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Sustainable marketing: 7 steps to success

According to a 2022 report by Deloitte1, large numbers of consumers are moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle, either by choosing brands and products that they consider to be environmentally and ethically responsible or by shunning those that are not. In 2022, 40% of those questioned said they had chosen brands that demonstrate environmentally sustainable practices or values.

This means that brands have the potential to alienate 40% of consumers if they are not seen as more environmentally conscious than their competitors. Therefore, businesses that sell sustainable products need to adopt a marketing strategy to promote their values and the ways in which the company upholds sustainable practices.

What is sustainable marketing?

Sustainable marketing is not finding a sustainable angle to a product – for example, partially recycled packaging – and asking the marketing department to promote the product as sustainable. Greenwashing is a huge topic all of its own. It is a dishonest strategy that often backfires and causes consumers to distance themselves from the brand.

The pillars of sustainable business are “people, planet and profit”. This triple bottom line provides a framework for businesses and organizations, allowing them to embrace sustainability and regeneration. The concept transforms the traditional approach that focuses solely on the financial bottom line.

Sustainable marketing is a long-term strategy to promote products that tie in with these pillars. It aligns sustainable business practices and social responsibility with business goals and brand values.

Sustainable marketing - coloured bricks

Sustainable marketing strategy examples

The Body Shop’s Refill Scheme is a good example of a successful sustainable initiative. As the name suggests, you can obtain a refillable bottle at a Body Shop store, fill it with your chosen product and return it for refills when you run out. This scheme perfectly aligns with the company’s documented mission to reduce waste, which it is tackling in a number of ways. For that reason and because of the well-publicised ethics at the company’s core, its PR and marketing campaigns have been well received.  These campaigns have targeted both new customers and its loyal customer base.

With every good example comes a bad one. One of the biggest fiascos in sustainable marketing may well be McDonald’s paper straws. Environmental campaigners launched a petition demanding that the fast-food company stop using plastic straws. McDonald’s responded by doing just that. As a reactive move, it replaced all plastic straws with paper ones. This out-of-character initiative and its accompanying PR received favourable publicity – but then two things happened. The straws were so flimsy as to be virtually useless and then it was announced that the straws couldn’t be recycled. Just to confuse matters, the straw manufacturers stated that the straws were recyclable but primitive recycling machinery struggled because of the thickness of the straws. These conflicting statements left customers baffled with regard to the straws’ recyclability.

McDonald’s has since set sustainability goals but it might be argued that this reactive and badly researched initiative was a risky one for a company with such a chequered environmental record. Of course, every company can change its direction and adopt a more sustainable path, whatever its past, but it needs to set realistic goals and work toward a defined strategy.

Sustainable marketing - McDonalds

Sustainable marketing tips and tactics

There are 5 principles related to sustainable marketing; these are consumer-oriented marketing, customer-value marketing, innovative marketing, sense-of-mission marketing, and societal marketing. Where possible, these principles should be at the core of your strategy in order to be successful. With these in mind, you should apply the following tactics:

Start at the beginning and have a clear mission

Don’t be McDonald’s. Your business needs to clearly illustrate what areas it intends to address. As we have seen, reactive action can result in disaster. Ensure consistency in your messaging and involve your marketing team at every stage of decision-making. Involve the team in the mission creation, right through to product development and customer service processes. Making decisions and then just introducing your marketing team to figure out how to market the final products is not a robust marketing strategy for any new venture.

Be sustainable from the inside out

No business is perfect in terms of sustainability. However, practising what you preach engenders trust and loyalty. Assess your water and electricity consumption, your business’s travel arrangements, your waste and your carbon footprint. Companies’ digital carbon footprints are often overlooked and yet your digital footprint is as important to tackle as your physical one. If your customers can see that you are trying to introduce sustainable practices to support your mission, they will view you as sincere rather than another company trying to profit from the sustainability trend.

