We are in a climate and ecological emergency. Don’t just take my word for it. 11,000 scientists signed a declaration in November 2019 saying as follows:
Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.” On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.
An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis (IPCC 2018) BioScience
We have very little time left to radically transform our economies and societies. If we don’t succeed, we will see global temperatures rise far enough to do untold damage. If we do succeed, we also stand a chance of building a fairer, more human and liveable society. And whether we succeed or not, just the attempt could be a hugely worthwhile adventure.
There are environmentalists who wish marketers would simply stop. Stop selling more stuff. Stop fuelling lifestyle aspirations. Stop lying. Stop addicting people to sugar, shoes, screen time. Stop putting a friendly face on industrially produced crap. Stop ‘innovation’ that is pointless and wasteful. Stop wrapping everything in plastic and graphics. Stop promoting things that destroy the world, like gas guzzling cars or cheap commodities that result in extensive deforestation.
One answer to our critics is a simple shift. We need to eradicate cynicism from marketing. And adopt sincerity. It’s not what we do, or even the way that we do it, so much as why we do it. Sincerity means that we want to change - not just because the public are clamouring for it - but because it’s the right thing to do, consistent with basic human values.
Hence, we need to invert the marketing mindset.
The mindset used to be one of strategic insincerity – ‘it’s all just a game’ – wrapped up in a serious pretence of aspiration, political correctness or whatever fashionable attitude sells more and looks good. We used to conflate fripperies like laundry conditioner or countline bars with all the pretension of advertising, complete with Oscar style creative awards for 30 second films.
Now we need to have strategic sincerity – acting for the right reasons, with a core purpose – wrapped up in much bolder, more inventive, playful, humble, collaborative and open campaigns. So that we bring people with us. And so that the destination is worth getting to.
Once you are sincerely committed to a marketing that makes a positive difference, there are plenty of helpful trends that will support your efforts.
First is the public appetite for change. Any change. A new generation have taken to the streets across the world to protest things ranging from climate to food prices. People feel the system is loaded against them. Public opinion is excitable and electrified by social media. One documentary about ocean plastic can change what is acceptable in waste, packaging, retail. People want change. That’s the underlying force splintering politics - driving voters to both Trump and Ocasio-Cortez. Something has to give. The world seems broken and needs fixing.
Secondly business leaders are becoming open to radical change too. Because of the climate crisis. But also, the growing public anger at the inequality of a system that only benefits a few and is putting intolerable pressure on everyone else. Even the Financial Times is calling for a ‘Reset’ of Capitalism and the reform of business to accommodate social purpose.
Thirdly the public will now pay for sustainable alternatives. Unilever showed that its Sustainable Living Brands – those supporting positive change for people and planet – grew 69% faster than the rest of its portfolio in 2018 and delivered 75% of Unilever’s overall growth. A comprehensive study of 71,000 products by NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business found that those marketed as sustainable grew 5.6 times faster than those that were not.
Eco used to mean niche. With authentic brands sold at a premium. AllBirds is one recent example - selling 1 million pairs of shoes with uppers made from wool rather than plastic. But while VEJA, Allbirds, VivoBarefoot and others cater to conscious consumers, Adidas sold 11 million pairs of their ocean plastic Parlay trainers. That’s several billion dollars of sustainable shoe sales in only a few years. An example showing that mainstream brands can play too.
This book covers the new wave of environmental and social marketing, innovation and business. It’s a sequel to my Green Marketing Manifesto. In 2007 when that book came out, we had seen what the Financial Times called ‘a wave of eco marketing’ (12/2/07). Al Gore’s movie The Inconvenient Truth had spiked climate concerns. Everyone from GE (Ecomagination) to Toyota (the Prius) to Ariel (Turn to 40) was jumping on the green marketing bandwagon. My book was an attempt to make sense of what was working and why. The book concluded that green marketing is about making green things seem normal, not making normal things seem green. Meaning that green-minded companies should avoid greenwash (presenting themselves as greener than they were) and instead focus on radical green innovations and behaviours, then use marketing to persuade people to adopt them.
