Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword anymore—it’s quickly becoming a basic expectation for businesses across industries.
Eight out of ten consumers make purchase choices based on sustainability-based concerns, and 53% of consumers report having switched to smaller and lesser-known brands because of better sustainability practices.
Nowadays, many brands have started integrating sustainability into their business model. Marketers, however, often face the challenge of communicating their shift to sustainable practices effectively and genuinely to promote their e-commerce business competitively.
So, if you want to embrace sustainability and try out environmental and social initiatives, keep on reading!
What is sustainable marketing?
Sustainable marketing is a long-term strategy that takes into account the environmental and social impact of products and services, as well as the needs of customers and businesses. It’s about creating value for all stakeholders in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This practice balances three key objectives: economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection. Sustainable marketing is also sometimes referred to as “triple bottom line” or “people, planet, profit” marketing.
Sustainable strategies are geared towards addressing consumer demands about the environmental impact of the products and services they are promoting, as well as the social implications of marketing activities.
Many companies nowadays include being eco-friendly as one of their main brand values, but there is a big difference between actively participating in social and environmental issues and just greenwashing in order to increase their revenue.
What is “greenwashing”?
Greenwashing is the deceptive practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology, or company practice. It’s used to create an impression that a company’s products are environmentally friendly when in fact, they are not.
This practice is a way for companies to exploit consumer concerns about sustainability for marketing purposes. Greenwashing can take many forms, but some tell-tale signs are:
- Exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims
- Vague or meaningless claims
- Irrelevant or out-of-context information
- Omission of important information
A well-known case of company greenwashing is H&M.
H&M claims that their Conscious Collection is more environmentally responsible and eco-friendly, with at least 50% of each piece being made from sustainable textiles. However, a report by the Changing Markets Foundation found that the Conscious Collection not only uses more synthetic materials than H&M’s main collection, but that one in five products is made of 100% fossil fuel-derived materials.
Greenwashing is often a lethal pitfall for marketers to fall into. Once the consumers become aware of the false claims, it can be very difficult for the company to walk back those claims and rebuild trust in their brand.
The only way to avoid the potential backlash you can get from greenwashing is to adopt legitimately sustainable business practices.
5 Sustainable Marketing Tips
Consumer trust is essential in traditional marketing, but it’s everything in sustainable marketing. It’s important that marketers communicate with customers in a way that not only promotes their company brand but also builds trust and robust relationships with the customer.
Here are some ways you can green up your brand beyond just slapping a green sticker on your product.
1. Take a Consumer-Oriented Approach
The first step is ensuring that your sustainable marketing strategy is consumer-centric. This means understanding what sustainability means to your target audience and aligning your sustainable marketing efforts accordingly.
Consumer-oriented marketing is more than just pushing a product onto your audience, like in traditional marketing practices. It’s about listening to and identifying what the customer wants from your company and the values they expect the company to prioritize.
For example, if the audience is calling for more clarity or transparency in the company’s sustainable practices or carbon emissions, then you can make those details available on your website and marketing materials.
Companies that don’t listen are often the ones that get branded as tone-deaf when they try to cash in on the “sustainability buzz.” Make sure your entire pipeline is strategically designed to listen to and implement what consumers actually want to see in your sustainability efforts.
2. Set a Mission
Rather than focusing on a product, sustainability marketing promotes a company’s broader goals and vision.
A green marketing strategy should be built around communicating the sustainability mission of the company well, rather than just promoting the product or service. Setting a mission allows you to focus your narrative around one goal and give your audience a cohesive story.
This also allows you to better connect with sustainable-minded consumers, who are often looking to support companies that share future-oriented values and legacy-building goals. Communicating that your company is in it for the long haul will give you an edge over companies with a more traditional, product-oriented marketing strategy.
One company with an excellent sustainability mission is Starbucks. Its goal is to become resource-positive, which means giving more than what it takes from the environment. The coffee chain does this by sourcing its coffee beans responsibly and ethically, reducing its water consumption and carbon emissions, and lessening the waste it sends to landfills.
3. Be Consistent
This strategy builds on the one above. Consistency comes with having a cohesive message to present. When sustainable marketing efforts are sporadic or half-hearted, it creates the impression that the company is only sustainable when it’s convenient or profitable.
To build trust with your audience, it’s important that your sustainability marketing is consistent with the company’s practices. If your marketing promotes an environmentally conscious product even though the company’s practices are anything but, consumers will see right through the deception.
Let’s say, for example, you claim to reduce your carbon emissions. You need to provide proof that you’re taking the appropriate steps. Whether it’s installing solar panels in factories or switching to other forms of renewable energy, your audience expects to see evidence of your commitment.
Wolven is a great example of a company putting its money where its mouth is. Its business is built on “making sustainability sexy” by producing trendy clothing pieces from recycled plastics.
What consumers value above all is authenticity.
Sustainable-minded consumers are looking for companies that they can trust to be transparent about their sustainable practices. This means being honest about what the company is doing well and also being upfront about areas where the company could improve.
For example, if your company is working towards sustainable packaging but is still using non-recyclable materials, be honest about it in your marketing.
You can use this as an opportunity to show the audience that the company is aware of the issue and is working on a solution. For instance, you can acknowledge that your company still has a long way to go to fully embrace sustainable packaging, but your goal is to become completely plastic-free by 2030. This will show that you’re a company that is committed to sustainable practices, even if you’re not perfect yet.
Social media is an essential channel for communicating with your target audience. Here’s a guide on how to get started with Social Media Marketing.
5. Think Bigger
You need to look beyond the hot topics.
Your company shouldn’t just jump on whatever environmental topic is trending on Twitter. The key to sustainable marketing is looking both inward and outwards.
What concerns are topical in the industry you’re in? Which concerns are your company well-positioned to address?
This allows you to not only build sustainable marketing strategies that are environmentally conscious and socially responsible but also build sustainable campaigns – ones that last.
The toilet paper company Who Gives a Crap is one of the eBay sustainable marketing examples out there. It focuses its philanthropic endeavors and marketing efforts on global sanitation and sustainable health issues specific to its industry. This gives the brand’s marketing more intentionality and greater relevance.
Setting your sights on building longer-lasting strategies focused on driving change in your own backyard shows that your company’s sustainability claims are actionable and driven by intent. This gives your claims more credibility and provides consumers a more measurable metric to measure your progress against than a vague “make the world a better place” aspiration.
Sustainable Marketing is About Future Building
In a consumption-driven culture, marketers face a responsibility to not only communicate the value of their product or service but also to consider how that product or service will impact the world.
Although business is driven by what makes the most profit, marketers have the power to shift the focus toward what makes the biggest difference. The growing power of the consumer means that marketers are in the position of being able to initiate real, tangible change.
Sustainability is about more than going greener. It’s about building longer-lasting frameworks that enrich rather than deplete the earth.
Aim for building long-term relationships with your target audience rather than one-off purchase experiences (here’s a guide with some tips on how to do that.)
Additionally, you shouldn’t underestimate your power as the front-facing arm of your business. Marketing professionals in the business of culture creation are on the frontiers of a braver, greener world. Adopting sustainable marketing and promoting sustainable growth means being a part of that change and leading the charge.