Sustainable Marketing

Question: Who are more sustainable: Mac users or Windows users? Answer: Windows users as they have a recycling bin while Macs have a trash can. Just a bit of fun... Let's talk about our main topic today: Sustainable marketing. What comes to your mind when you hear the word "sustainable marketing"? Reusable coffee mugs? Planting trees? Offices powered by renewable energy? Those are great examples but do not cover all that sustainable marketing does. If you like to dive deeper into the concept of sustainable marketing and how it works, we invite you to keep reading. 

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Table of contents

    Sustainable Marketing Definition

    Sustainability means continuity. A sustainable practice means doing things in a way to generate long-term value. Applying this to marketing, we have a definition of sustainable marketing - the promotion of a company's sustainable efforts.

    Sustainable marketing means promoting environmentally and socially responsible goods, services, or practices.

    Sustainable marketing is a company's attempt to show customers how to create long-term value for the market and society at large.

    An example of sustainable marketing is a company replacing its packaging with reusable plastic, then printing this information on the product container. This way, customers can be aware of the company's sustainable practices.

    A common misinterpretation of sustainable marketing is green marketing. They have a lot in common. But while green marketing focuses only on the environmental aspect of sustainability, sustainable marketing is broader and works on many issues such as work ethics or economics.

    Another thing to separate from sustainable marketing is green-washing. Unlike green or sustainable marketing, greenwashing is not an ethical marketing practice as it provides misleading information to make the company appear eco-friendly.

    A classic example of sustainable marketing is a company that promotes its product as “organic” or “made from real ingredients” without evidence to back up its claims.

    Sustainable Marketing Examples

    Now that you know what sustainable marketing means, let's check out some examples:

    A success story of sustainable marketing comes from DressX - a company that makes digital clothes for people to express themselves on social media and virtual fashion shows.

    The clothing industry is a huge source of waste and pollution. Take a pair of jeans, for example. Producing it would require 1,800 gallons (3,240 liters) of water, enough for a person to bath, drink and wash clothes for a month! 1 There is also waste from the customer end. A study surveying people in 20 European countries showed that most people did not wear half of the clothes in their closets.2 Million tons of clothes are thrown out each year, and up to 85% of them end up in landfills.3 This might not sound too bad, except clothes in landfills are later incinerated, producing a lot of carbon dioxide that pollutes the air. Not to mention, low-quality clothes made from synthetic materials such as polyester and spandex take a lot of time to decompose.

    To address these challenges, DressX brings forward a digital solution. So instead of filling their closets with new clothes every few weeks, people can dress up in pixels and save the planet from unnecessary waste!

    Here's a quote on the company's website that reflects their vision of sustainability:

    We aim to evolve the Fashion industry into a more inclusive, sustainable, and accessible industry. Whether it is in the physical or virtual worlds, we still need Fashion as a means of self-expression and differentiation.4

    Sustainable Marketing Digital fashion StudySmarterFig. 1 - Sustainable digital fashion

    Sustainable marketing example: DHL - Sustainable logistics company

    You may have known DHL as the company that shipped Amazon packets to your home, but there is more to it than delivering goods.

    DHL aims to contribute to the world by being environmentally and socially responsible. For example, one of the company's primary goals is to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. It has been working steadily towards this by powering buildings and vehicles with sustainable fuels, installing green last-mile delivery, and building a green product portfolio.5 The company is also very transparent about its sustainable practices. There's a whole section on the company's website dedicated to sustainability.

    Sustainable Marketing DHL delivery van StudySmarterFig. 2 - DHL delivery van

    Importance of Sustainable Marketing

    So as you've seen, sustainable marketing is common practice for many companies worldwide. But why is it important? There are three main benefits of sustainable marketing:

    • Increasing sales,

    • Ensuring the company's survival,

    • Making a positive impact.

    Sustainable marketing: Increasing sales

    According to a study by SmartestEnergy, more than 80% of customers prefer companies that adopt sustainable strategies. However, only 45% are unaware of sustainable companies' eco-friendly practices.6 These findings show that many companies are missing out on the opportunity to generate extra sales from environment-conscious customers. By investing in sustainable marketing, companies can attract more people and increase their sales.

    Sustainable marketing: Ensuring business Survival

    Products don't appear out of thin air. They are made from natural resources. For example, clothing production requires plants (cotton), animals (wool, silk), and petroleum (polyesters).

    The problem with natural resources is that they will run out one day if we don't try to maintain, refill or recycle them. This is where sustainable practices come in. By using resources sustainably, the company can ensure its future & survive in the long run. Sustainable marketing also plays a significant role in educating customers to change their behavior.

    Take an example of the clothing industry. If people are unaware of how wasteful their clothes can be, they will keep purchasing and contributing to pollution and water shortage. However, if a sustainable business informs customers of these negative implications and offers alternatives, they will alter their behavior and purchase sustainably. This also means companies can manufacture fewer but high-quality apparel. In other words, they can use fewer resources to produce a higher ROI.

    Sustainable marketing: Making an impact

    Companies can't produce a socially and environmentally responsible good or service unless they make one. Sustainable marketing practices encourage firms to manufacture their products more sustainably. This not only increases the product value but also contributes to the environment and social goods. While carrying out sustainable practices, companies can educate their customers and encourage them to join the effort.

    IKEA encourages its shoppers to replace plastic bags with reusable blue shopping bags. This strategy not only improves brand loyalty but also promotes sustainable habits among consumers.

    Principles of Sustainable Marketing

    There are three main principles to help companies promote themselves sustainably:

    1. Think long-term

    2. Be consistent

    3. Educate customers

    Sustainable marketing: Think long-term

    As the saying goes, success is a journey, not a destination, companies should not be impatient with sustainable marketing. Instead, they should devise a plan to promote their eco-friendly practices effectively. The plan should include clear objectives, timeframe, and action steps. It's also important to consider the long-term effects of current campaigns.

