As consumers become more environmentally conscious, businesses are under increasing pressure to adopt sustainable practices and offer products and services that are socially responsible and environmentally friendly.
And companies that are putting in the ‘green effort’ are communicating their sustainability efforts through sustainable marketing.
But what is sustainable marketing, why is it important, what does it look like and how can it be incorporated into a business strategy?
We explore the ins and outs of the sustainable marketing concept and how it differs from other forms of “green marketing”.
Exploring Sustainable Marketing Ideas & Practices
Sustainable Marketing Definition
Sustainable marketing promotes eco-friendly and socially responsible products or services. It can also involve sharing a business’s sustainable values and commitments.
Sustainable marketing campaigns highlight how a company’s environmentally-friendly products or behaviors benefit the consumer and planet. Like using sustainable production methods, reducing waste and carbon emissions, promoting eco-friendly products, and engaging with local communities.
Sustainability messages typically focus on building long-term relationships based on transparency and trust.
What is the difference between sustainable marketing and sustainability marketing?
Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, businesses should be aware of slight differences between “sustainable” and “sustainability” marketing.
Sustainable marketing is a subset of sustainability marketing. It builds customer relationships through advertising, mainly promoting eco-friendly and ethical products or services.
So what is sustainability marketing?
Sustainability marketing encompasses all parts of a business’s approach to its sustainability efforts, including its environmental, social, and economic practices. These are usually promoted with stakeholders and employees in mind, as well as consumers.
What is the difference between green marketing and sustainable marketing?
Green marketing is another term often used interchangeably with sustainable marketing, and while they share similarities, they are not one in the same.
While sustainable marketing covers a company’s product or services’ environmental, social, and economic impact (just as sustainability itself refers to how sustainable something is across all these sectors), green marketing focuses purely on the environment.
Green marketing, as part of the much broader concept of sustainable marketing, refers solely to product promotion: products that are made from eco-friendly materials, energy-efficient products, or products designed to be recyclable or biodegradable.
Why Is Sustainable Marketing Important?
Why is sustainability important in marketing?
For starters, it’s an excellent way for businesses to engage with an environmental cause.
A survey found that 66% of customers are likely to spend more on sustainable products, so advertising for these is crucial. Sustainable and ethical commitments and achievements increase brand reputation, leading to customer loyalty, recognition, and positive press.
Marketing sustainable values can also help business growth. Employees are attracted to workplaces that consider their impact on climate change and are socially responsible. In a recent survey by Unily, 83% of employees thought their employer wasn’t doing enough regarding sustainability and 65% reported they would be more likely to work for sustainably-minded companies.
And it isn’t only about employment and economic benefits.
Sustainable marketing is vital for the planet. If more businesses practiced a holistic, eco-friendly approach, this would help tackle climate change and conserve our natural resources.
Producing sustainable products, cutting carbon emissions, and minimizing waste dramatically reduces a company’s environmental impact—which is a win for everyone involved, including the company. For the world’s biggest brands and corporations (and largest offenders), genuinely sustainable business practices can make a significant difference.
Sustainable marketing strategies can also encourage other companies to review their behavior. If brands see competitors achieving increased reputation and customer loyalty through sustainability-focused actions, they’re more likely to act themselves.
Big brands can leverage their power to provide a benchmark for sustainable development. Precisely the kind of trendsetting our planet needs.
What Are The 5 Principles Of Sustainable Marketing
There are five core strategies and principles of sustainable marketing:
- Customer value
- Cause driven
- Creative and innovative
- Clarity and communication
When combining sustainability and marketing, businesses can apply these frameworks to their eco-credentials and efforts in order to best convey them both internally (employees) and externally (customers and clients).
To produce a successful marketing strategy (sustainability or otherwise), businesses should consider consumers’ desires or needs. In sustainability marketing campaigns, this involves considering how a company can target more customers while showing they provide a sustainable solution.
This is more than consumer-oriented marketing—businesses must demonstrate they know why or how people use their item or service. To do this, businesses should also look at what their industry is demanding regarding sustainability. These attitudes can change, depending on current social and climate issues.
Using innovative marketing to stay on top of broader conversation demonstrates forward-thinking and conscientious business behavior.
2. Customer value
Sustainable marketing is about building long-term relationships and loyalty with consumers.
Prioritizing customer value helps achieve this; a sustainable organization should focus on improving its product or service rather than sales or other marketing efforts. Consumers are more likely to continue engaging with a company if provided with a more valuable, better experience.
