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Sustainable marketing: worthwhile or already indispensable?

Sustainable marketing definitely pays off
Image: © Vasyl / Adobe Stock
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What is sustainable marketing?

Alongside sustainability PR, sustainable marketing is a key part of a company’s sustainability communication.

Sustainable marketing is the effective communication of corporate sustainability actions to the public and thus builds on mere eco-marketing or green marketing with the aim of promoting products and services.

However, the terms are becoming increasingly blurred, with green marketing also frequently covering economic, environmental, and social aspects. Companies that have adopted corporate social responsibility (CSR), pursue a sustainable development strategy, or act in line with the principles of corporate citizenship also usually make a clear commitment to a socially and environmentally sound management approach.

As opposed to cause-related marketing (CRM), sustainable marketing involves communicating the company’s activities that are directly related to its economic goals.

Sustainability is more than just a trend

Sustainable living, sustainable products, sustainable tourism, sustainable consumption, and even a sustainable diet are all the rage, so it is only logical that sustainable marketing is not far behind. The majority of companies are now adopting sustainability as a core value and trying to establish an environmentally friendly, climate-neutral, and socially responsible public image in order to meet their customers’ expectations. Statista’s DossierPlus 2020 report on environmental sustainability in German companies reveals that:

 

77%
of companies with more than 5,000 employees think environmental sustainability is important.
43%
of companies regard sustainability as a part of their corporate philosophy.
24%
of newly founded startups align themselves with the principles of a green economy.

But what does sustainability actually mean, particularly in contrast to environmentally conscious actions and the associated green marketing? Sustainability covers more than just the environmental dimension. In this respect, it isn’t simply about minimizing your carbon footprint by switching to green data centers or energy providers, for example. Instead, the three-pillar model, also known as the ESG criteria, is commonly used. In this approach, sustainability comprises the following areas of responsibility:

  • Environment: Respectful and considerate use of natural resources, climate protection, conservation of ecosystems, reducing emissions, and increasing energy efficiency
  • Social: Respecting human rights, establishing and ensuring social standards along the entire value chain and at all domestic and foreign suppliers, promoting occupational safety, employee development and the health of customers, as well as social engagement in the sense of CSR
  • Governance: Defining and adhering to a code of conduct, risk and reputation management, transparent communication and reporting

What are the advantages of sustainable marketing?

Sustainable marketing opens up new market opportunities for companies. By incorporating sustainability aspects at the product level, you can create significant added value for customers, while building trust and credibility at the same time. The rewards will be:

  • Greater customer loyalty and retention
  • Easier acquisition of new customers
  • A competitive edge

The more companies that follow the sustainability trend and actively define and embrace their corporate social responsibility, the greater the pressure is on companies that don’t. Businesses that refuse to take a sustainable approach risk losing their reputation.

Will sustainable marketing soon be unavoidable?

We’re already seeing the green search engine Ecosia – whose popularity has boomed recently – label the websites of sustainable companies in its search results. If concepts such as the one implemented by Ecosia catch on, unsustainable companies would be penalized by the search engine acting as a gatekeeper, simply because the results of companies that do business responsibly and communicate their sustainability efforts would be ranked higher. We asked Hannah Wickes from Ecosia how the tree-planting search engine wants to encourage companies to be more sustainable.

Search engines act as gatekeepers between the consumer and the entity that covers the demand, e.g., online stores. What responsibility do you see for search engines in this context?

Hannah Wickes: Search engines can have a big influence on users and their behavior. For Ecosia it doesn’t stop at the trees we plant. Beyond trees, we want to help our users to make greener choices. One step in that direction has been the implementation of green search, where we show a green leaf icon alongside sustainable pro-planet companies in the search results, and a fossil fuel icon alongside companies that promote the expansion and continued extraction of fossil fuels. With tools like this we’re aiming to empower our users with knowledge to apply sustainable thinking to all their online actions.

Hannah Wickes, green search engine Ecosia
Hannah Wickes, Chief Marketing Officer at Ecosia GmbH (© Ecosia).

What would happen if everyone used Ecosia instead of Google?

Hannah Wickes: If everyone used Ecosia instead of Google we could plant billions of trees all over the world and the positive flow on impacts to communities we work with would be huge. We’d be transforming lives, alleviating poverty and because a search with Ecosia actually removes about 1 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere, we’d be tackling the climate crisis on a huge scale.

If Google were to decide to emulate such ranking criteria due to growing user interest, there would most certainly be a massive sustainability shake-up among those who have so far resisted the trend. Google therefore has an enormous responsibility in this regard.

In our free-to-download green guide, you can read the full interview with Hannah Wickes from Ecosia about the responsibility of search engines and the influencing power of every single search engine user.

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How do I incorporate sustainable marketing?

If you want to implement sustainable marketing, you first need to make a clear commitment to a socially and environmentally responsible management approach. In all business aspects, you must adopt principles that

  • are socially compatible,
  • respect human rights, and
  • are environmentally relevant

along the entire value chain. These actions will lay the foundations for creating stories that are worth telling.

sustentio GmbH is an agency in Berlin that advises organizations on their sustainability strategy and sustainability communication, whether DAX companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, or associations and NGOs. Marius Hasenheit is a partner in the Berlin-based agency, member of the consulting cooperative “sustainable natives eG”, and board member of the Genossenschaft selbstverwalteter Projekte eG (cooperative of self-managed projects). He also publishes the German-wide print magazine transform. We asked him:

What are the main expectations and requests of companies that come to sustentio for help in its capacity as an agency for sustainability communication? Do they have a clear idea of how they want to be presented or are they simply seeking advice without anything to base themselves on?

Marius Hasenheit: We get a mix of both. Sometimes customers approach us wanting an initial all-round analysis of their company’s environmental impact and how they can reduce it. Other companies have a rough idea of their objective, for example the expansion of their online communication, but haven’t yet decided on specific measures. We then weigh these up together. And then there are some that have very precise ideas, so we work together to implement those.

Marius Hasenheit, sustentio – agency for sustainability marketing and PR.
Marius Hasenheit, partner in Berlin-based agency sustentio (© sustentio GmbH)

Tips for your sustainable marketing in the free green guide

Companies that act sustainably quickly gain a wealth of experience that should be recorded within a sustainability reporting framework. This can then be used as a basis for sustainability marketing and telling stories that will appeal to the public and are relevant to the target group.

So, the motto is: “Do good and talk about it.” First off, that means that you need to be honest with yourself. Where can your company save resources, where are sustainable alternatives feasible? Ask yourself whether you could put all your business cards on the table without receiving justified criticism.

In our free-to-download green guide, we have put together some suggestions for your sustainable marketing, including exclusive tips from expert Marius Hasenheit.

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