Sustainable marketing - Coloured eggs inside egg

Be positive in your messaging

It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of climate change and the challenges faced by life on Earth. Therefore, to get customers to engage, it is important to communicate why we are adopting sustainable practices. However, a study by Mintel shows that 56% of those asked stated that statistics about environmental or social problems can be depressing. The report adds; “In sustainability terms, that means selling the vision of how the product will make you feel before hitting you with negative data on what it will address.”2

The Body Shop’s messaging for its refill scheme is uplifting and celebrates the consumer for being an important part of positive change. It acknowledges the serious issues but uses words like “empower” and “embrace”. Never does it use guilt or negativity to enforce a message. This positive delivery is likely to be far more successful than excessive alarming imagery and gloom-ridden language.

Be transparent and truthful

According to Mintel2, 38% of consumers don’t trust companies to be honest about their environmental impact. The author goes on to say, “this demands that we discover what kind of communications and information can overcome this barrier.” While publicising your sustainable achievements, it is unwise to try and disguise the things you’re not so great at. Acknowledge them and include them in your mission.

Also, be extremely careful about your claims. Many well-known brands, including Innocent Drinks, Oatly, Shell, Persil and Tesco Plant Chef have fallen foul of the CMA’s Green Claims Code. Where unprovable claims have been made regarding benefits to the planet, their adverts have been banned. Additionally, if your company is found to be in breach of the Green Claims Code, it may be required to pay damages to any consumer harmed by the breach of the code. Needless to say, your reputation and the trust of your customers could be severely compromised.

Magnifying glass

Put your customers at the centre of your strategy

The principles of consumer-oriented marketing and customer-value marketing are key here. Including your customers in your journey, engaging with them and adding value are important ways to gain loyalty and maintain long-term relationships.

It is important that you think ahead with your sustainable marketing strategy so you don’t lose that opportunity to build long-term value. Creating advocates for your brand will place you ahead of your competition.

Find out what is important to your customers and tailor your marketing accordingly. Continue to listen to your customers’ needs, engage with them and take every opportunity to deliver solutions to their problems. You can add value, not only with your products but also with your content, through communities, blogs and free resources.

Endorsements and certifications

Credibility is king in sustainable marketing. Securing endorsements from reputable companies or key influencers reinforces the trustworthiness of your brand. Also, official certifications demonstrate that your product has been through an inspection process. Sustainability consultancy, Greener Matters, lists 13 sustainability certifications for businesses in the UK. There are many organisations that you can obtain certifications from. Meeting their strict standards shows your customers that you are genuine in your intentions.

Superhero championing sustainability

Champion sustainability

Championing sustainability gets you ahead in building your reputation as a sustainable business. Work hard to get employees to buy in to your company’s mission by involving them as much as possible. Also, partner with other businesses that share your values.

Becoming an authority in your chosen field adds to your credibility. Educating yourself in sustainability and creating content such as blogs, podcasts and guest content will allow your business to be seen as leading the way. Informative and useful content can also form an important part of your SEO strategy. Patagonia and Brewdog both practise championing sustainability and also involve themselves in practical projects, such as planting trees, and other community activities.


Sustainable marketing is rapidly becoming a crucial aspect of business survival in today’s consumer-driven landscape. With a significant percentage of consumers actively seeking environmentally and ethically responsible brands, businesses must adapt and embrace sustainability to avoid alienating potential customers.

Sustainable marketing requires a long-term strategy that aligns with ethical practices, goals, and brand values. By incorporating the 5 principles of sustainable marketing, businesses can effectively promote their sustainable products while engaging customers. Transparency, customer-centricity and championing sustainability are essential tactics for successful sustainable marketing.

By embracing sustainability and implementing a comprehensive supporting marketing strategy, businesses can thrive. They can also influence and encourage other businesses.

1.     Deloitt. (2022) ‘How consumers are embracing sustainability’. Available at: (Accessed: 10 Nov 2022).

2.     Mintel Consulting (2022) ‘ 2022 Sustainability Barometer’. Available at: (Accessed 10 Nov 2022).`2.     Mintel Consulting (2022) ‘ 2022 Sustainability Barometer’. Available at: (Accessed 10 Nov 2022).

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