45 percent of 18 – 24 year old UK adults place environmental issues at number two on the nation’s list of biggest problems.
And citizens are acting on these concerns. Almost every year since 1999, the UK Ethical Economy has seen year-on-year growth across all sectors. Solid evidence that sustainability is at the top of consumer priorities.
To capitalise on the growing consumer environmental agenda, retailers of sustainable products/services need marketing campaigns which target ethical shoppers.
Green marketing, sometimes called sustainable marketing, aims to do this. By advertising why a product or service not only fulfils a need, but is also the environmentally friendly alternative, new customers can be engaged.
In this article, we run through green/sustainable marketing to help SMEs understand what it is, how to implement it, and why businesses that care about the environment need to be using it.
What Is Green and Sustainable marketing?
Sustainable marketing is an opportunity for ethical businesses to gain new customers by advertising products and brand environmental credentials.
The product is the driving force. Consumers want to know if what you’re selling has been manufactured in an eco-friendlier way, whilst still being the solution to their problem.
Green marketing highlights what sustainable materials have been used, where these materials were sourced from, and how they themselves were produced.
It lets customers know whether the product has been designed with a circular economy in mind. Can it be reused, repaired, or recycled? Does manufacturing use materials sparingly?
And, for e-commerce in particular, it demonstrates eco-responsible packaging — 36 percent of UK consumers have switched products due to packaging concerns.
But what if the product is a service?
In this case, sustainable marketing tells eco-minded customers that you get the job done whilst looking after the environment.
Does your service produce less carbon emissions than competitors? Is energy-efficient equipment used? If your service requires products to be purchased and installed, how sustainable are these?
Each of these questions helps consumers determine how sustainable your business really is, and can make or break your environmental reputation.
The second aspect of sustainable marketing is green business marketing. By shining a light on the business itself, potential customers can also identify with values and culture, strengthening the marketing campaign.
Green business marketing divulges any third-party scheme affiliations such as tree planting or certifications. It advertises any improvements to delivery services resulting in less carbon emissions. And, it sheds light on the supply chain.
Consumers don’t just want greener products, they also want ethical processes. The Nielsen 2015 Worldwide Global Sustainability Report shows that 56 percent of consumers want products which also create social value.
Green marketing is environmental communication. It tells existing customers that what you do now is better for the environment than what you did before. And it shows potential customers that what you do is eco-friendlier than what competitors are doing.
What it isn’t is embellishment and mistruths about your business’s eco-efforts. This is greenwashing, which if exposed, can ruin your business’s sustainability reputation.
The Importance Of Green And Sustainable Marketing
Failing to engage the target audience — ethical consumers — gives an upper hand to competitors who are communicating their environmental niche effectively.
So without sustainable marketing practices, eco-friendlier companies will struggle to reach their sales potential.
Tech giant IBM’s 2020 study of over 18,000 people in 28 countries, shows that 45 percent of consumers say that ‘environmentally responsible’ brands are of ‘very high importance’ to them. Of these, over 70 percent are willing to pay up to 35 percent more for greener products.
Statistics like this are linked to growing concerns about climate change. And with scientists predicting worsening consequences, as well as millennials arguably being the most environmentally conscientious generation, it’s unlikely that sustainable consumerism will take a back seat.
This means that sustainable marketing doesn’t just engage the right audience, it engages an audience that’s willing to pay more, and is also going to grow in numbers.
How To Apply Green & Sustainability Marketing Strategies
Creating green, sustainable marketing strategies is no different from traditional ones, and should also be through the medium of sustainable digital marketing.
As a business, you’re aware of your own environmental values and principles. But how do you know that potential customers identify with these? Therefore, the first step is to put yourself in their shoes.
Carrying out market research, or at least finding statistics from existing research, will give insight into what green consumers look for in eco-friendly brands and their products.
As a genuinely sustainable brand, at least some of your findings should already be represented in your product and/or business operation.
But market research will also highlight areas of your brand that may not be in touch with eco-consumer priorities. This is your chance to make any possible further changes.
The bigger picture — consumers want to see brands taking the climate crisis seriously — proven best by actions. Green marketing should only be the advertisement of actions already taken.
Once armed with market research, it’s time to decide what to advertise. Ideally, your research should have turned up answers specific to your product/service. And so the bulk of what you advertise should address these.
Eco personal-care brands are a great example of how to do this. Global consultancy firm Kline, reported in 2016 that the UK personal-care market saw eight percent growth on the previous year, with consumers wanting more ‘natural’ products.
Therefore, eco personal-care brands should spearhead green marketing with relevant, product specific information such as:
- Alternative natural ingredients used in products
- Comparisons with less natural competitors, using facts and figures wherever possible
- Benefits of these healthier ingredients
Although product specific information is paramount, leave room for more general product information as well.
‘Big Four’ consultancy firm Deloitte, reported in 2020 that 43 percent of consumers have chosen brands for having used sustainable packaging and that in the last 12 months, 61 percent of consumers limited their single-use plastic consumption.
Combining product specific and general product information such as packaging details makes for a compelling green marketing campaign that addresses sustainable-consumer high priorities.
Successful SME Green & Sustainable Marketing Examples
Many environmentally-friendly UK SMEs have successfully used green marketing to their advantage.
One of the better knowns is Rapanui. A clothing company, they’ve used social media marketing as well as several insightful videos on the company website all with a driving message of sustainable fabric use.
With annual web sales estimated between one and five million pounds, their marketing has clearly paid off.
Lil Packaging e-commerce packaging is another highly successful example. The SME struck large when in 2008 they began producing eco-friendly packaging for books. Shortly after, they were suppliers to over 500 book retailers, including the world’s largest.
By marketing their products as biodegradable and also resource efficient, Lil Packaging met the e-commerce market need for environmentally friendly packaging.
These SMEs are examples of how small businesses using the right green marketing principles can replicate, albeit on a smaller scale, the success of world leading ethical companies such as Patagonia.
At the heart of any successful green marketing strategy is good communication from a brand who genuinely cares about its environmental impact.
So, for a successful green marketing campaign, make sure to include the key points we covered:
- Be transparent
- Conduct market research
- Only advertise provable information
- Highlight both product-specific and general product information
- No embellishments or greenwashing
and your brand eco-authenticity will shine through, proving to consumers that you want to profit responsibly.