Sustainability, eco-friendly and environmental - these words are everywhere these days. Images of burning rainforests, stories of social crises and warnings of CO2 emissions percolate in our social media and news feeds. People are beginning to really care about environmentalism and sustainability, especially when it comes to what we buy. A Forbes 2019 report found that 62% of Gen-Z, who will begin entering the workforce this year, prefer to purchase from sustainable brands. Consumers now look to invest in brands that ostensibly value positive impact, and brands that lag behind are losing out. But what actually is sustainable marketing? And, perhaps more importantly, what isn’t it?
Wait, sustainable marketing what?
Ok, so to start with a definition: sustainable marketing, or green marketing, is the promotion of environmental and socially responsible products, practices, and values (I.e a company that wants to do good!). Brands that tell great stories about their products and their ethics build stronger relationships with their consumers. These relationships are deeper rooted, more emotional and have greater longevity, and this reflects in sales figures. To Mark Roberts, CEO of Conscious Creatives, sustainable marketing is much more than adding a touch of green to a brand image but is instead “a fundamental shift in consumer communication styles that lead with heart and stories rather than discounts and offers.”
What makes a sustainable brand?
This concept of long-term consumer value, over short –term profits is key to a sustainable brand; it is a brand that considers values alternative to profit, such as environmental impact and ethical supply chains, with equal importance.
The people who mess it up for everyone: greenwashing
Sustainable marketing is a great way for companies to build communities of consumers who are passionate about their brand, so long as they get it right. While some brands do genuine good, others greenwash, hoping to run cheap campaigns that tend to be quite opaque. As the Cambridge Dictionary says, greenwashing is designed “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”, leveraging wafty semantics and cheap impact initiatives to look as ‘good’ as possible for the minimum effort.
Great sustainable marketing provides detailed metrics, works towards long-term goals and clear accountability, and in doing so, resonates with the audiences that truly care. As one reviewer of the Macdonald’s green campaign complained, “Ethical policies don't change with a lick of paint”, and Amen to that. This was in response to Mcdonalds’ 2007 green campaign which some accused of ‘greenwashing’. It was recently revealed that the Mcdonalds paper straws, a key element of their new green image, were actually non-recyclable due to thickness. Yep, you are reading this correctly, non-recyclable paper straws.
So what are our takeaways for sustainable marketing in 2020:
- Sustainable marketing is the future so make it a part of your companies story in an honest and engaging manner.
- Build and maintain communities of advocates. These people will support you forever if you are aligned on a cause they care about.
- Don’t use unclear metrics or buzzwords to misrepresent the impact you are making. You will be called out.