As environmental and social concerns become increasingly important to companies, marketing is becoming increasingly instrumental. Where the role of marketing often used to be limited to a more tactical approach with the aim of increasing sales, companies are shifting to a business strategy in which sustainable marketing plays a growing role.
Profit and sustainability
Generating profits at any cost is not, in the long term, a sustainable model for society. Businesses have negative consequences on the environment, and some of these negative externalities, such as waste and pollution, are becoming less tolerable in the eyes of society.
The negative impact of businesses on society and the environment, then, is obvious and calls for rapid change, given that no amount of economic output can make up for the destabilization of the planet’s climate and its consequences.
In 2015, the United Nations created the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, which was adopted by all United Nations Member states. This agenda outlined seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be followed by all countries.
Resource: (United Nations, 2022)
Strategies for ending poverty must be aligned with policies to improve equality, health, and education, and boost economic growth. Taking care of climate change and conserving the world's forests and oceans is of major importance to accomplish this.
Once thought to be opposing goals, profit and sustainability are increasingly seen as inseparable, as the first cannot exist without the latter.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) businesses
More, businesses are starting to realize that making a profit by taking care of social and environmental goals can give them a competitive advantage.
In recent years, a growing number of companies around the world have implemented sustainability marketing practices. Where traditional marketing for business companies focuses strictly on generating profit, socially responsible businesses focus on the 3 Ps: People, Planet, and Profit, and measure their success through their triple bottom line:
They measure their success through the impact on the triple bottom line, or:
People (employees, customers, society)
Planet (eco-friendly, renewable energy, reduction of carbon footprint, energy consumption and waste and improve greenhouse gas emissions).
Profit (in line with business goals).
Types of CSR
Corporate Socially Responsible (CSR) consist of four main types:
Environmental CSR businesses are environmentally friendly organizations. They help reduce water consumption and limit plastic, gas emissions and waste. Regulating sustainable energy and promoting the recycling of materials, planting trees, funding environmental research or donating to related causes are all examples of what such businesses may focus on.
Philanthropic CSR businesses have a positive impact on society. They donate part of their profits to charities or non-profits, create a charitable trust and give back to society.
Ethical CSR businesses behave in a fair and ethical way. They promote fair treatment among all stakeholders (leadership, investors, employees, suppliers, and customers), pay fair wages and sell slavery and child labour-free products.
Economically responsible CSR businesses use their profit for good initiatives to impact society, people, and the environment.
Benefits of business sustainability
Using a sustainable business strategy creates a sustainable competitive advantage. But what benefits can sustainability bring to a business plan or business model?
#BENEFIT 1. Improves environmental and supply risk
Investing in sustainable practices can improve risk management. By using renewable resources, such as wind, water, and solar power, a business has more security over its energy than if it depends on fossil fuels, which, as recent events have shown, are often at the mercy of socio-political events.
#BENEFIT 2. Drives internal innovation
Questioning how a business organization operates can give rise to new efficiencies and innovation. This can lead to businesses saving money on energy and source materials and even generating innovative ideas for new business opportunities:
What part of the production process is not efficient?
Which alternatives exist to source production materials?
What equipment or technology could make internal processes and product delivery more energy efficient?
#BENEFIT 3. Reduce production costs
Using more sustainable resources can reduce production costs. Investigating a business supply chain, production process and its energy use can help businesses switch to greener alternatives.
#BENEFIT 4. Attracting and retaining employees
Being a sustainable company can help retain existing employees, as it improves employee engagement and satisfaction. The benefits of employee retention include considerable savings, given the costs of hiring and training new personnel. Putting a sustainable company's values first will also attract new talent that shares the same values.
#BENEFIT 5. Expanding audience reach and building brand loyalty
Sustainability can also be a powerful marketing tool. It helps to expand the brand’s reach and to attract and build a loyal customer base.
#BENEFIT 6. Positive publicity
Positive publicity such as press releases and announcements, can also have a positive effect across the board: improved employee satisfaction, attracting new talent and increased customer loyalty and referrals.
#BENEFIT 7. Standing out in a competitive market
Consumers and customers focus increasingly on sustainable brands. SWOT analysis or any strategic plans of sustainable business practices can help a business company stand out in a competitive market.
#BENEFIT 8. Creating an Industry Trend
Sustainability also influences customer behaviour, which can end up having a tangible impact on the world’s largest problems.
What is sustainable marketing?
As business sustainability awareness spreads, marketers play a crucial role in influencing consumers towards more sustainable buying decisions.
For many digital marketers, practising sustainable marketing is no longer an option, but a basic need. But what is sustainable marketing? Can sustainability be used as a marketing strategy? Which aspects are involved?
Sustainable marketing is
“The marketing activities and strategies of socially responsible products, services, and practices." It promotes environmental wellbeing, social equality, and economic development to improve business growth."
Sustainability can be used as a marketing strategy. Yet it depends on the business if such a marketing strategy will work. Sustainability activities that become “best practices” are necessary for businesses.
Some business companies go a step further and create strategic advantages by adopting sustainability measures their competitors can’t match. In short, sustainable marketing can be both a necessity and a trendsetter for companies.
Which aspects does sustainable marketing involve?
Sustainability is a broad concept. Marketers must consider how their combined activities contribute to the sustainability of the entire business ecosystem. It includes the following aspects:
Branding Brand messaging is one of the most important tools of marketing communication. Marketers can influence consumers directly by creating branding and messaging that lead consumer towards making more conscious and sustainable choices.
Communication Unsustainable packaging and fast fashion are examples of what happens when a business only focuses on profit. Marketers can create sustainable communication solutions and marketing strategies where everyone benefits. Such strategies help reduce business and environmental costs.
Product Sustainability is not just a strategy. It needs to be considered at each stage of the product. From the initial idea to sourcing raw materials to packaging, marketers need to work together with product developers and key decision-makers to create profit and sustainability.
People Marketers play a key role in creating awareness for sustainability among people, both inside and outside the business.
Business leaders and stakeholders are mostly concerned about profit. Marketers can show them how sustainable practices increase company profit and result in a longer life cycle for products and businesses.
Also, employer branding is an essential factor. Many employees care about the environment. Sustainability is a way to retain current employees and attract new talent.
Marketers can influence and educate consumers to make more sustainable choices with sustainable messaging for branding and advertisement.
Sustainability is not limited to a business organization. To make a significant impact, businesses must create sustainable partnerships. This will help to develop sustainable regulations to measure sustainability as a society.
In short, sustainability is a business approach to creating long-term value. It is built on the idea that developing a strategy that considers how a business acts on ecological, social, and economical aspects, will create the lifespan of a company.
As the expectations of customers and employees on corporate social responsibility increase and transparency become more important, companies recognize the need to act on sustainability. Good intentions are no longer enough. It is the actions that count.
Does your business need a sustainable marketing strategy? Do you want to transform your business into a more sustainable business?
Do you need help from marketing communication professionals?