Saving plant Earth seems like an impossible task for your average individual. How can recycling your plastic bottles or wearing reusable face masks make an indent in the mammoth challenge ahead to save our planet from a climate and pollution disaster?
Yet somehow when faced with a global pandemic crisis such as COVID-19, the issue of addressing sustainability through global collaboration and determination is seeming all the more possible.
According to the World Economic Forum the pandemic has helped increase awareness that companies must focus on long-term sustainability over short-term profits. But how does this descend through businesses down to a departmental level, and specifically UK marketing teams?
There is an “I” in team
I’m sure you too have developed a more profound appreciation of the great outdoors over the last 12 months, enjoying wildlife, nature and our beautiful countryside. Suddenly, when time outside is restricted and you can’t escape the intense work/home bubble that we now live in, you realise how stepping outside can make you feel positive, and this in turn creates a change in our behaviour.
A Mckinsey & Company survey found that consumers became more engaged in sustainability topics during COVID-19, with 88 percent of respondents believing that more attention should be paid to reducing pollution. Consumers were found to start changing their behaviours during lockdown with 60% going out of their way to recycle and purchase products in environmentally friendly packaging. As marketeers, we’re wired to develop campaigns that result in some form of behaviour change and what better example of this than the pandemic. So, what’s stopping us tackling more worldwide issues?
Will this change in behaviour filter through into marketing roles?
It’s no secret that marketing departments have been notoriously bad at considering sustainability. From printing endless marketing collateral that ends up in the bin to manufacturing pull up banners and pop-up stands with a one-time use at live events, I think it’s now time we moved sustainability higher up the priority list for marketing teams.
If, as consumers we care so much about recycling, sourcing sustainably and reducing plastic use, then there is hope that these people will be driving it up the agenda in their professional roles too. They are the individuals that form a marketing team, they have the ability to create change for their brand and their customers.
A marketing director at an asset finance client of mine recently said: “We have seen an increase in sustainability awareness over the last couple of years and we have had to take it into consideration in our marketing too. We do look to source more sustainable, environmentally friendly products (giveaways) for the number of events we plan. mainly due to our own developing awareness on the topic but also due to customer demand.”
It seems change is filtering through but could this mean the end of printed collateral and production of comms materials?
Digital marketing cannot be the only way
Digital marketing is phenomenally influential and there is no doubt it has really come into its own during the pandemic but – is moving to digital only the answer to sustainability for marketers?
In essence no. We are human beings, and we crave physical interaction and face-to-face contact. We simply cannot create the same levels of customer and employee engagement with just digital communications. There is a need for tangible marketing that you can interact with, be it during a meeting, on an exhibition stand or at a conference.
The role of a UK marketer has to consider both, digital and physical marketing communications, but in a ‘sustainable first’ way. It’s time to be creative and think sustainably, consider the use of recyclable materials in packaging and keep designs simple – think Primark with their wrapping-paper bags!
Plan collateral and marcoms tactically to ensure it has multipurpose and longevity, and only send physical comms if absolutely necessary, and make it fully recyclable or reusable. With events set to return towards the latter half of 2021, why not use locally sourced, sustainable food and drink at your next corporate gala dinner or explore how your exhibition waste can be recycled when your exhibition stands is derigged? You could even offset your carbon footprint during your next sales incentive by planting trees for every sale made etc. And it’s a win, win too. From a consumer point of view, a brand’s approach to sustainability is quickly moving up the ranks when it comes to purchasing decisions and brand loyalty, and so a pragmatic and well-considered approach to your physical marketing tactics post-COVID is one to consider reputationally too.
That being said, businesses transporting large heavy machinery across Europe for manufacturing and agricultural shows have made sustainable gains by not having to transport goods internationally the past year. This has impacted environmental sustainability and productivity with staff reducing travel and demos and machinery tours taking place virtually using VR technology.
Digital certainly has it’s role to play and I’ve no doubt we will see the continuation of virtual events and comms to ensure it’s as accessible as possible to all.
Marketers are getting younger
Gen Z, today’s teenagers and those in their early 20s, are starting to enter the workforce and for businesses, this is key. As they join your marketing teams and are trained on the job, they will establish buying power. They are the next generation of UK marketers who can choose to think “sustainability first”.
If we’ve learnt one thing from COVID-19 it’s the significant, positive impact our planet can have on us as humans. Gen Z are the future, they are passionate about our planet and they are well positioned to definitely move sustainability higher up the marketing agenda.