known as a force for good. Plus those in your community will become customers down the line. 


 

5. Educate Your Customers

Your content should Inform, educate or entertain. Educating your customers about sustainability is a fantastic way to get them to appreciate your journey and get on board with your journey. 

 

This content could be as broad as why you're reducing your carbon footprint or as niche as why a specific product is damaging to the environment and that's why you're removing it.


 

Conclusion

Sustainable marketing isn't an "if" but a "when". Millennials have a lot of buying power, and Gen Zs are entering the market. As they have the most interest in sustainability, it is imperative that you start to think about how to grow your sustainability marketing tactics. Besides, it's healthy for profit!

 

If you need a hand with your sustainability marketing efforts, get in contact to discuss how Lennie & Stan can help.