What Is Sustainable Marketing? | Eleanor Snare Sustainable Marketing for Creative Businesses

What is Sustainable Marketing?

On the front page of my website you’ll see this sentence: “Welcome to sustainable marketing for creative businesses”. I try to live a sustainable lifestyle, and that includes how I work with my marketing and copywriting clients.

In this article I’ll explain to you exactly how I came to the concept of ‘sustainable marketing’ to help you think about whether the way in which you run your business’ marketing is sustainable.

What Is Sustainable Marketing? | Eleanor Snare Sustainable Marketing for Creative Businesses

 

MARKETING IS THE DEVIL’S WORK

I’ve often heard or see people berate marketing for all that’s bad about our current consumer culture. Marketing is seen as the devil’s work; the thing which makes us all go crazy on Black Friday, perpetuates terrible messages about women and their bodies, and constantly lies.

Marketing feels like it’s ‘tricking’ us into buying. At it’s worst, it makes us angry because it’s rubbish. At it’s best, it makes us buy something – but for many people, buying things is the worst.

Even at its most creative and intelligent, marketing is about selling something – a bottle of pop, a car, a dream – and that can feel at odds with living a sustainable, reduced-consumerism lifestyle. Added to that is the incessant churn of contemporary marketing, where shiny, ‘viral’ ideas are prioritised over meaningful information, and swathes of digital content clog up our online spaces while our doormats continue to flood with junk mail.

Marketing is a necessary evil – but it’s still evil.

So how, exactly, can this ugly business process be done in a sustainable way?

 

a quick aside

There’s a difference between sustainability marketing and sustainable marketing. Sustainability marketing is when the sustainable aspect of your business, product or service is used as a marketing message. For example, the promotion of H&M’s Conscious collection is a sustainability marketing campaign; it’s a sustainable (ish) product, and it’s being marketed.

Sustainable marketing is where your marketing processes are in themselves sustainable.

The next step is to work out what being ‘sustainable’ means.

 

what does sustainability mean?

One of the most challenging things about ‘sustainability’ is it can mean very different things to different people. Here are a few ways it’s been understood before in relation to business.

Our Common Future

In 1987, a document called Our Common Future – also known as the Brundtland Report – was published by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. This document outlined three areas of sustainable development which should be considered when understanding how to support developing nations:

  • Economic
  • Social
  • Environmental

These three areas are commonly used as a way for organisations to put into place holistic sustainability programmes through corporate social responsibility (CSR). For example, they might donate money to charity, encourage each employee to do a day’s volunteering, and make sure the business recycles as much waste as possible.

The Brundtland Report is also well-known for this definition of sustainable development:

“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Encyclopaedia of Global Environmental Change

In 2001, the Encyclopaedia of Global Environmental Change was published. This included a new area of sustainability: human sustainability.

Human sustainability refers to:

“the private good of individuals, rather than between individuals or societies. The health, education, skills, knowledge, leadership and access to services constitute human capital.”

This element of sustainability is less frequently used, but for me it’s one of the most important.

The ‘triple bottom line’

You might often hear businesses about sustainability for the ‘triple bottom line’. Previously, the ‘bottom line’ would’ve meant profits for a company. The ‘triple bottom line’ refers to sustainable profits, community and planet – or the economic, social and environmental areas outlined in the Brundtland Report.

 

MARKETING AND SUSTAINABLE DEFINITIONS

Looking at these explanations of sustainability, it might feel like marketing is only really satisfying economic sustainability. It’s designed to help businesses sell more things and therefore increase profits.

However, there’s a type of marketing – known as societal marketing – in which “marketers must endeavour to satisfy the needs and wants of their target markets in ways that preserve and enhance the well-being of consumers and society as a whole”.

This seems like a step in the right direction; marketing which encourages economic sustainability while also taking society and individuals into consideration.

 

The problem with definitions

When I became conscious of my journey in sustainability, I researched ideas like this. I wanted to understand how the way I worked could fit into this – how the marketing I did for my clients could be completely sustainable.

What I found was that these definitions sometimes seemed to be at odds with the pursuit of a sustainable world.

Businesses believe profits have to be made and, for lots of businesses, they have to grow. Yet constant growth is not sustainable or realistic (think of the housing market or the dot com bubble).

Consumers’ needs and desires may not be in accordance with their wellbeing. My desire is to eat pancakes for every meal, but I’m pretty sure that won’t do my wellbeing any good. Similarly, fulfilling their needs and desires might damage society’s wellbeing, rather than preserving or enhancing it.

