Responsibly Using Sustainability as a Marketing Strategy

Responsibly Using Sustainability as a Marketing Strategy


By Adrian Johansen 



Change is nothing new to the marketing industry. After all, consumers are always evolving; their needs, expectations, and requirements for the businesses they patronize never stand still.

That means that the most successful marketers are the ones with their fingers on the pulse of the market they target. And for anyone attuned to the tenor of the market today, the issue of sustainable marketing is bound to be a central focus.

Unfortunately, however, the real and growing demand for corporate social responsibility in general and for sustainability, in particular, has established the ideal conditions for exploitation by unscrupulous or just plain careless marketers. Indeed, sustainability can be an immensely powerful marketing strategy, but only when it is used responsibly.

What is Sustainable Marketing?

Every good marketer knows that the key to success is understanding what your target consumer cares about and tailoring your strategy to those concerns. And today’s consumer is increasingly invested in issues of environmental sustainability.

No longer is it sufficient to build your campaign around questions of cost, value, and desirability. Consumers today expect more than just a great product at an affordable price. Now more than ever, they are putting their money where their conscience is, meaning that they only want to buy from a company whose moral values they feel mirror their own.

It’s for this reason that sustainability marketing has assumed such a prominent position in the industry today. Through it, businesses tout the environmentally-friendly policies that define their organizational mission and shape operating practices. Through this marketing approach, businesses can cultivate a socially responsible brand that is so attractive to today’s ethical consumers.

Beware the Hazards of Greenwashing

To be sure, sustainability is a desirable achievement from both a moral and a marketing perspective. It’s little wonder that marketers and business leaders would so enthusiastically embrace the sustainability marketing strategy.

Unfortunately, though, the very marketability of the approach also easily leads to intentional as well as unintentional exploitation of the sustainability label. This, in turn, frequently gives rise to greenwashing, the use of misleading practices to market a company as environmentally friendly or “green” when, in fact, it’s anything but.

Many forms of greenwashing are consciously misleading, as when a company embraces “green” standards and practices for itself but then quietly outsources aspects of its operations to third parties who do not adhere to such standards. This allows the unethical “greenwasher” to have its cake and eat it too, maximizing profits through unsustainable third-party practices while at the same time reaping the financial benefits of the environmentally friendly brand.

Know Thyself–and Thy Partners

While greenwashing certainly may be purposeful, it is also possible for marketers to unintentionally mislead not only their consumers but also their own employees, partners, and stakeholders. It happens, above all, when marketers fail to take appropriate responsibility for understanding and fully implementing sustainability practices, as well as the processes which can undermine or negate the eco-friendly mission.

It’s imperative, for instance, that sustainability marketers understand who their partners are and precisely what operating processes they follow. This often requires marketers to understand the regulations and standards applicable in areas where products are being produced as well as sold.

For example, if you are embracing the sustainability brand, then you must do your due diligence before finalizing any partnership. It’s not enough for a prospective partner simply to embrace a “green” ethos. You need to look for signs of comprehensiveness and intentionality throughout your prospective partner’s business model.

For instance, find out exactly what sustainable practices the partner pursues. It takes more than simply donating to green causes or using natural imagery in their branding and marketing. A truly “green” partner will seek to reduce their carbon footprint whenever and wherever they do business, such as using renewable energy sources whenever possible or engaging in ecologically sound mining practices for mineral and other raw materials suppliers.

Be Consistent, Coherent, and Comprehensive

If you’re going to use sustainability marketing responsibly, of course, it’s not going to be enough simply to worry about your partners’ practices. Above all, you must attend to your company’s practices as well.

Being responsible with your sustainability marketing strategy means that you must be coherent, consistent, and comprehensive in your efforts. A restaurant chain that purports to oppose deforestation, for instance, really shouldn’t be using paper products unless they’re recycled. Similarly, a manufacturer who is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions really should be using dirty coal-fired plants or equipping its employees with a gas-guzzling SUV company car.

Finding such coherence, consistency, and comprehensiveness isn’t always easy, though. And that means that a good sustainability marketing strategy should always begin with a productive brainstorming session. The most effective brainstorming sessions often start with a central question or concern that invites and embraces diverse perspectives and approaches that can be distilled into a clear, innovative plan, one far more nuanced than anything that a single individual might have produced working alone.

And that means that a responsible sustainability marketing strategy should be the child of many parents, many minds to test the ideas, the assumptions, the processes, and the claims on which the strategy is based. Only in this way can the authenticity and veracity of the green marketing strategy be assured.

The Takeaway

Sustainability marketing is a highly effective approach for attracting today’s ethical consumers. However, it’s also a tool that is easily exploited unless marketers commit to cultivating the green brand responsibly. This involves the intentional avoidance of greenwashing, doing due diligence in partnership development, and ensuring coherence, consistency, and comprehensiveness in your company’s earth-friendly practices.


Image Source: Pixabay

Adrian Johansen strives to prioritize sustainability and ethics in all she does. To that end, she writes in multiple fields, applying and promoting sustainable methods and ideals as much as possible. You can find more of her writing here


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