Update, June 2019: Since exploring the concept of sustainable marketing and developing my own way of running a business, I’ve come to see the definition I set down for ‘sustainable marketing’ as, actually, the definition for how I run every aspect of my work. Below, I’ve updated each component to reflect this.
In this article, I explain the background to my definition of sustainable marketing.
I take my definition of sustainable development from the Bruntland Report: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
When it comes to individuals (like me, running a sole trader business) I interpret ‘future generations’ to also mean ‘future selves’.
Sustainable business and sustainable marketing satisfies the four areas of sustainable development.
The business and marketing practices I conduct must satisfy each area of sustainable development:
- Human – through knowledge and skills
- Social – through connection and empathy
- Environmental – through minimal impact on the planet
- Economic – through business maintenance
All the practices, services, products and marketing I create – for myself and for my clients – must provide some sustainable development in each of these areas.
This includes prioritising sustainable methods of delivering products, services and marketing (for example, choosing recycled paper or low-energy event ideas, taking public transport, not buying lunch wrapped in single-use plastic) to limit negative impact.
Q: “Does what we’re doing develop our human, social, environmental and economic attributes in a way which meets our needs and doesn’t compromise the ability of future generations and our future selves to meet their needs?”
Sustainable business and sustainable marketing challenges the idea of constant economic growth.
Through my work and client relationships I challenge the idea of constant economic growth, instead focusing on economic maintenance. I encourage my clients to prioritise maintaining economic stability rather than opting for rapid and unsustainable growth.
While the business and marketing practices I conduct do encourage people to buy products or services from me or my clients, they don’t do so at the cost of the other three areas of sustainable development nor do they play into the fetishisation of rapid growth.
Q: “Does what we’re doing prioritise maintaining economic stability and consistent wealth, or does it promote/fetishise rapid and unstable economic growth?”
Sustainable business and sustainable marketing avoids the use of techniques which promotes belief in scarcity of human, social, environmental and economic attributes.
Scarcity, urgency, ‘charm prices’ and other tactics are often used in business and marketing to encourage people to buy. Sustainable business and sustainable marketing avoids these tactics as they play into the idea of scarcity of attributes, from scarcity of ability in an individual (human) to scarcity of wealth availability (economic). I have signed up to The Ethical Move as part of this definition.
Q: “Does what we’re doing promote the idea of abundance of human, social, environmental and economic attributes, or does it promote the idea of scarcity?”
Sustainable business and sustainable marketing acknowledges its role and responsibility in shaping the future of a business, a customer and the four areas of sustainable development.
My working and marketing practices and their potential impact are carefully considered before they’re put into use. I acknowledge the responsibility I – and my practices – have in shaping my clients and their customers, and act accordingly. I encourage my clients to think in the same way and consider how their actions (from designing a product or service to marketing it) will effect their business, their customers and the four areas of sustainable development.
Q: “Are we as aware as we can be of how our choices today will influence us, our customers and our human, social, environmental and economic attributes in the future?”
Sustainable business and sustainable marketing challenges preconceptions of customers’ wants, needs, wellbeing and identities.
The working practices, marketing practices and strategic approach I take challenges preconceptions about customers’ and society’s wants, needs, wellbeing and identities. It avoids relying on received wisdom and seeks to see the customer and society as a complex whole (rather than a set of demographic data). I do this through holistic audience profiling, looking at things like psychographics and trust networks, to understand a customer more fully.
Q: “Is the customer or audience profile we have based on a holistic, complex understanding of our customer or audience, or does it rely on received wisdom and preconceptions?”
Sustainable working practices and sustainable marketing strategically identifies the most sustainable route for a business to take and helps them achieve it.
Through the working and marketing practices I suggest, my clients are encouraged to take a sustainable approach to their customer and operations with the support of other experts. This includes developing products or services which better satisfy the four areas of sustainable development, changing existing products or services to better satisfy the four areas of sustainable development, and not doing things which do not satisfy the four areas of sustainable development.
Q: “Is the route we’re choosing the most sustainable path forward we could choose for our work, knowing what we do now?”