Sustainable Marketing: What It Is, Why It Matters, & How to Get It Right 

by Martha Kendall Custard in July 15th, 2021

The traditional way of doing business isn’t exactly kind to the environment. As climate change progresses, consumers are finding it harder to look away from their favorite companies’ environmental impact. With that being said, it’s time to take a look at how your company is affecting the environment. 

As consumers grow more educated on how their purchases impact the environment, they get pickier about who they buy from. A survey conducted by IBM found that 57% of respondents are willing to change their buying habits to reduce environmental impact. People want to do what they can to help the environment. The easiest way to do that is with their wallets.

As a company, it’s your job to provide consumers with the opportunity to support environmental change by buying your products. That’s where sustainable marketing comes in handy. 

What is sustainable marketing?

Sustainable marketing is the process of delivering value to customers in a way that preserves or enhances natural and human resources. 

Sustainable marketing is not to be confused with green marketing. Green marketing is the process of marketing a company’s sustainability efforts to its target audience. An example of this is when Starbucks creates marketing assets with sustainability messages.

selective focus photography of Starbucks coffee cup

In general, sustainability is about continuity-- companies that use sustainable marketing value behaviors and practices that make for an inhabitable planet that preserves resources for future generations. Sustainable products meet the needs of this generation as well as the next. Sustainable marketing applies the concept of sustainability to your brand’s products, image, and strategy. 

Customers these days expect more than good products and services. They expect companies to take responsibility and accountability for social and environmental issues.

You can show your customers you’re adopting these values as a company by addressing environmental and social issues within your company and finding sustainable alternatives. This could mean reducing your company’s overall carbon footprint. 

Sustainable marketing campaigns advocating for social and environmental issues require longer time frames than your average campaign. If you truly wish to adopt sustainable marketing, you’ll need to shift away from viewing these campaigns as seasonal. 

green plant

All in all, sustainable marketing focuses on the needs and wants of the consumer, the world, and all those affected by the product or service. 

Here are the five core principles of sustainable marketing:

Consumer-oriented marketing

Consumer-oriented marketing is when a company views its marketing strategy through the consumer’s eyes. 

Customer value marketing

Customer value marketing focuses on consistently improving the value added to the offering. The more value a company brings to the customer, the more value the customer brings the company in return. 

Innovative marketing

Innovative marketing is the process of prioritizing innovation so that the company’s products, services, and marketing strategies are constantly improving.  

Sense-of-mission marketing

When you integrate sense-of-mission marketing, your messaging supports a mission that resonates with your target audience. When you adopt a  broad mission, your company catches the long-term interests of your customers and has a clear direction to follow-- one that brings together all of your product marketing efforts. 

Societal marketing

Societal marketing is a concept that combines customer wants, company needs, and the customer and society’s long-term interests to guide a company’s decision-making. Companies that use this approach use societal issues as marketing opportunities. 

Adhering to these principles in your sustainable marketing ensures you’re not only benefiting the environment-- you’re gaining a competitive edge for your brand, too. A strong sustainable marketing strategy breeds company innovation and customer loyalty. 

Why is sustainable marketing important?

Up to 33% of consumers view brands as responsible for the state of the environment. To meet these expectations, companies need to adopt sustainable marketing practices. About 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious. Emotion greatly impacts whether or not consumers will make a purchase. Appealing to the emotions of your target audience by increasing your sustainability efforts can help influence purchase decisions. 

silhouette of wind mill during golden hour

The importance of sustainable marketing goes behind meeting customer expectations, however. To survive as living beings, we need an overall shift toward sustainable marketing. The environmental consequences of continuing to do business as we are now could be severe. That’s why it’s important that we adjust our economic activities to lessen their impact on the planet. 

The benefits of sustainable marketing are far-reaching, but can be summed up into these three categories:

People

Your company is made of people and made to serve people, too. Without people, there’d be nobody to buy your products. A successful company must support its people, and sustainable marketing helps accomplish this by creating a community and environment where people can thrive in this generation and the next. 

Plus, sustainable marketing strengthens relationships with your consumers by presenting them with a common cause they can support by purchasing your products. Sustainable marketing efforts combine action with honest messaging, which appeals to today’s conscious consumer. When you provide your consumers with quality products that are good for the planet, you get the opportunity to cultivate strong relationships that last the test of time. 

Environment

Despite the planet’s crucial role in business operations, large corporations negatively impact our planet’s health on a major scale. Sustainable marketing is a way companies can convert their negative impact to a positive one while leveraging these actions as a competitive advantage. The key here is to find out what environmental causes your target audience is passionate about, your company’s impact on the issue, and what you can do to implement positive change.

Innovation

Companies that prioritize innovation are often rewarded with customer loyalty, as innovation makes the world a better place for consumers. Companies that use innovation to improve their carbon footprint and help the enrichment are rewarded with a competitive advantage, increased market share, and positive press. 

grayscale photo of sneaker sole print

Sustainable marketing efforts look past short-term profits to tackle long-term initiatives. Customers gravitate toward companies with innovative, long-term goals that support their communities. 

How to do sustainable marketing right

Stay consistent

Your sustainable marketing strategies need to touch every aspect of what you do. If you’re going to preach sustainability, you need to support your words with your actions. This means making your company more sustainable and documenting the actions you take to do so. You can implement changes into how your business operates, how you source materials, and how you package your products to start. Adopting sustainable marketing without making these changes can hurt your business in the long run. 

Don’t sacrifice your product

Customers who value sustainability want to purchase sustainable products, but only if they work. While making your products sustainable is a huge part of supporting your messaging, you still need quality products if you want them to sell. Companies practicing sustainable marketing have to work really to ensure the quality of their products matches or exceeds that of their competitors. Customers who value sustainability are typically willing to pay a bit more for sustainable products, but it’s still a good idea to keep your prices somewhat comparable to those of competing brands.

Utilize storytelling

Storytelling is probably the most effective sustainable marketing strategy you can use. This is why it’s so important that you document the actions your company is taking toward being more sustainable. The more data you have, the better you can back up your stories. Integrate these stories into your brand’s messaging across social media, advertisements, blog posts, etc. You can even host events sharing your stories to fundraise for sustainability efforts. 

Connect with your people

Let’s face it-- not everyone cares about sustainability. Part of sustainable marketing is finding and building a community that cares. Get your company involved in local sustainability initiatives to connect with your target audience. Ideally, you’ll get press attention from your involvement that will help connect you with others who support your cause. Getting involved with your local sustainability initiatives is also a great way to get content for your social media accounts and blogs. This will be the fodder you use for your storytelling campaigns. 

Educate

Educating your customers is a vital part of sustainable marketing. They need to know why your product or service is better, how it’s sustainable, and why that matters. Not every one of your potential customers will know why a sustainable product is better than the alternatives-- it’s your job to educate them with your content. 

Wrapping up on sustainable marketing

It’s no secret that companies are responsible for serious environmental damage. 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to just 100 companies. 

That’s the power of sustainable marketing. If every one of these 100 companies adopted sustainable marketing, they could drastically reduce global emissions. While smaller companies might not have that great an impact, changing the way we do business sets a new standard for companies all over the world. If more companies adopt sustainable marketing, expectations will change and force larger corporations to become more sustainable. 

person in red shirt wearing silver bracelet holding red and black metal tool

Sustainable marketing is our path toward a wave of change. Promoting sustainable marketing among smaller companies could ultimately lead to the highest emitting companies changing their practices. 

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