What Is Sustainable Marketing And Why It Matters In Business

Sustainable marketing describes how a business will invest in social and environmental initiatives as part of its marketing strategy. Also known as green marketing, it is often used to counteract public criticism around wastage, misleading advertising, and poor quality or unsafe products. 

Understanding sustainable marketing

Sustainable marketing is any marketing campaign that meets the present needs of consumers with the goal of serving the needs of future generations. 

It can be seen in specific products, causes, or business unique selling propositions. Most commonly, it is described in an environmental context. For example, car dealerships and mechanics who promote the safe disposal of engine oil and other harmful liquids are practicing sustainable marketing.

In the case of LEGO, sustainable marketing is part of their brand and mission statement. The company has a goal to manufacture all of its bricks sustainably by the year 2030 while maintaining the high quality that generations have become accustomed to. Fast-food giant McDonald’s responded to criticism that their product range contributed to global obesity by creating a more sustainable range of foods.

While LEGO and McDonald’s back their sustainable marketing initiative with action, there have been many examples of companies promoting themselves as sustainable without changing any of their practices. As with any marketing campaign, sustainability must align with brand identity and also solve problems that the consumer and indeed the planet is experiencing.

Five principles of sustainable marketing

Sustainable marketing should be guided by five main principles, outlined below.

Consumer-oriented marketing

Consumer-oriented marketing argues that a business should create marketing campaigns from the consumer’s point of view. Businesses must satisfy the needs of current and future generations simultaneously by embodying a passion for the hopes and aspirations of their target audience.

Customer-value marketing

Here, sustainable marketing means that a business resists the urge to increase short-term earnings and instead add long term value to their products – whether that be through quality, features, or convenience. Value is seen as a two-way street, where the business provides value for the consumer which is repaid by the consumer in the form of product revenue and loyalty.

Innovate marketing

Innovative marketing is particularly important for sustainability, but it also delivers on consumer preferences for product and marketing development. Samsung is a classic example of innovative marketing at work. Once the cheaper alternative to Sony products, Samsung invested heavily in research, development, and design in the late 1990s to now be market leaders in consumer electronics.

Sense-of-mission marketing

Sense-of-mission marketing means a business mission should be defined in broader societal terms as opposed to narrower product or person terms. Social missions not only give employees a sense of purpose, but they also allow a brand to adapt and stay relevant to current societal trends. 

Dog food manufacturer PEDIGREE makes high-quality dog food, but the PEDIGREE brand is very much about the dogs themselves. With the tagline “Dogs rule”, everything that the company does is driven by a love of dogs. This includes internal operations and external marketing campaigns. The company encourages employees to bring their dogs to work and is actively engaged in raising money for animal shelters.

Societal marketing

In societal marketing, the business makes marketing decisions by considering the wants and needs of society as a whole – particularly over the long-term. Ideally, societal marketing should make use of so-called desirable products, which offer high immediate satisfaction and long-term benefits to the consumer. An example of a desirable product with benefits to society can be seen with General Electric. Its range of durable, bright fluorescent lights with high energy-saving potential have been a global success.

Key takeaways

  • Sustainable marketing involves the promotion of a business with socially and environmentally responsible products, practices, and brand identity.
  • Sustainable marketing requires that social and environmental initiatives be backed up with action.
  • Sustainable marketing offers five guiding principles that explain how a business might be competitive long term while also providing benefits to society and the environment.

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