The topic of sustainability has become ubiquitous. We are increasingly aware of global environmental degradation and social inequity. Can marketers contribute to the goal of sustainability?
Sustainable marketing practices require a ‘triple bottom line’ approach to decision making. This involves environmental stewardship (maintaining and renewing ‘natural capital’), social stewardship (well-being of all humans) and economic viability (valuing financial continuity over profit). In other words, sustainability replaces the contemporary celebration of economic growth with a new ethic of sufficiency and attention to what is enough and what is too much.
Traditionally, marketers have focused on satisfying their organisation’s financial goals by achieving ongoing customer satisfaction. Other stakeholders, such as local communities and ecosystems, rank much lower in priority. However, there is evidence that this is gradually changing.
Emerging from the Northern Rivers are innovative entrepreneurs developing successful businesses around the theme of sustainability.
Two such entrepreneurs recently showcased their business models at the North Coast Innovation Festival launch. Cate McQuillan of mememe productions has created an award-winning and world-renowned children animation series dirtgirlworld, which inspires children to reconnect to earth’s living systems. Hogan Gleeson’s Nimbin-based Urban Ecological Systems is “feeding the burgeoning urban populations of the 21st century – sustainably, securely and profitably”.
Another inspirational model for positioning on sustainability is that of Sydney-based Japanese restaurant Wafu. Founder, chef Ichikawa, offers 30% discounts to patrons who eat all the food they order. If you do not leave clean plates, you pay full price and won’t be welcome back. Overconsumption (ordering more than we can eat) and consequent wastefulness are deliberately being challenged while business profitability is potentially being restrained.
There is a range of other ways in which marketers can apply sustainability principles. Develop products that ‘re-enchant’ people with sustainability; that is, provide sensory, emotional and spiritual ways of connecting with earth’s living systems in recognition of disenchantment with modernity (the movie Avatar does this beautifully).
Cradle-to-cradle design is another sustainable product development strategy in which the disposal of one product becomes the ‘nutrients’ for the next product, eliminating waste.
Full cost accounting is relevant to pricing strategy, as it reflects not just the cost of materials, labour and promotion, but also environmental costs during production, consumption and disposal (eg, the depletion of carbon-based fuel reserves and carbon emissions), as well as social costs (eg, health problems related to working conditions). ‘Reverse logistics’ relates to product placement and focuses on determining the most efficient channels for redistribution of recycled materials. Sustainable promotional strategies include educating about sustainable consumer behaviour (eg, refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle), demarketing (reducing the demand for unwholesome products) and communicating genuine environmental performance to all stakeholders.
Moving toward sustainable business practices is akin to developing successful new products. Both demand the anticipation of future needs rather than just responding to expressed needs. Therein lies an opportunity for the marketing industry to play a bigger role in the sustainability solution.
Furthermore, sustainable business practices force us as consumers to deeply examine our own lifestyles. We might despair that our lifestyle is not as low-impact as we wish it to be (eg, we commute by car rather than bike, public transport or walking). Yet this is a healthy tension. It helps us search for imaginative sustainable solutions as we encourage business to move toward these solutions by exercising our purchasing decisions carefully.
Tania von der Heidt is a lecturer in marketing at Southern Cross University.