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Does B2B marketing need to be sustainable?

Alison Clements
Alison Clements

Sustainability will be one of the biggest business challenges in the coming decade. So what is marketing’s role in doing business sustainably, and what should marketers be aware of in 2020?

We’ve already heard calls for marketing campaigns to be carbon neutral, with for instance, renewable-energy company Ovo announcing in August 2019 that it was aiming for this.  Here at Fieldworks we know how committed retailers are to reducing their carbon footprint, and it follows that retail suppliers – including technology providers – should be thinking along the same lines.

Firstly, let’s differentiate between ‘sustainability marketing’ and ‘sustainable marketing’

Sustainability marketing refers to promoting an ethical business, product, or sustainability strategy.

Sustainable marketing refers to executing marketing strategy and campaigns in as sustainable a way as possible.

What does ‘sustainable marketing’ look like? And what are the wider business and societal implications?  Experts suggest that as a starting point, sustainable marketing is likely to be more targeted, efficient and cost effective, whether in the B2C or B2B sector.

Examples of sustainable marketing:

  • Cutting out Direct Mail as it’s considered to have a high carbon footprint.
  • With DM campaigns, businesses should at least be careful to use FSC approved paper/packaging.
  • Being hyper-targeted with DM and email campaigns to reduce waste and wasted energy – we will see less ‘spray and pray’ campaigns, rather more precision, cutting out waste.
  • The use of AI to make marketing campaigns more accurate, less wasteful
  • Companies starting to consider ‘Digital Ad Waste’. So companies need to consider the energy cost of sending out badly targeted digital ad campaigns, asking what is the carbon footprint, and amount of impressions being wasted?
  • Large marketing agencies are looking internally at how their operations can function with a reduced carbon footprint. E.g. WPP announced in June that it has joined the global movement to eliminate unnecessary non-biodegradable waste with a commitment to remove all single-use plastics from its 3,000 offices by 2020.

Marketing needs to get its house in order when it comes to sustainability

Often an organisation’s marketing output is one of the most visible aspects of the business, and as consumer opinion shifts dramatically, it simply makes good business sense for marketers to prioritise a more sustainable approach – even if the wider organisation has yet to adopt a sustainable business strategy.

Digital marketing is not carbon neutral

While the carbon footprint of an email isn’t huge, Mike Berners-Lee, greenhouse gas researcher says a normal email has a footprint equivalent to 0.3 g of CO2 emissions. This can rise to 50g, however, with the addition of a large attachment. This figure looks at everything from the power in data centres to the computers that send, filter and read the messages.

Today it’s hard to measure and track this kind of digital waste. However experts predicted that we will see new ROI modelling that takes account of the sustainable nature of a marketing campaign.

The marketing industry will need to track this kind of digital waste in the coming years, and report performance.

Time to share good news stories on sustainability

Many B2B companies have a sustainability narrative to tell prospects and clients, and it is up to Marketing Departments and agencies to drive this initiative and get the story out (in a sustainable way). Clients may select a technology provider that has addressed sustainability issues, above one that hasn’t.

For investor relations it’s important to consider sustainable marketing as part of wider ethical business efforts that they want to see.

The consumer attitude tipping point

There’s a growing tide of opinion around ‘over consumption’ and the impact this is having on the planet. Consumers are looking closely at companies to see evidence that they are taking the environment and sustainability seriously.

Marketing is in a precarious situation because the aim of marketing is largely to encourage consumption, drive growth, boost sales, regardless of actual need.

This issue must be addressed by marketing directors at board level – it will become a critical issue in the coming years, experts predict. For instance, outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has adopted a strategy to limit growth, not push for sales and profit uplifts.

Companies that claim to be ethical/sustainable leave themselves open to criticism if they are not operating in a sustainable way throughout the business.

Cynics might say proactive companies are simply viewing this trend as a commercial opportunity – it will be down to marketing to manage the messaging/narrative very carefully or risk being exposed to negative reactions.

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