Businesses should look for ways to improve their product sustainably, such as utilizing greener technologies and eco-friendly materials or investing in ethical labor practices.
3. Cause driven
Sustainable marketing should reflect company values and show passion for a cause.
Businesses should choose initiatives that align with their brand and that their customers will care about. They should consider corporate social responsibility and create content that highlights their support.
This could be donating a portion of profits to a charity or nonprofit, running community programs, or marketing sustainable products.
The especially savvy sustainable marketing agency or brand will combine these concepts—for example, releasing limited-run eco-friendly products that see most or all profits donated to a related charitable cause. The vegan accessories brand Matt & Nat does this by donating 100% of profits from their HOPE Charity Bag sales.
A clear, marketable cause gives brands a recognizable voice and a distinctive place in their industry.
4. Creative and innovative
Adding value and improving customer experience also means being more creative and innovative.
To align with a sustainable marketing strategy, companies could adopt more energy-efficient technologies, use more renewable materials, and set net-zero (or other specific emission reduction) goals, ideally based on science-based targets.
Any advancements should protect or improve the planet and benefit consumers, considering environmental and social impacts.
Highlighting how these compare to competitors is a great way businesses can demonstrate a cutting-edge approach and apply pressure on the broader business community.
5. Clarity and communication
Transparency is critical when it comes to sustainable marketing through the likes of social media sustainability. Many brands have been called out for greenwashing, prompting consumers to be skeptical regarding sustainability claims.
Companies should set clear and achievable expectations of their goals. This means outlining areas for improvement and even admitting where they’ve made mistakes in the past. An honest approach demonstrates a deeper level of communication and increases customer trust.
Sustainable initiatives should be marketed clearly and truthfully.
Social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok are excellent tools for communicating these initiatives. According to Bain & Co, in the context of sustainable fashion, most consumers rely on communications via social media platforms when researching purchases.
For example, businesses can use digital marketing to explain why their product isn’t yet made from 100% recycled materials or what the brand is doing to achieve its carbon-neutral goal.
Ecoage recommends carefully choosing which social platforms are used, picking the best time for communicating to a specific audience and keeping communication concise and clear.
While not necessarily a marketing effort itself, producing an annual sustainability report about overall progress is one way brands can foster trust in their transparency efforts and provide evidence their sustainable marketing, social responsibility, and ethics are more than bluster.
What Are The 4 Ps Of Marketing In Sustainability?
Companies can adapt the traditional marketing mix (the 4Ps) for more effective advertising to incorporate sustainability considerations.
This approach helps businesses promote more sustainable customer behavior and also helps reduce their negative impact to build a more resilient and efficient company.
The 4Ps cover:
Businesses can develop sustainable practices by making products with less planetary impact throughout their entire life cycle. This can include using eco-friendly materials, reducing packaging waste, and designing easily recyclable or reusable items.
Competitive pricing strategies can be used to incentivize sustainable behavior, like offering discounts for customers bringing their own bags or reusing containers.
This can also help companies save money and reduce their impact, as they’ll be less reliant on raw materials for packaging.
Companies can consider the environmental impact of their distribution channels and choose options that minimize emissions and waste, such as using electric vehicles, alternative air freight methods, or reducing transportation altogether through more localized supply chains.
Businesses could also focus on building sustainable supply chains, through sourcing materials from certified sustainable sources.
Marketing and communication strategies can educate consumers about sustainability, which companies can use to encourage them to make more eco-friendly choices.
Examples include highlighting the sustainability features of products, using environmentally-friendly packaging and advertising materials, or partnering with green organizations and charities to promote sustainability initiatives.
Sustainable Marketing Examples
Businesses of all industries and sizes can practice sustainable marketing. Although eco-friendly brands naturally use sustainable campaigns, companies who don’t traditionally consider their environmental impact can also apply these greener, more ethical principles.
These examples of sustainable marketing prove that a more considered approach pays off.
Patagonia is known for being one of the most environmentally and socially responsible clothing companies.
While they walk the walk, they also talk the talk through sustainable marketing practices highlighting use of eco-friendly materials, renewable agriculture, carbon reductions, and encouraging customers to repair and recycle clothing.
Its “Buy Less, Demand More” sustainable fashion advertising campaign was a not-so-subtle jab at fast fashion. Patagonia prompted consumers to purchase quality, used gear and hold businesses accountable for their behaviors. The brand also advertised its mindful and ethical products, highlighting its use of organic, sustainable materials and repair initiatives.
For Black Friday, arguably one of the most significant and wasteful shopping events of the year, Patagonia encouraged consumers to shop responsibly. Its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” anti-advert addressed the issue of consumerism and promoted more sustainable solutions.