    For example, to achieve zero net carbon emission by 2050, DHL breaks its plan into smaller goals with deliverables for every year.

    Sustainable marketing: Be consistent

    The second principle is to be consistent. The company should not change its practices constantly but stick to its original plan. This way, customers will not get confused and are more likely to join in the brand's effort.

    Sustainable marketing: Educate customers.

    Customers may be aware of the company's sustainable practices. But without understanding why they are done in the first place, they won't be able to make a permanent change. Thus, another crucial principle in sustainable marketing is educating customers about sustainable issues and solutions.

    There are many ways to educate customers through social media, websites, or social programs. Below are two prime examples of sustainable marketing education done right.

    Best Sustainability Marketing Campaigns

    Here are some real-life examples of sustainable marketing campaigns:

    Return, Recycle, Repeat by The Body Shop

    Return, Recycle, Repeat is a sustainable marketing campaign launched by The Body Shop in 2019. The Body Shop originates from the UK and promotes the use of natural skincare products to customers.

    The campaign is the company's attempt to help people cultivate a more sustainable shopping habit. It has now been implemented in 400 locations worldwide and received positive sentiments from customers.

    To participate in the campaign, customers must return their used packaging to a Body Shop store and pop them in the Return, Recycle, Repeat bin. The packages are shipped to the company's recycling partners, where they are recycled and repurposed.

    In some locations, The Body Shop offers customers a refill scheme. All they have to do is to purchase an aluminum bottle at the store and ask an employee to fill it up with a hair care product, shower gel, or handwash. They can simply go to the store for a refill when they have used up the content.8

    Sustainable Marketing The body shop shower gel StudySmarterFig. 3 - The Body Shop shower gel made from natural ingredients

    The Home That Runs on Dunkin' by Dunkin' Donuts

    Here's another excellent sustainable marketing campaign by Dunkin' Donuts. You may have drunk Dunkin' coffee, but have you ever lived in a house powered by Dunkin' coffee grounds?

    "The Home That Runs on Dunkin" will provide you with just that. This is a project by Dunkin' Donuts to promote sustainable practices and show people how less can be more.

    These customer-made and tiny transportable homes run on biofuel using 80% coffee oil extracted from Dunkin' coffee grounds. Inside the house are a bathroom, a king-size bed, a living room for two, and a cozy coffee nook. The floor is made from solid walnut materials, and every corner of the house is stoked with Dunkin' coffee (of course!).9

    Sustainable Marketing Dunkin donuts cream and cookie donuts StudySmarterFig. 4 - Dunkins' cream and cookie donuts

    Sustainable Marketing - Key takeaways

    • Sustainable marketing promotes environmentally and socially responsible products, services, or practices.
    • There are three reasons to promote sustainability: increasing sales, ensuring business survival, and making an impact.
    • Companies should think ahead, be consistent, and educate customers to carry out sustainable marketing effectively.
    • We can find many examples of sustainable marketing in companies around the world. These examples show that sustainable marketing campaigns are both creative and educational.
    • Sustainable marketing is a broader branch that includes green marketing.

    References

    1. Interesting Water Facts, Oldham County Water District, https://www.oldhamcountywater.com/interesting-water-facts.html
    2. Marjorie van Elven, People do not wear at least 50 percent of their wardrobes, says study, https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/people-do-not-wear-at-least-50-percent-of-their-wardrobes-according-to-study/2018081638356, 2018.
    3. Valentina Portela, The Fashion Industry Waste Is Drastically Contributing To Climate Change, https://calpirg.org/blogs/blog/cap/fashion-industry-waste-drastically-contributing-climate-change, 2021.
    4. dressX, https://dressx.com, 2022.
    5. DHL Group, https://www.dpdhl.com/en/sustainability/environment.html, 2022.
    6. Recycling Lives, Report reveals that 81% of people prefer to buy from sustainable sellers, https://www.recyclinglives.com/news/general/report-reveals-81-people-prefer-buy-sustainable-sellers.
    7. Deborah Drew and Genevieve Yehounme, The Apparel Industry's Environmental Impact in 6 Graphics, https://www.wri.org/insights/apparel-industrys-environmental-impact-6-graphics, 2017.
    8. The Body Shop, Return-Recycle-Reuse, 2019.
    9. Dunkin Donuts News, https://news.dunkindonuts.com/blog/blog_custom-20181008, 2018.
    10. Fig 1: Digital Fashion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_fashion#/media/File:Miss_Maquillage_Digital_Fashion_Garment_example.png) by Spritefire9 licensed by (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Sustainable Marketing

    What are sustainable marketing principles?

    Sustainable marketing principles include: 

    1. Think long-term
    2. Be consistent 
    3. Educate customers

    What is the goal of sustainable marketing?

    The goal of sustainable marketing is to increase the company's sales through sustainable acts while positively impacting the environment and society. 

    What are the disadvantages of sustainable marketing?

    The advantages of sustainable marketing include lack of customers' understanding of what the company is doing and difficulty in educating customers on sustainable practices. 

    What is sustainable marketing and why is it important?

    Sustainable marketing means promoting environmentally and socially-responsible products and services the company produces. Sustainable marketing is important to business survival and success, especially when customers become increasingly environment-conscious.  

    What are the benefits of sustainable marketing?

    Sustainable marketing comes with many benefits such as enhanced reputation, increased sales revenue, and brand loyalty for the company. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following is NOT a sustainable marketing practice?

    A company can carry out sustainable marketing even if it is not sustainable. 

    What is a good tagline for a sustainable marketing campaign?

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