We can’t predict the future. We can’t know what the needs of future generations might be, not really. We can barely distinguish between what’s necessary and what’s desirable right now, let alone in a future which is utterly unpredictable.

We have four areas of sustainability: economic, social, environmental and human. Which one gets top priority? However much we might try to spin four plates at once, we have to choose one to start with, and one to keep coming back to. Which one will it be?

 

THE KEY COMPONENTS OF SUSTAINABLE MARKETING

With all this in mind – the ‘evils’ of marketing, the diversity of what sustainability is, the challenges the definitions present – I came up with my understanding of sustainable marketing. It is a work in progress (just like life) and as I use it with my clients and teach it to my students it will take a clearer form. For now, here are its key components.

Sustainable marketing satisfies the four areas of sustainable development.

The 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

This includes prioritising sustainable methods of delivering marketing (for example, choosing recycled paper or low-energy event ideas) to limit negative impact.

Sustainable marketing challenges the idea of constant economic growth.

While the marketing practices I conduct do encourage people to buy products from my clients, they don’t do so at the cost of the other three areas of sustainable development. Through my work and client relationships I challenge the idea of constant economic growth, instead focusing on economic maintenance.

Sustainable marketing acknowledges its role and responsibility in shaping the future of a business, a customer and the four areas of sustainable development.

My 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.

Sustainable marketing challenges preconceptions of wants and needs.

The marketing practices and strategic approach I take challenges preconceptions about consumers’ and society’s wants, needs and wellbeing. It avoids relying on received wisdom and seeks to see the consumer and society as a complex whole (rather than a set of demographic data).

Sustainable marketing can be applied to unsustainable and sustainable products.

These sustainable marketing practices can be used for any product or service, no matter its inherent sustainability credentials, as long as the client wants to work in a sustainable way. Saying that…

Sustainable marketing strategically identifies the most sustainable route for a business to take and helps them achieve it.

Through the marketing practices I suggest, my clients are encouraged to take a sustainable approach to their customer and operations. This includes developing products or services which better satisfy the four areas of sustainable development, with the support of other experts.

 

CONCLUSIONS

For many people, marketing is a necessary evil which contributes to our obsessively consumerist culture. It seems to work entirely for economic benefit, despite specific types of marketing – like societal marketing – attempting to benefit individuals and society.

When thinking about doing marketing in a sustainable way, historic definitions can result in conflict between business operations, individual needs, societal wellbeing and the unpredictable needs of future consumers.

Yet I think there are ways we can create sustainable marketing. As my own practices develop, I’ll be able to give you more and more specific examples. But for now, sustainable marketing at its core is about fulfilling the four areas of sustainable development, challenging preconceptions and acknowledging its responsibilities.

Take a look at the way in which you run your own (or your clients’) marketing. Try applying the key components I’ve outlined above and see whether it makes your job easier, more enjoyable and more successful.

 

FIND OUT HOW WE CAN WORK ON MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS SUSTAINABLY RIGHT HERE.
Eleanor Snare 4 Ways to Manage Your Creative Business

Four Ways to Manage Your Creative Business and Keep Your Cool

This year I’ve taken some big (ish) steps with my own business. I submitted my first proper tax return, I redesigned my whole website, added new services to my offer and moved into a new office space.

While none of those things were stress-free, I did them all to make sure that the future of my business – and the way I work – would be as stress-less as possible. Doing all of them made me feel really good. Even the horrors of submitting an online self-assessment resulted in a jump for joy, although the tax bill didn’t.

Here I’ll share with you a few simple ways you can manage your creative business and still keep your cool, even when you feel like you’ve got more work than you can handle. For lots of small and creative businesses, summer can be a quiet time as lots of customers are on holiday; use some of the time to reflect on how you work and maybe rearrange things to make sure your methods are stress-less and enjoyable.

4 Ways to Manage Your Creative Business - a guide for keeping your cool as a creative business owner


#1 Get a workspace to call  your own

For the last year (and more, when I was working full time and freelancing) I worked on my business from my bedroom. My computer was on the desk at the head of my bed, and at the beginning of this year I felt like I only lived in one room – and it drove me a bit mad.

I think there’s a bit of a myth about independent and creative businesses. There’s the dream that you can work from anywhere, like a fancy coffee shop or the park, but the reality is there’s only so long you can make a latte last and glare is the screen-worker’s worst enemy. You end up working at home, and it means you never get a break from work.

