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PAN-PAN: Blog Post #10

Sustainable marketing: challenges & opportunities

We hear about sustainability everywhere, and most of us are already fed up even with the term itself. Or are we?

It’s a bit more complicated than that. As marketers, we’re tired of the ‘sustainable’ practices that don’t work — which means they aren’t all that sustainable. In a world where greenwashing reigns, it can be extremely hard to tell right from wrong and find ways to make a real positive impact on our environment.

But let’s start from the very beginning. What is sustainable marketing? Where is the line between true sustainability and greenwashing? And how should we use sustainable marketing for our society’s and planet’s benefit?

Defining sustainable marketing

It’s important to understand that sustainable marketing goes beyond simply promoting eco-friendly products. While that’s part of it, it’s not the whole picture. Why?
We can’t rely solely on changing our buying or selling habits — we should focus on transforming the industry’s purpose, rewiring practices, and using creativity and innovation for sustainable outcomes.

Sustainable marketing should guide businesses and society toward a greener future, fostering awareness, aspiration, and action while being accountable for its impacts. Ultimately, it needs to serve the long-term well-being of us all.

How to tell sustainable marketing from greenwashing?

Distinguishing genuine sustainability from greenwashing requires a critical eye and willingness to look beyond surface-level claims.

First of all, we must examine the evidence behind the brand’s sustainability claims. Is there transparency about the sourcing, manufacturing process, and environmental impact of the product or service? Genuine sustainability often involves clear and verifiable data to back up claims.

Secondly, it’s crucial to assess the company’s overall sustainability efforts. Are they making meaningful changes across their operations, or is the sustainability messaging limited to a few products or campaigns? Consistency and long-term commitment are indicators of authenticity.

Additionally, we need to consider third-party certifications or endorsements from reputable organizations, which can provide independent verification of the company’s sustainability practices.

Lastly, paying close attention to the language used in marketing materials is key. Greenwashing often relies on vague or exaggerated terms without substantive evidence. Look for specific, measurable goals and outcomes.

Sustainable marketing opportunities

As we move into the future, we need sustainable marketing practices that will take full responsibility for their areas of impact and opportunity. Let’s explore these areas in more depth.

1. Financial opportunity

The financial implications and potential opportunities in marketing are profound. Marketing, closely linked with economics, serves as a powerhouse for an economy that has, unfortunately, evolved beyond the sustainable capacities of our natural world.

The relentless pursuit of financial gain within our current economic structure poses a significant threat to the environment and the delicate balance of life dependent on it. To navigate this challenge, we must not only reshape the economy but also revolutionize the market and the marketing strategies that propel it forward.

What we truly need is prioritizing purpose over profit, even if it’s easier said than done. This entails viewing profit not as the ultimate goal but rather as a tool to serve a greater societal purpose. By embracing this type of mindset, businesses can pursue growth that is inherently beneficial to society rather than detrimental.

2. Physical opportunity

Here, we need to talk about the concept of a ‘marketing footprint.’ Why? Because it encompasses the tangible, real-world effects of marketing strategies, decisions, and operations on our collective long-term welfare and the social and environmental systems that uphold it. These effects manifest in various forms, such as emissions, waste, pollution, land degradation, habitat loss, impacts on species, as well as human health and equity.

Using its strategic connection between business and society, sustainable marketing aims to protect and restore the health of social and environmental systems by promoting positive change at every stage of the production and consumption processes.

This includes integrating sustainability goals into strategic planning and execution, employing technologies that accurately assess and reduce marketing’s direct impact, enhancing industry-wide footprint accountability through innovation, and others.

3. Ethical opportunity

Marketing affects our individual and societal beliefs, worldviews, identities, and lifestyles. It impacts our sense of what is valuable and aspirational. This phenomenon is also known as marketing’s brainprint. Every time marketing professionals make a strategic or creative decision, they have a choice to encourage either sustainable or unsustainable behaviors and values.

It is clear that there is a need for transparent, accurate, and evidence-based communication for businesses and society to address the complex challenges undermining people, nature, and our climate. And that’s where sustainable marketing can 100% step in.

It has the power to lead the behavioral changes needed while also healing the issues marketing has created in the past. Sustainable marketing has to ensure that its claims adhere to the latest legislation, regulations, and standards and adhere to moral codes and frameworks by also maintaining creativity.

Final thoughts

Now that we defined what sustainable (and unsustainable) marketing means and the opportunities it offers, the only way to move forward is to act. It may seem difficult at first, but it’s the only way. As cliché as it sounds, we only have one planet, and we, as marketers, are at the forefront of taking care of it.