Future marketers – the key to business sustainability and success
22nd April 2022
Author: Kemi Ogunyemi
Today, organisations of all sizes may be responsible for more than they realise. Responsibility starts with sustainable strategy that accompanies products and services from ideation to commercialisation. Today's consumers increasingly want marketing information that covers the social and environmental consequences of the product and expect marketing messages themselves to be ethical.
A company's marketing philosophy drives all of its departments and functions, so, getting it right, especially with respect to ethics, is fundamental for a responsible and sustainable firm. In addition, dishonest marketing runs the risk of loss of credibility and is therefore not sustainable. Short-term gains, for instance those associated with greenwashing, can easily be outweighed by possible consumer boycotts that could lead to bankruptcy. Many consumers tend to prefer good quality and socially reputable products regardless of their cost.
People around the world are looking to companies to change the way they manufacture, produce and market their products to reflect the global recognition that the world's resources are currently not being equitably and sustainably consumed. A good number of companies are 'eco-branding' their products, choosing to have third parties audit their processes, and/or are partnering with sustainability-oriented NGOs and CSOs. Obvious areas where companies can increase their sustainability credentials include using recycled or biodegradable materials; adopting new processes that save energy or water or that produce less waste; ensuring fairness to workers along the supply chain; and increasing the efficiency of their logistics.
How can marketing drive sustainable consumption?
Establishing moral standards for marketers so that they truly contribute to the common good is essential. At all stages during the development of new products or the re-innovation of existing ones, it is necessary to consider the concept of sustainable development. With a genuine focus on sustainability, a brand can improve its image and (very likely) subsequently its productivity and profit.
A problem marketers may face is consistency within an organisation. It may become difficult to stick with a commitment to sustainable marketing, either because there is still a huge market for non-green products and services, or due to unwillingness to take on the initial costs of ensuring the products and services are green. Marketers, along with product developers and managers, will need a strong sense of responsibility that ensures that their efforts are a force for good and are not merely focused on profit-making.
Marketers who nudge consumers' consciousness, using genuine messaging about the sustainability of their products and services, are also raising awareness of sustainability issues, so consumers can make even better choices in the future. Increasing sustainable consumption is a win–win for both parties. Let's imagine a small example, where a piece of information is given on a restaurant menu about a dish being locally sourced. This influences consumer choice, leading to more sustainable food consumption, reduced carbon footprint, and increased profits.
How can we educate sustainable marketers?
Students need to learn about marketing responsibly, ethically, and sustainably. Ethical considerations should be built into even the most basic modules of a marketing course or seminar. Course leaders must also incorporate additional segments on consumer ethics, environmental impact, and social equity to their programmes. An example is including ideas about using nudges and boosts to influence consumer behaviour positively, along with an understanding of when to apply either of these. In this way, students learn that marketers can encourage customers to be responsible.
Encouraging student group work to discuss, investigate and present ideas in the three areas of consumer ethics, environmental marketing, and marketing for society is a good way to encourage research into, engagement with, and ultimately the adoption of ethical practices. Recent marketing tools, concepts and trends, and new business models that incorporate sustainable and ethical elements, should also be incorporated into marketing courses. One example of this is the use of sustainable value proposition models for planning. Sustainable marketing case studies should be integrated into all courses as they are excellent for provoking discussion, reflection, and the adoption of new ideas.
Business as a force for the common good
Despite global progress in responsible, sustainable and green marketing, the credibility of genuinely green products has been damaged by the practice of greenwashing products that are not as sustainable as they seem. There are no generally acceptable standards to measure product greenness, and so dishonesty may pass undetected (Lal 2015). Regulators, aided by researchers, need to come up with the way to authenticate the greenness of goods and services. This is particularly important to avoid exploited green consumers losing interest in both the affected products and in other sustainability initiatives (Davis 1992).
In less regulated areas, industries could establish collective self-regulation such as developing methods to ensure high ethical standards despite the lack of laws or of enforcement. Multinationals based in more regulated environments could ensure standards are followed in all areas in which they operate, including throughout their supply chain, and so lead by example.
Through the marketing function, managers must orient their company's internal dynamics towards embracing both business goals and the common good by taking all stakeholders into consideration, and by creating sustainable value to be shared by all.
About the author
Dr. Kemi Ogunyemi is the Director of the Christopher Kolade Centre for Research in Leadership and Ethics at Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria.
Kemi holds a degree in Law from the University of Ibadan, an LLM from University of Strathclyde, and MBA and PhD degrees from Pan-Atlantic University. She currently teaches business ethics, managerial anthropology, and sustainability management at Lagos Business School.
Kemi's consulting and research interests include personal ethos, work-life ethic, social responsibility, sustainability, governance, and anti-corruption action.
Davis, J. J. (1992). Ethics and environmental marketing. Journal of Business Ethics, 11(2), 81-87.
Lal, R. (2015). Restoring soil quality to mitigate soil degradation. Sustainability, 7(5), 5875-5895.