It’s Time for Marketing to Take the Lead on Sustainable Business Practices | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

It’s Time for Marketing to Take the Lead on Sustainable Business Practices


Sustainability is undoubtedly all the rage for B2C and B2B organizations as a new wave of environmentally-conscious consumers puts their money where their mouths are. Some 70 percent of shoppers say they would pay more for environmentally responsible brands. Among especially eco-conscious gen Z shoppers, nearly three-quarters are less likely to buy products from companies that don't value climate change. Of the organizations that launch sustainability initiatives, a quarter achieve revenue growth, a third cut costs through improved efficiencies and a third realize greater innovation and/or new business models.

And yet, most brands are still heavily engaging in activities that harm our world – especially from a marketing perspective. A typical online ad campaign emits 5.4 tons of carbon, around a third of what a U.S. consumer generates every year. And where re-examining the digital supply chain has become an industry focus, other assets cause just as much, if not more, harm.

Printed assets, swag, event space and other brand materials continue to tax the environment through paper, printing and generation of waste – not to mention the fact that only about 21 percent of gifted swag is actually kept, with the rest being given away, or tossed out altogether. When considering the $64 billion swag industry, that equates to around $50.5 billion dollars without a measurable business impact.

What's stranger still is that just a third of senior marketers say their companies have explicit goals related to their impact on climate change, according to The CMO Survey. Only a quarter believe that reducing climate change is even part of marketing's responsibility. Less than a fifth said they were adopting climate-related goals in marketing, reducing the climate impact of their marketing communications, or curbing the climate impact of their digital marketing.

I've found this spot-on in my own experience with marketers. I'd estimate that the majority of the marketers I ask about reducing waste in their department can't give me a solid answer on their sustainable marketing initiatives.

Putting Your Best Environmental Foot Forward

Despite this sentiment, I strongly believe marketing is actually the department best fit to own sustainability efforts.

Marketing is the steward of the brand. Marketing's role is to communicate what an organization is, whether on a website or a stage. And marketing's job is to share the value a brand creates. Marketing is the tip of the spear for the company to drive change.

Marketing must lead. They must work across teams, but not let any single one be the ultimate decider on sustainability efforts. They must articulate the ROI of these efforts to the CEO so they can see the impact of them.

But where should marketing start?

Enhancing your company's sustainability efforts is not as complicated as it sounds. There are a number of simple solutions that marketers can begin implementing within their own teams to help bolster the company's sustainability efforts. Then, with a proven track record to demonstrate for executive teams, these strategies can later be expanded upon throughout the organization.

Ultimately, marketing must lead by example and rethink their approach to three key areas:

  • Events: Everyone is, rightfully so, excited to be back at in-person events, but the toll on the environment comes at a heavy price. Marketers can have elaborate build outs at a show like CES or attend the conference with no dedicated space, and see the same ROI. Marketers must heavily consider what's necessary and what's wasteful. Could you use the same branding across several events? Marketers can take some of their event budget and reinforce brand sustainability values in a more significant way across the organization all year long. It's an opportunity to break the mold – reinvent events, so to speak – coming out of COVID-19.
  • Swag and gifts: How much swag do you really need? Can it be reused across events? Instead of physical holiday gifts, could you offer to give your customer the option to opt-in for a donation to environmental charities? There are so many options here to stop the waste – both in budgets and in landfills.
  • Printed assets: Production contributes to one-off emissions in the form of materials, electricity, and location. Avoid creating one-off assets when possible, and get creative about showcasing your messaging in other ways. Use landing page links and QR codes so your audience can find more information about your brand online instead of via printouts.
  • Digital creative: While digital elements provide for greater creative options for your brand, they also use energy. Do you need a large array of colors and showy transitions? Certain color combinations require less energy — for example, pale yellow text on a black background.

And those are just some starter ideas. What's important is to not get stuck in the ideation loop. Instead, put a plan together with the top three to five most viable ideas and then own and execute on them.

I feel confident that marketers – the great inspirers, creatives, wordsmiths and strategists at all brands – can successfully dream up a greener, brighter world and then go out and make it so.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Chad Hickey, founder and CEO of Givsly.