Sustainability can be a big and intimidating word. If you’re a business, it might be a way of mitigating risk, managing legislation, reporting on your environmental and social governance policies, advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, protecting the natural resources and materials that enable you to do business, measuring your impact, embracing circularity or cleaning up your supply chain. At its simplest, it’s about taking the necessary steps to ensure that your business can continue to operate and thrive while protecting the planet. It’s social, environmental and economic and about striking a balance between all three.
What is Sustainability Marketing
Sustainability Marketing is the act of promoting a brand, business or enterprise by ‘merchandising’ a socially impactful or environmentally responsible attribute, product or practice and increasingly these efforts align with the SDGs. Larger CPG brands and companies such as Unilever, P&G, Pepsico are seeing the value in ‘twinning and winning’ by encouraging the Chief Sustainability Officer and the Chief
Marketing Officer to work more closely and collaboratively to figure out what should happen at the intersection between what the brand stands for, the consumer wants and the world needs. And when done well it will make people more receptive to buying your products, using your services or frequenting your establishment. Because when consumers know a business is doing right by people and planet, and not just profit, they are more likely to buy and even pay more for the opportunity.
Why is Sustainability Marketing Important?
The desire to shop more consciously and sustainably continues to grow. In fact, Brands for Good research shows that an overwhelming 88% of consumers would like brands to help them lead a more sustainable lifestyle. And a recent study from IRI finds that Sustainably marketed products have grown 7X faster that conventionally marketed products over the past 4 years.
And this is not just a growing fad. Sustainable brands have been showing steady growth year after year for the past 12 years. In fact, 70% of consumers consider climate change as serious a crisis as COVID-19. And 63% expect companies to continue their efforts around social and environmental issues even during the pandemic. (Porter Novelli COVID Tracker- Wave 2: 2020) With 74% of consumers saying that the way a brand conducts itself now will influence whether they buy them in the future (Gfk) it is no longer low risk for Brands to sit on the sidelines.
Sustainability Marketing done right (and gone wrong)
Even with so much upside, Sustainability Marketing can be a slippery slope. Making a misstep or stretching your message too far can be looked at as “green-washing”. Take Nike’s social campaign for example. In response to Black Lives Matter the brand took to Instagram and Twitter, urging followers to be part of the change. But while the company proudly promoted its stance to the black community, consumers became aware that the sneakers are produced in factories that employ forced labor of China’s imprisoned Uighur minority. Thus, undermining their credibility and a backlash through the press. The lesson is clear. Be genuine, authentic, transparent, and traceable and then track your impact and you can’t go far wrong.
But there are brands doing it right. For example, when Patagonia joined the Climate Strike and closed stores so their employees could join in as well — while even helping outfit local communities with signs and stickers to demonstrate their own support. And Adidas, setting out to end plastic waste by launching new product innovations created from recycled materials — all while working to reduce their own company’s carbon footprint. These two brands have risen in popularity and sales and demonstrate the power of successful Sustainability Marketing. It takes time, commitment and hard effort. As Alan Jope the CEO of Unilever said, “A principle isn’t a principle unless it costs you something.”
Getting started in Sustainability Marketing?
With so much at stake and so many brands and companies looking to start their Sustainability Marketing journey, it’s hard to know where to start. To get you grounded, here are a few tips:
1. Take a good look at your business.
Start with a landscape assessment and then use that data and those insights to map and benchmark your business. We like the Sustainable Brands Brand Transformation Roadmap tool for helping do just that. If you really want to go to town – you could take the B-corp assessment and become a certified B-corporation! (That way you’ll get the kudos and prove that you really mean in it)
2. Ensure the “why” of purpose connects to the “way” of profit.
With your assessment in place make sure your company is financially, operationally and culturally able to make the shift. It is important that everything you do aligns and supports your goals. Make sure you cleary articulate your commitments within a time frame and communicate them internally before you go out there and save the world.
3. Find your community.
There are a lot of groups that can help businesses start and stay on track. We actively participate with our B-Corp community as well as Sustainable Brands, Kindred and the United Nations so we can leverage learnings from those that have gone before. You can even use social listening tools to help identify key themes, communities, influencers and ambassadors that can help. We like netbase / quid and pulsar.
4. Look for a good Sustainability Marketing Agency Partner
A good marketing partner has the proven experience and credibility in sustainability and brand-purpose to help shepherd you along. Remember, this is not a simple communications brief. To be credible and bullet proof it often demands more of a business transformation underneath. Never underestimate it. As Mark Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at P&H says “ When it comes to topics like inclusion, equality and sustainability, this is important creative work, it requires experienced marketing and agency teams, it needs a ‘hands on’ leadership style, it should not be delegated.”
Sustainability is here to stay. And more and more businesses are getting their company and products in line to live up to a more sustainable future. In fact, it is the only way to future proof your business and your brand (and did we mention that people pay up to 35% more for sustainably marketed products?) But the good news is, when you do you have a great message to share with your consumers, shoppers and stakeholders. And when you do it right you can unlock exponential growth and help save the planet so that everyone can feel good about it.
Heidi Schoeneck & Phil White
Co-founders of Grounded World
Voted in the top 100 of global impact leaders they are a Creative and Strategic duo who left big agency life to use their talents for good. Their company, Grounded World is a B-corp certified, award-winning Social Impact and Sustainability Marketing Agency that helps brands, businesses and nonprofits articulate their brand purpose, activating their brand and accelerating their positive impact. www.grounded.world