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Changing Marketing To Be Sustainable

Sustainability requires changes on several fronts. In business changes to supply chains are an obvious area to address. Marketing is another discipline with a key role in creating a more sustainable future. This is not least because it can help persuade towards both sustainable and unsustainable behavior. So how might we go about changing marketing to be sustainable? Paul Randle and Alexis Eyre have a book that shares their thoughts.

Purpose And Sustainability

Purpose is often central to effective business. It can answer big questions like, why would anyone buy from you? Or why would anyone want to work for you? Having a purpose beyond making shareholders rich can be much more motivating for all involved in the organization. Purpose-natives (firms that started with a purpose) may find it easier but all firms can potentially benefit from having a genuine purpose.

Sustainability is an area rich with potential for purpose and we see many firms with environmental or social purposes. To help readers think about this area the authors contrast sustainability and purpose. (I have adapted their table from page 238 of the book).

Purpose and sustainability

In their view, purpose is the why. This doesn’t change. Sustainability actions are how we are going to make the world better. Yet, what we do changes with what is needed in the specific circumstances. The good news is that these concepts fit extremely well together. A purpose to make the world better (in some specific way) can be pretty motivating.

The Need For Persuasion

Marketing has some responsibility for problems of lack of sustainability and many challenges remain. That said, there is a role for professionals, like marketers, who know something about persuasion.

Many sustainability professionals accidentally think like economists. They honestly believe that if the facts are presented then individuals will logically change.

Randle and Eyre (2023) page 132

As an academic, I do like facts, but they are far from the only thing that matters to persuasion. People often tend to react better to personal anecdotes than statistics. You can be disappointed in people for not doing the math or you can learn to couch messages in a way that resonates with them. The latter approach is likely to be much more productive. If you want to impact the world you need to meet people where they are.


An interesting problem the authors highlight is ecoanxiety. This is the fear that many people suffer about the future of the planet. I find this a fascinating topic. The right response requires a delicate balance. On the one hand, given that there exists a problem, and a change in behavior is needed, it seems reasonable to argue that having a concern is a good thing. That said, we don’t want people to be too fearful to take action or even to make themselves miserable about things they can’t personally control. We can’t just be all doom and gloom. What may help is giving practical actions that can be taken. We need to recognize that none of us will ever be perfect but that some actions are much more consequential than others so we should focus on what matters more.

Persuading Non-Marketers

Before closing I would note that I would personally add a few more numbers to their argument. Randle and Eyre make the important point that business can be too short-term. Managers take actions that are bad for the firm’s profitability (as well as for other stakeholders) because they look good immediately in the accounts. Given this, I would suggest emphasizing the need for marketers to understand performance measurement more. This should enable more effective persuasion within the firm. You have to speak the language of accountants and finance people if you want to influence them.

Changing Marketing To Be Sustainable

Overall this is a very helpful book to get marketers thinking. Why not give it a read if you are a marketer? It has some useful advice on changing marketing to be sustainable.

For more on sustainability and sustainable behavior see here, here, here, and here.

For more on sustainable marketing strategy see here.

Alexis Eyre and Paul Randle (20) Sustainable Marketing: The Industry’s Role In A Sustainable Future, KoganPage

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