Sustainable Marketing 101: Blueprint for Socially Responsible, Purpose-Driven Communications

A growing number of companies are dedicating significant resources to understanding, mitigating and communicating their environmental and social impact. Marketing functions have played a central role in guiding these efforts forward by aligning brands with their greater purpose. This shift has been largely driven by the younger generation’s demand for more sustainable products and services, which impacts their purchasing decisions and workplace engagement.  

More than 60% of Generation Zers prefer to buy from and engage with sustainable brands versus less than 40% of Baby Boomers. Their preferences are influencing other generations to follow suit as consumers of all ages indicate a willingness to pay more for sustainability. Long-term consumer trust is quickly becoming dependent on a company’s commitment to following through on impact-oriented goals. 

Leaders have started to recognize this need for socially responsible solutions on a much larger scale than in years past. A recent survey of CMOs found nearly half associate sustainability with long-term success. Another 70% recognize that corporate sustainability initiatives help improve employee retention and recruitment. The business imperative is also clear—products and services linked to sustainability can grow almost six times faster than those that are not. It’s no coincidence that some of the most popular consumer brands on the market have been vocal about using sustainable materials and donating to environmental organizations. 

Sustainable marketing has increasingly become an answer to the rising challenge of how to meet the needs of our planet and people. Understanding sustainability’s purpose more deeply and how to effectively implement it can help your company deliver impact on a social, environmental, economic and government policy level. 

Look Beyond the Label 

Sustainable marketing is a purpose-driven communications strategy that promotes socially responsible products and services reflective of a brand’s broader values. It is an umbrella term that can encompass everything from communicating sustainability initiatives internally to establishing an executive’s voice in the social impact space through social media or thought leadership campaigns. 

Numerous terms have cropped up in recent years to describe the push for more environmentally and socially conscious marketing efforts. While often interconnected, these labels are worth distinguishing: 

Green marketing involves developing and promoting environmentally friendly products and services. It can include advertising a company’s investment in renewable energy sources, releasing data on reduced greenhouse gas emissions and highlighting sustainable manufacturing processes.  

Cause marketing is the practice of aligning a brand with a social issue or charitable cause to raise awareness and support of both. This typically falls under an organization’s corporate social responsibility initiatives and can help demonstrate how companies are “walking the walk” through partnerships with nonprofits. 

Greenwashing conveys false or misleading information about the environmental impact of a product or service. It can be an intentional effort to convince audiences that an organization has good environmental credentials or an unintentional consequence of falling short on public sustainability claims. 

Put Your Most Impactful Foot Forward 

Since sustainable marketing has only emerged in force during the last decade or so, legislation has been slow to catch up to the burgeoning influx of purpose-focused messaging. Very few guidelines are in place to prevent greenwashing or the misuse of labels like “eco-friendly” and “clean” that are associated with items that might not actually be either. Regardless, marketing teams interested in developing a sustainable campaign strategy should keep these best practices in mind: 

  • Ladder up to a larger purpose. The sustainable marketing approach is about more than just an individual offering’s impact. It is a way to elevate a brand’s larger social mission, which should transcend product and industry. Begin by identifying this mission and only advance to sustainable campaign planning when this mission is firmly established. 
  • Build long-term value. Sustainable marketing is ultimately about driving a brand’s mission forward in a way that benefits current and future generations. This means advancing products or services that will preserve or improve the world as we know it in coming decades. 
  • Remain transparent and truthful. Despite the regulatory gap, sustainable marketing hinges on accurate representations of what a brand offers and how it’s offered. Buyers respect transparency because it establishes trustworthiness and adds a human element to the equation. Those caught in false claims will take a hard blow to their reputation. 
  • Keep the customer front and center. Consumer interest in corporate social responsibility— particularly among younger generations—initially sparked the sustainable marketing movement. Almost 50% of individuals surveyed by HubSpot in 2022 said they are more likely to purchase items from a company actively trying to reduce its environmental impact. Paying attention to consumer preferences can help determine a brand’s next sustainable step forward. 
  • Look beyond revenue metrics. Sales figures can be an easy way to measure success. But while they are an important indicator of company health, focusing on them too much can distract from the other positive benefits of purpose-driven projects that might matter more in the long run. Has employee productivity increased because workers are passionate about sustainability-focused work that aligns with their personal values? Has consumer behavior changed for the better thanks to increased awareness around environmental and social impact? Have other organizations been inspired to improve their practices, even if only to remain competitive? 
  • Carry sustainability through the business. Sustainability doesn’t start or end with a marketing campaign. It must be reflected in every aspect of the company’s operations and processes to maintain its authenticity. Make sure that your company is practicing what it preaches every step of the way. Do partners and stakeholders share the same mission? Does your team reflect the equity and inclusivity you want to promote? Do any products or processes rely on nonrenewable resources?

The Path to Impact  

The effects of climate change, economic disparities, lack of access to medical care and political tensions are merely a few challenges that highlight the importance of delivering on impact goals. It is not only the morally responsible path forward for organizations, but also the one that stakeholders and clients are demanding. Sustainable marketing can help brands deliver on the environmental, social, economic and governance initiatives that our world needs to thrive long-term. 

Annah Otis

Learn more about social impact and communications by visiting the Bliss Impact page.

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