Levi Strauss & Co.
Jeans giant Levi Strauss also looked at unsustainable fashion manufacturing, launching a “Buy Better, Wear Longer” campaign in 2021.
Sustainable business leaders used rising global clothing consumption levels to promote the longevity of the brand’s products. It encouraged customers to buy second-hand or use its in-store Tailor Shops to increase the lifecycle of apparel.
This sustainable fashion marketing campaign also utilized several celebrities and capitalized on the power of influencers. The “changemakers” helped promote a greener future and push for more inventive solutions while highlighting Levi’s own efforts to reduce its environmental impact.
Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t hesitate to make a statement, whether in the environmental, social, or political sphere. The company is known for its distinctive voice and strong stance in favor of a fairer future.
The ice cream brand often highlights its social and environmental responsibility, openly discussing its support of local farmers and ethical ingredients, and using product transparency to support its claims.
Its products are often central to Ben & Jerry’s social-issue views. It famously rebranded two flavors to support same-sex marriage—Chubby Hubby became Hubby Hubby, and their apple flavor became Apple-y Ever After.
In 2012, Ben & Jerry’s “Get the Dough Out” sustainable advertising campaign helped support the push to get corporate dollars out of politics. The brand has been an excellent example of how companies can aid social justice, most notably after it supported the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Lacoste used its recognizable logo to tackle animal extinction. In the 2018 “Save Our Species” campaign (in partnership with International Union for Conservation of Nature), the brand swapped its iconic crocodile for ten critically endangered animals.
The limited-edition polo shirts sold out within 24 hours, went viral on social media and in the press, and (most importantly) raised vital funds for conservation.
Lacoste replicated its sustainable fashion advertising campaign a year later in 2019. This time, the brand went one step further, also revamping some of its stores and website.
Pokémon GO burst onto our phones and streets in 2016 and became an overnight global sensation.
The developer, Niantic, was quick to use its popularity for good, using Earth Day 2018 to encourage its users to pick up trash and clean up local communities. Players received a unique avatar to celebrate the day and were given incentives if they participated in the clean, such as unlocking particular Pokémon.
The event’s huge success prompted Niantic to replicate it the following year. In 2019, it utilized over 17,000 Pokémon GO and Ingress players to collect over 145 tons of trash. Cleaning squads across 46 organizations, 41 countries, and six continents dedicated over 41,000 hours tidying their areas.
Is Sustainable Marketing Greenwashing?
Unfortunately, true sustainability and sustainable marketing are not always synonymous.
Many brands have been accused of using “sustainable” product marketing to cover their unsustainable practices. This is known as greenwashing, and its murky waters are vast in “sustainable” advertising—in fact, most of the world’s biggest companies have been accused of exaggerating their climate actions.
Perhaps one of the most glaring examples of this is Coca-Cola, and their marketing campaign regarding their use of “ocean-bound” plastic in their bottles—while simultaneously ignoring the fact that the company as whole is the world’s biggest plastic polluter.
While it’s not inherently problematic to use marketing to highlight attempts at improvement, these attempts need to be genuine and companies should adopt sustainable behavior throughout each level, from the supply chain to advertising.
Greenwashing is a form of deception. If a business attempts to use green initiatives to divert attention from unethical practices, it will eventually be exposed, and consumers will react.
The key is to be transparent—address all parts of the business, discussing limitations and trade-offs involved in creating sustainable products. Companies should also ensure their claims are accurate and supported by evidence. Utilizing relevant certifications is another way to achieve this, and it shows sustainable businesses meet the criteria needed to be considered as such.
A sustainable marketing strategy can be a powerful tool for promoting environmentally friendly and ethical practices and driving positive change. But it is essential to use it responsibly and avoid greenwashing.
Closing Thoughts On Sustainable Marketing
Sustainable marketing is a strategy businesses can use to promote eco-friendly and socially responsible products and services and share their sustainability values and commitments.
It can help companies build trust and long-term customer relationships, while also benefiting the environment.
Adopting sustainable marketing strategies allow businesses to gain a positive reputation in their industry, drive positive change, and encourage other businesses to adopt eco-friendly and ethical practices.
There are several different concepts companies can use, but in any of them, the key is to ensure transparent communication and a forward-thinking mindset. Utilizing different platforms and campaign styles for a holistic strategy is also effective.
As consumers become more environmentally conscious, businesses must prioritize a sustainable marketing strategy and adopt greener, more ethical principles.