If you have the space in your house, dedicate a room to being your home office. When you’re in there, you’re working – and when you close the door at night work is done. One of the best business investments I’ve made has been my office space, because it forces me to focus on either work or play. Getting a workspace to call your own, whether it’s a shed, co-working desk, spare room or kitchen corner, is essential to maintaining a calm creative business.


#2 Use the right tools for you and your business

As a creative business person you will already have a whole range of tools for the ‘creating’ bit of your business – maybe different camera lenses, art materials, props, or whatever. Just as important are the tools you use for the less-than-creative bit of your business; the accounting, project management, diary keeping, and all those underwhelming parts.

Sustainability is very important to me so I have tried very, very hard to use digital tools to manage my business. I’ve tried nearly every free project management tool going, set up multiple schedules on Google Calendar and signed up for plenty of accounting software trials.

Every single time, I come back to pen and paper for nearly everything. I don’t want to – I don’t think it’s very sustainable – but I can’t seem to manage my business properly unless I write things down. I use a Filofax for blog and social media planning, and a small, un-sexy diary for workload and appointments. For accounts, I use Google Sheets and keep my receipts in an envelope. It’s a surprise I don’t have an abacus.

But it works for me. Finding the right tools for managing you and your business is important not just for the smooth running of your business, but because trying to keep it all in your head will definitely lead to stress and anxiety – the absolute opposite of calm. If you’re not sure what works, experiment with different tools for two weeks each as it’ll give you a good idea of what you find most appropriate.

When you work two days a week, this is quite a good to do list. 😎

A photo posted by Eleanor Snare (@ebsnare) on


#3 Make your work (and workspace) healthy

Workspaces are the hottest interior porn on Pinterest; scroll for just a few minutes and you’ll see immaculate white spaces with motivational postcards, shiny Macbooks, plates of pastel doughnuts and probably a pug. Creative workers snap their morning smoothie bowl for Instagram before “slaying it” all day on only an avocado. No-one looks tired.

And yet – so much of it is unhealthy.

Health and safety is not fancy. It’s not cute. It doesn’t come with gold handwriting on. But if you don’t get it right for your business you’ll really suffer.

So when I say these white workspaces are unhealthy, it’s because:

  • They have beautiful chairs – that don’t provide any back support
  • They only feature laptops – which you should only use for 20 minutes at a time
  • They put computer screens in front of walls – which doesn’t allow your eyes to get a rest
  • They don’t include carbs – which may be an exaggeration but no-one can do much work on a bowl of pureed berries

Work itself should be healthy too; you don’t need to (or should be) “slaying it” all the time because you’ve got to leave some of that energy for you, your mind and your body to replenish itself. Don’t crush yourself for the sake of what is – at the end of the day – just a job.

Have a look at the health and safety information that’s most appropriate for your workspace and put it into practice – for example, if you run a shop you’ll have different requirements than a home-worker, or someone in an art studio. Check those aggravating clients you have or some of the high-pressure situations you find yourself in – they won’t lead to a calm creative business or a sustainable lifestyle. And get yourself some plants; they’re the ultimate health improver.

Today, in the studio. Not pictured: chocolate muffin 🍩

A photo posted by Eleanor Snare (@ebsnare) on


#4 Find your team mates

There are some universal truths about working by yourself, or at least most of the time by yourself:

  • You will talk to yourself almost constantly
  • And either mutter or babble at your partner/housemate/friend when you see them after an ‘alone day’
  • ‘Friends’ now means houseplants, and you will name them
  • Some days you won’t get dressed or shower, but you’ll eat biscuits for every meal

Running a creative business often means working by yourself, or at least spending a significant amount of time alone – maybe creating, planning or managing your business. And too much time by yourself with just you and your business for company can be hugely stress-inducing (although the biscuits are good).

Finding team mates who you can share ideas with or grumble to is very useful for developing calmer, less stressful ways of working. Spending too much time with ideas in our own head can lead to anxiety or self-doubt; while your team mates might not like your ideas, they’ll be objective and often much more positive than Your Brain By Itself would be.

Team mates can be fellow creative business owners, freelancers, or people you share your workspace with. There are also plenty of networking and support groups on Facebook, which can be good if you’d like specific advice. My team mates range from seasoned freelancer friends to my sister and partner, all of who prevent me from becoming a hermit and offer excellent business advice.


Those are my four top ways to manage your creative business and help you keep calm, no matter what’s happening: get a workspace, use the right tools, make it healthy and find your team mates.

What else would you add to the list? What’s worked for you?