Let’s face it - sustainability is a huge ongoing trend that businesses are facing today. As more and more consumers are becoming green and want to shop in stores that are congruent with their values, businesses are striving to include sustainability in their marketing strategy. We see them becoming more transparent about manufacturing, reducing environmental impact and showcasing ethical organisational practices. However, many overuse or misuse the concept which defeats the purpose of supporting the environment and the community and results in negative consequences for all.
How? Let me show you.
Digital waste and pollution
Launching digital ad campaigns and running social media accounts to spread awareness of your brand can be great. However, the Internet contributes to 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, which is similar to the amount the airline industry states it produces yearly. The number is also expected to double by 2025. This is largely because marketing is done for the masses as organisations tend to think globally to boost visibility and sales. We receive tons of unwanted emails daily and see numerous ad campaigns on social media that encourage us to follow links, create website traffic and engage with vast amounts of marketing and sales information. Such activity is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions due to the amount of energy needed to run servers and individual devices.
Information overload contributes to mental health issues that many Internet users experience, including low self-esteem and persisting negative emotions. Despite spikes in sales and website visits, it becomes clear that bombarding consumers with information harms both the community and the planet.
Most marketing, even if digital, still promotes consumerism. It is possible to escape offline marketing more than it is possible to avoid pop-up ads, social media posts or recurring emails. The reality is that users are encouraged to shop daily and even if the business is positioned as sustainable, sales of non-recyclable products wrapped in plastic packaging for profit can be hardly called sustainable.
Marketers have vast opportunities to advocate for buying less, yet promoting endless consumerism is often chosen over reducing environmental impact and waste.
Greenwashing and lying to attract green consumers
This concept is defined as falsely marketing a sustainable business to attract consumers who care about the environment. This can include multiple practices to frame a certain appearance and even deceives consumers about paper straws that turn out to be non-recyclable. Similarly, many organisations withhold information about their digital marketing efforts being non-sustainable and largely promote the idea of “going digital” to attract younger consumers. It is also worth noting that sustainability is a global trend and not many organisations want to be left out, even if it means lying to consumers about being green.
How to become more sustainable
The main driver for change is moving away from profits and thinking about the broader picture: the planet, the community and the future. Recent studies show that businesses should try to reduce website traffic, send less emails and load fewer data to lower the impact of marketing on the environment. As well as that, businesses can develop recyclable products and packaging, use carbon-neutral shipping and donate some profits to non-profit organisations. All of this will create distinctive positioning, communicate brand values and create a stronger bond with the consumer.
Digital marketing is in no way fully sustainable or environmentally-friendly. However, there are ways in which businesses can promote sustainability through digital means and advocate for positive change.
The real question is whether you will use green marketing as a way to attract more consumers, or adopt sustainable practices to shape the future. The choice is yours.