January 16, 2024

Sustainability as a Marketing Asset

It’s clear that there is a major change occurring in consumer behavior and purchasing trends. More people, particularly of the younger generation, are keen on buying products that are environmentally safe to promote sustainable living. There are many reasons for this shift in consumer attitude. The Internet and Information Age allow facts and media to spread at such a rapid pace, meaning news on environmental issues is widespread and known to a larger group of people than ever seen before. There is also a greater push for the next generation to have knowledge about and create solutions for environmental issues brought about by past use. These factors have created a generation that is focused on environmental stewardship on all fronts, and that is especially true when it comes to buying goods. 

With over half of all consumers willing to pay extra for greener products according to IBM with NRF, it’s apparent that many companies must pivot their products towards this crucial demographic to stay in business. Consumer wants and company products often have a lag time, meaning it used to take years for a company to create a product suited towards their customer’s wants. While this used to give companies time to develop the right product, the Information Age and advancements in technology have lowered this window and forced companies to adapt more swiftly to outcompete others. There exists another issue; even if these products are made quickly, how can businesses effectively communicate their efforts to this increasingly important demographic? The answer - sustainability marketing. Sustainability marketing, or green marketing, is the act of selling and advertising products or services that are environmentally conscious and promote sustainable business practices. Green marketing can take a number of forms, from advertisements on packaging to campaigns on social media or television, and the strategy often changes based on each product’s materials or its intended customers. It’s proven to be one of the most effective marketing strategies employed today, and it’s used by virtually every major company to showcase the lesser environmental impact their products have and garner support from eco-conscious consumers.

Green marketing is everywhere, and the average consumer sees it everyday. For instance, take the grocery store. Over 63,000 grocery stores and supermarkets exist in the US, with each containing thousands of different products. When a consumer walks into a grocery store, it’s impossible to not see an advertisement detailing how a product is environmentally safe or circular. Chewing gum containers that are now made of recyclable paperboard instead of plastic. Produce, meat, and dairy products that are farmed using organic agriculture practices. Napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper advertised as made of 100% recycled fiber. Items like these exist in every aisle, and they are often the items most sought after by consumers. The products available in grocery chains aren’t the only place where you can find sustainability options. Many grocery stores now offer drop off stations for paper materials and plastic grocery bags to encourage consumers to participate in circularity and landfill diversion, which only increases customer satisfaction and keeps them shopping at these stores. 

Green marketing has helped many other industries and events besides the grocery store business. The number of farmers markets have increased dramatically over the last decades, with farmers markets growing from 2,000 in 1994 to 9,000 in 2019 according to the USDA. There are many reasons for this increase. Many consumers are driven to support local businesses as it directly impacts the living of people in their community and keeps the revenue and its benefits from traveling elsewhere. In addition to social benefits, shopping at local markets also greatly reduces transportation costs associated with interstate commerce, lowering emissions from transportation systems and combating climate change. Many vendors also employ sustainable business practices, such as organic agriculture or using recyclable materials in their products. While farmers markets and their sustainability benefits have always been present, green marketing has been able to advocate these qualities to a larger audience, often by showcasing both the sustainable products offered by the market and the people behind the product. Green marketing has increased support for farmers markets and made them a great success for many local communities and businesses. 

The clothing industry is also largely affected by green marketing. Processes to create clothing and textiles can be very resource intensive and generate large amounts of pollution byproducts. Many clothing retailers, such as H&M, Old Navy, or Urban Outfitters, have begun sustainable fashion initiatives to create garments that require less water and natural resources and are made of recycled materials like plastics, fibers, or old clothes. All companies have advertising towards promoting these products, and many even have dedicated sustainability selections on their websites. Sustainability initiatives have been very successful in attracting more customers to these brands and redefining quality clothing with recycled products, all while boasting positive effects for the environment. 

While green marketing is very effective and a step in the right direction towards world wide environmental stewardship, it must be practiced ethically. It is important that companies not practice ‘greenwashing’, or the false advertising of products on their true environmental impacts. Proper green marketing standards should include companies’ complete transparency of the impact and sourcing of their products to establish an honest relationship with their customers and have the best interests in mind for the environment. Green marketing boasts wonderful benefits for society, the economy, and the environment. It allows companies to inform a more environmentally focused demographic of ways to engage in sustainable purchasing all while lessening impact on the ecosystem. When taken at a local level, it also can empower communities and highlight local businesses. Green marketing is the future of advertising and product development, and its effects are already making waves.