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What is sustainability seen from the perspective of marketing?

A sustainability orientation can create a competitive advantage within marketing. Watch Dr Maria Sherrington explain more.
In this video, we are going to look at sustainability. And we are going to look for the answer to the question, what is sustainability seen from the perspective of marketing?
On this slide we find one of the most cited definitions of sustainable development. So, The World Commission on Environment and Development, defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
When it comes to sustainability within the marketing context. Lamb and colleagues provide a definition that tells us that sustainability relates to the idea that socially responsible companies will outperform their peers by focusing on the world’s social problems, and viewing them as opportunities to build profits and help the world at the same time. So sustainability is a very popular theory in social responsibility. And what we are looking at here is not simply green marketing although environmental sustainability is a really important component. So, using renewable resources and avoiding any actions that will depreciate the environment. But sustainability within marketing is more than that and the social responsibility by companies around the world is growing in importance.
And that follows from increased pressure from various stakeholder groups. So, for instance, governments, advocacy groups, investors, prospective employees, current employees and customers. So organisations that take sustainability seriously they will see sustainability as an opportunity. Marketing is frequently at the receiving end of criticism. Criticism in terms of its impact upon consumers and upon society as a whole. This slide lists a number of those criticisms. So, for instance, some would argue that marketing creates false wants. So it makes us want to buy items that we don’t actually need and in that sense it fosters materialism in society. Some people would say that marketing inflates prices and it’s a threat to the environment through for instance over-packaging of items.
Planned obsolescence is this another aspect which is frequently picked up upon. So in terms of technology we are continuously being encouraged to update our technical items because our old gadgets are no longer receiving the updates. Also, marketing is being criticised in terms of encouraging us to indulge in unhealthy habits. So, perhaps we are responding by purchasing far too much fast food and that’s not good for our health. So in that sense, people would argue that marketing contributes to the current public health emergency.
When we speak about sustainability within a marketing context, it’s sometimes about discouraging consumption or at least reducing consumption or directing demand elsewhere. And Varadarajan offers this definition of sustainability oriented demarketing. So this type of demarketing relates to the use of marketing tools and techniques to effect changes in consumers’ attitudes, knowledge, social norms and values, and thereby behaviour to promote either cessation of consumption of a product or reduction in the amount of consumption of a product or redirection of consumption. So three different behaviours here, stopping using something, using less of it, or using a substitute product, which may be ecologically less harmful compared to the standard product. Research associated with sustainability within a marketing context has identified an attitude-behaviour gap.
And what that gap refers to is the gap between what consumers say in terms of their attitude towards sustainability-related issues and what they actually do in terms of what they buy, what they own and what they use when it comes to ecologically less harmful substitute products. The explanation for that gap, may just be that the beneficiary is not always the consumer who engages in the environmentally responsible behaviour. It could be other consumers or it could be society at large or planet Earth. When we speak about managing demand in a traditional sense that refers to attempting to increase demand for a product. When we speak about managing demand in the context of sustainability, well, that involves other objectives.
So those may be associated with lowering demand or even eliminating demand. So we speak about demand elimination, we speak about demand reduction or we may speak about demand redirection. So it’s unlikely that a business would want to encourage demand elimination and demand reduction. They will want to continue operating as a business and increase their sales. So what they need to think about is how can they operate in a greener way and actually redirect demand towards more sustainable offerings. So, they need to think in terms of how can they use renewable resources within their production, how can they make production itself greener, could they possibly use sustainable energy to power their production and so on.
To enable societal progress towards environmental sustainability we need progress in other areas. So progress in terms of corporate, consumer and government sustainability responsibility. And just to clarify that a little bit, if we don’t have government commitment in terms of enacting effective policies when it comes to sustainability, consumers are going to struggle when it comes to acting upon their own pro-sustainability attitudes. So for instance, if they want to travel by public transport or if they want to carry out their responsibilities when it comes to recycling paper and glass and metal, and so on, the infrastructure needs to be there in place for them.
The business that is committed to sustainability is likely to pursue a smaller environmental footprint and a larger market footprint at the same time. So this is a business which is trying to ensure that its product and the manufacturing processes it uses is kinder to the environment. And they may well develop a competitive advantage operating in that way and that will help them to increase sales and their market share. As I explained on the previous slide businesses are unlikely to pursue consumption or demand reduction or elimination. They’re much more likely to seek consumption or demand redirection because they’re in the market in order to make profit.
So what these types of businesses try to do is to ensure that their product and their manufacturing process is greener, by using better, greener components within their products, by using renewable resources and so on. But this way of operating depends upon other parties within the macro environment. So it depends on government rewarding sustainable behaviour and investing in green technologies. It also depends on us as consumers showing our responsibility by engaging in sustainable purchasing. A business model which is sustainable in character enables what’s called collaborative consumption or shared consumption. And what this means is that not all of us actually need to own products. Sometimes it’s enough for us to purchase the use of a product.
And that’s something which happens within the Sharing Economy, which we will have a look at later on in this course. A couple of examples of consumption or demand redirection. So, on the left we have the reusable shopping bag that we take to the supermarket repeatedly rather than a one-use plastic bag. On the right, we have the consumer who chooses to travel by public transport rather than using her own car.
Green marketing is a form of marketing that pays specific attention to environmental sustainability, and it avoids any actions that may depreciate the environment. Lamb and colleagues define it as the development and marketing of products designed to minimise negative effects on the physical environment or to improve the environment. One of the brands that we will be looking at on the course is a brand of backpacks, whereby the particular backpack is made out of recycled plastic bottles. This product is likely to have a very long lifespan and at the end of its life it can be recycled. So that would be one example of a commitment to green marketing.
To conclude this video, sustainability from the perspective of marketing recognises the world’s social problems as opportunities to realise profits and help the world at the same time. It may involve demand elimination, reduction or redirection. And we know from this video that companies tend to go with the third option, so that of redirection. And finally, sustainability from the perspective of marketing relies on consumers for its success, although we know that there is the potential of the existence of an attitude-behaviour gap because consumers don’t always do what they say they will. Thank you for your attention. This week we are going to explore a range of company initiatives aiming towards sustainability.

Managing demand for a company’s offering represents one of the principal tasks of the marketing function. This often involves the pursuit of marketing strategies with the objective of increasing demand for a product. This video explores how managing demand in the context of the sustainability imperative may see marketing strategies with the objective of lowering or even eliminating demand. However, businesses are most likely to pursue ‘demand redirection’, whereby environmentally more sustainable products substitute for ecologically harmful products.

You can download the deck of slides below, which you may find helpful for referring back to.

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Responsible Marketing and the Fundamentals of Corporate Social Responsibility

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