In the intervening decade, green and climate concerns went away. Other news stole the headlines, like the global financial crisis and Arab Spring. IPSOS MORI found that the population concerned about climate change in the UK fell from a peak of 82% in 2005 to only 60% in 2013. By 2019 this had risen again to 85%. Public concern is back, riding on the awareness generated by the climate protests. And it has developed. For instance, a much higher proportion now perceive climate change as an issue affecting them personally. Global climate strikes and the Green New Deal are not the only focus. Single issues have pressed for attention; like the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 documentary series which sparked global concerns about plastic waste; or like the #metoo awakening to issues of equality, diversity and fairness.
A lot has changed in 12 years. We have seen a shift in modal verb: from should to must. Those that don’t respond now will likely be punished, whether by carbon taxes, share valuation, boycotts or simply falling out of favour. You don’t want to be one of the companies that still wraps everything in excessive plastic then stacks it in open fridges, nor one of those fashion brands that isn’t committed to no fur. Any more than you want to be a company with no women on the board, nor sheltering abusive executives. Now is not the time.
That need to move with the times is the first imperative of Greener Marketing – covered in the first section of this book – which is to be Not Bad. Companies need to show, for instance, how they will reduce their own carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. BP has been mandated (in a 99% majority vote) by their shareholders to do this. I’d say this is the new baseline. Your operations must be on track to halve carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 2010 levels (and to halve your environmental footprint – given the many other dire crises in water, biodiversity loss, deforestation…). And then reduce them to net zero by 2050.
The 2050 part isn’t easy. Technologies to achieve this may not even yet exist. But you will only find them in time if you set the objective and start the search now. The private sector is great at this sort of thing. Setting a stretch goal then devising strategies to reach it. Companies can also be good at transparency and owning up when they don’t achieve their targets.
682 leading companies have signed up to Science Based Targets. Meaning they are setting goals that conform to the 1.5/2℃ targets of the Paris Agreement. This includes companies that you probably knew were progressive like Danone, Unilever, IKEA, British Telecom, Seventh Generation, HP, Natura – and ones that you perhaps didn’t know were like Walmart, Nestle, Burberry, Sony, Levi Strauss and Zurich Insurance. Science Based Targets is rapidly becoming the way to show that you are serious. Although measurement is no substitute for action.
Given the pressure from governments and publics, companies can no longer afford to be just Not Bad and to report some reduction in the harm that they do. The new sustainability standard is being Net Good – which is covered in the second section of this book. Net Good means the world is a better place for your business existing. Everything has a cost, in energy, emissions and entropy. But there can still be ways to bring enough ‘good’ in some parts of your business to cancel out or justify any inevitable ‘bads’ from the raw impact of your operations.
A key implication of Net Good for brands and businesses is the need for a social purpose. So that the aims of the business become two-fold; commercial success and social purpose success. Unilever in its 2010 Sustainable Living Plan defined its purpose through three key objectives:
By 2020, help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being.
By 2030, halve the environmental footprint of our products as we grow our business
By 2020, enhance the livelihoods of millions of people as we grow our business.
Purpose has increasingly become a factor in marketing as well as corporate objective setting. Unilever CEO Alan Jope told journalists at the Cannes adverting festival that:
We will dispose of brands that we feel are not able to stand for something more important than just making your hair shiny, your skin soft, your clothes whiter or your food tastier.
Greener Marketing is defined in this book as integrating sustainability and social purpose – building brands and businesses that are both Not Bad and Net Good.
This is no longer a niche or an afterthought. The Green Economy may be as central to business strategy in the coming decades as the Digital Economy has been in the last decades.
There are fresh debates to be had on how and whether to advertise your sustainability efforts.
This book is far from the last word. But it seemed high time to respond to what is happening all around us. To capture the stories of pioneering case study brands and campaigns. To educate the marketing community on issues like transparency, the rebound effect and the circular economy. And once again to sift through what is working, why and how to apply it.
To which end, the last section of the book covers specific tools, strategies, processes that are tried and tested in my own projects. And also offers a hasty summary of some recent creative marketing campaigns and initiatives that came out in response to the climate crisis in 2019.
This is an edited extract from Greener Marketing by John Grant. Published by Wiley it is available wherever books and ebooks are sold
Read more of John Grant's articles in Sublime Magazine
Greener Marketing packed with inspiring case studies, insightful research and useful frameworks and approaches - a thumping good read and roughly 1/3 the CO2 impact of my award winning (2007) Green Marketing Manifesto - available in all good booksellers and on uk amazon (or amazon US from Oct 6)