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The future of marketing in a sustainable world

4 minute read

When it comes to climate change, the future is clear: We are no longer preventing a climate crisis but are trying to minimize its impact. We need to reduce emissions and limit global temperature rise — and we are far from where we need to be. 

What role does marketing play?

Marketing can increase businesses’ sustainability by listening to and engaging with consumers, and through marketing execution. As Jamie Burdett, brand strategy lead at Anthesis*, says “We are in a time where you are what you do, not what you say. This is a big shift in terms of marketing, moving from unrealistic aspiration to realistic truth.”

  1. Listen, learn and communicate
    Listening to consumers should guide your business strategy and inform your senior leaders about what matters to your customers. To support sales growth and enhance brand equity, marketing must incorporate sustainability. As they communicate with consumers, marketers bear responsibility for learning about sustainable consumption.
  2. Deliver sustainably
    We are all responsible for protecting our planet and the rights of workers within our supply chains. No matter how well you engage with consumers, if your marketing execution is not sustainable, you can expose yourself and your business to accusations of greenwashing — undermining your brand. Marketing departments must make sustainability a primary consideration in decision-making processes, from creative and production to execution.

The right foundations

The ESG reporting framework that many use today was influenced by the 3Ps of John Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet and Profit. In a 2019 Forbes interview, Elkington said his framework was being misunderstood — its purpose was to transform how we approach value-add in a capitalist system. 

This is important for marketers: While we focus on how marketing execution supports Profit, how can we ensure value-add for People and our Planet? 

Choose positive partners 

Sustainability credentials are important when choosing marketing partners. By viewing marketing as a value-add department rather than a cost center, it becomes easier to make decisions based on credentials, not on cost.

Make sustainability key in creative and ideation 

Sustainability is not a constraint to creativity; it encourages teams and designers to innovate across all channels. If you start your marketing executions with sustainability at their core, this will flow through to ideation and execution. This is especially true if you couple design and production by channel — sustainability will help with challenges and lead to new approaches.

Recognize that data is critical

Marketers need data to understand their activations’ impact and identify opportunities for improvement. adm Group worked with Anthesis to develop a Green Design Tool for physical marketing materials, which provides clients with data on a variety of key metrics, from CO2e emissions to water consumption. It also gives creatives and product designers quantifiable data to help illuminate sustainable paths from creative to concept development.

Drive positive behavioral change

Evidence defeats doubt. Data can demonstrate the impact of decisions and actions, help win hearts and minds, and effectively shape positive behavioral change within organizations. It’s important to monitor data and metrics on the sustainability of marketing activity, not just ROI, so the Triple Bottom Line is adhered to. 

What does the future hold for marketing departments? 

Sustainability master agents 

To make marketing activity more sustainable in terms of human rights and environmental impact, marketing departments could shift toward working with “master agents” by channel, who could manage the nuance and complexities of sustainability across the entire supply chain by region, or globally.  

Renewed partnership models

Traditional commercial supplier — client models rewarded suppliers as volumes increased, offering a mark-up on point-of-sale materials supplied or hourly rates charged for creative or design services. This rewards partners for increasing consumption and spending, which is at odds with sustainability and the need for marketing teams to mitigate cost increases, especially in an inflationary market.

Better incentives

Master agents have the potential to operate as consultants, not just suppliers, enabling collaboration and innovation to thrive.

By moving with a master agent to fixed management fees that are unrelated to volume or spend levels, businesses can focus on the right incentives: eliminating ineffective spending and reducing the environmental impact of marketing activity. Partners are then rewarded for their efforts to meet these goals.  

To make this possible, you must look at the total spend in scope, so the sustainability agenda can become symbiotic with the desire to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of marketing activity. You’ll be able to “market sustainably” alongside “marketing sustainability.”

Authored by: Tom Hunter, Managing Director of Operations and Chief Sustainability Officer

By Tom Hunter

Chief Sustainability Officer and Managing Director of Operations