Site icon Marketing Thought

Can There Be Sustainable Marketing?

Sustainable Marketing is a goal for many in the field nowadays. Michelle Carvill, Gemma Butler, and Geraint Evans, in their 2021 book, Sustainable Marketing, aim to help this become a reality and not the oxymoron that some might assume the term to be. Can there be sustainable marketing? Yes, but it won’t just happen. We need to think it through.

Unsustainable Marketing Practice

It is worth noting that there are practices that are simply unsustainable.

…there’s the issue that products are designed and made so that they deliberately become out of date or useless within a known time period — a term referred to as ‘planned obsolescence’.

Carvill, Butler, and Evans (2021) page 238

We need to cut these out.

There are other practices where it can be a little unclear whose fault it is when unsustainable actions are taken. How much responsibility should a firm have for items that can be recycled but consumers don’t recycle them? This is a tricky question. A sustainable marketer should think through the entire process and not push too much responsibility onto consumers. It isn’t enough to say it is all the consumer’s fault.

We should also not lose sight of the fact that things we often think of as bad, e.g., plastics, can actually have really important uses that aid in sustainability. Plastic can be invaluable to human health including its usage in sterile equipment and water piping. Plastics can also help preserve food — a key contribution to sustainability. We need to focus on sustainability, but to do so in a thoughtful way. How can we get the benefits while avoiding the downsides?

The Business Case For Sustainability

I think it is vital to make a business case for sustainability if we want it to happen. Of course, some commentators can go too far and leap from “sustainabilty is a good thing” to “sustainability is a good thing and so inevitably profitable” without the intervening step of thinking deeply about how the profitability might come about.

That said, the opposite is also true. Because we have all heard that there is no such thing as a free lunch some people seem to move from “achieving sustainability while being profitable can be challenging” through to “if someone isn’t being harmed it isn’t profitable”.

There is such a thing as a free lunch

Like the overly positive, the overly negative view is a mistake. After all, there are lots of situations where sustainability can be profitable. Killing a firm’s reputation through unsustainable practice is unlikely to be profitable in the long term.

Companies need to be extremely cognizant of their brand’s reputations amongst shifting consumer attitudes.

Carvill, Butler, and Evans (2021) page 238

The trick to effective management is finding areas where all can win together and, where necessary, helping any necessary choices involving tradeoffs to be well thought through and fair. The authors give ways to think about marketing that will help with this.

Action Points To Consider

One of the strengths of the book is the extensive listing of action points to consider. There are plenty of suggestions for those wanting to help marketing become more sustainable. There are also details on things that need to be acknowledged as not perfect. This is a sensible approach. It doesn’t aim to be completely positive — as things are not. That said, the combination of things to do and case studies of successes allow for the possibility that marketing can be more sustainable.

Can There Be Sustainable Marketing?

I absolutely think so. Some of the worst practices currently arise from status quo bias, or more simply described, laziness. We can do better. Indeed, many things we could change for the better and no stakeholder would be worse off. I don’t want to imply everything will be easy but there is advice, like that in Sustainable Marketing: How to Drive Profits With Purpose, which will help.

For more on sustainable marketing see here and for cases for teaching see here.

Read: Michelle Carvill, Gemma Butler, and Geraint Evans (2021) Sustainable Marketing: How to Drive Profits with Purpose, Bloomsbury

Exit mobile version