Episode 89: Deep dive into sustainable marketing

Episode 89: Deep dive into sustainable marketing

Consumer behaviours driving sustainable marketing

This podcast will:

  • Explore how to create sustainable communications that resonate
  • Delve into the current sustainability landscape
  • Demonstrate why marketers must think sustainably
Podcast transcript

Ben Walker 00:03

Welcome to the CIM marketing podcast. The contents and views expressed by individuals in the CIM marketing podcast are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the companies they work for. We hope you enjoy the episode. Hello everybody and welcome to the CIM marketing podcast. I have hope you had a good Christmas and a good winter if it is possible to have a good winter. Spring has now spring as evidenced by the torrential rain outside window and we are back and we are back with one of the Great's of the CIM Marketing podcast. Miss Gemma Butler. Gemma, how are you? I'm good. Thank you for a flooded more Hall. We're back at Moor Hall. It's fantastic to be here. And Gemma, as you'll know, if you are a seasoned listener to this show, was former Director of Marketing here at CIM. And she's now working again with CIM, as an educator in the area of sustainable marketing. So what better way to start our spring season? And I've already been in touch with you all indirectly by reading your article in the latest catalyst about green hushing. And it struck me. It is quite ironic that we're here to talk about sustainable marketing. We want people to talk more about sustainable marketing. We want people to do more about sustainable marketing and lots of companies you're telling me in your recent article, have stopped talking about sustainable marketing?

Gemma Butler 01:33

Well, green hushing is, a choice organisations are making not to make green claims or talk about what they're doing in relation to their sustainable agendas for fear of being called out for greenwashing. We have seen a rise over the last two years of green claims, an explosion in fact of green claims and whilst the majority of greenwashing is generally unintentional, greenwashing is now subject to stricter regulations, tightening of guidelines around certain terms you can use and that has pushed organisations back to essentially not want to talk about it. But greenhushing is as damaging as greenwashing in some ways because it slows down progress and education and awareness.

Ben Walker 02:20

Could you even argue it's more damaging because green washing, although it's empty promises, at least it's raising the agenda of the Sustainable marketing, and it's a negative, it's a bad way of doing it, but at least it's putting on the agenda. And what seems to be happening from what you're telling me is in boardrooms, people are saying, if we make this claim, and we can't properly stand it up, we can't properly substantiate it, we're going to be in a lot of trouble. The easiest thing to do is just not make the client not do anything and not say anything.

Gemma Butler 02:48

I think it's more complex than that, in terms of the breadth and complexity of the subjects of sustainability. I think what organisation is doing, if you start with the evidence, and then work back and what claims you can make from that you should be completely sound in terms of, you know, the green claims you make, I think what organisations are doing is thinking that they have to fix everything now. And that's impossible. You know, there's so much decarbonisation biodiversity, you know, all of these different elements packaging waste that they need to deal with. And I think what they're saying is, we won't talk about any of it, because if we come out and talk about our decarbonisation targets, we'll get called out for other things. And I think there's this balance, you know, there is no 100% way to be sustainable.

Ben Walker 03:32

It's impossible. That's quite interesting, isn't it? So what you're saying is that there are areas in which companies are doing good and doing well. And there are some areas and this applies probably to every company in the world where they're not doing as good and aren't doing as well. And there's this phenomenon, where if they start shouting about the things that are doing well, which actually you want to hear about, because it's best practice and other companies can follow it. The blogosphere, the internet, etc, etc. Social media will then say the things that they're not doing well, so they put their heads above the parapet, and they get shut down. In fact, in many cases, they are doing some good things, but because they're not on a universal good behaviour, very easy to shoot them down.

Gemma Butler 04:13

And that's the world we live in sadly, today, isn't it?

Ben Walker 04:16

So how do we combat that as marketers?

Gemma Butler 04:19

I think this is where we need to go back to looking at why we exist as organisations and our purpose. I think it's really important when you are there with sustainable marketing, there's marketing, sustainability. And I think it's really, really important that we broaden out the narrative and as marketers, we go beyond our products and services and we look at how we can have a conversation about this as an ongoing conversation. You know, marketing sustainability is not a campaign and it should never be approached as a campaign. We have to have this consistent conversation. And only through having that dialogue and that shared value and that two way conversation can we talk about things and talk about our progress and be transparent. I think transparency is probably the number one thing that organisations need to be around their sustainable agenda. You know, Lego tried something, and it didn't work. And they came out and said, it wasn't going to work. And it didn't work. And there was a whole, you know, load of people that jumped on that. But they were brave enough to say it didn't work, I think the next step is to come out with what they plan to do next around,

Ben Walker 05:23

That's quite interesting, isn't it. So as long as you start by establishing an ongoing dialogue with your customer, you can be pretty honest about what you're doing well, and you can be honest about what you're doing less well. And you can actually have a conversation with the consumer about how you can improve those areas. And you're less prone then to just being shut down as if you stripped me about what you were saying was that it should never be a campaign. So if we don't, we're going to do a campaign to show how green we are, then you are putting your head above the parapet and to be shot down, because it's a sort of of one hit that trying to do it in one hit. But if you're having an ongoing, consistent dialogue with your customer, you are much less prone to those sorts of attacks.

Gemma Butler 06:07

Absolutely as I said it, it can't be approached as a campaign, because you will essentially lose the essence. The focus has to be on sustainability. If you're talking about sustainability, not that you can make a claim about sustainability. Therefore, by understanding your own impacts within your organisation, having a sound Sustainable Development Plan, and they can change and they do change and targets move in and out. And things don't work and things do work. But unless we have these open and honest conversations, I mean, look how if sustainability was easy to solve, we would have solved it by now. But it's one of the biggest conversations happening in the world today. It's one of the biggest challenges we face as humanity. And we have to start talking about it.

Ben Walker 06:51

Do you think there are any or many companies getting that get the difference between treating it as a campaign and treating it as a conversation?

Gemma Butler 06:59

I think there's many companies out there that do understand absolutely, and they are pulling together sound and strong, sustainable agendas. I think there is just this barrier when it comes to talking about it within society, which is where marketing comes in, you know, raising that in ESG that we seem to be hitting a bit of a wall.

Ben Walker 07:19

So what would be your measures then to overcome that? Do you think automate the conversation model the default rather than the campaign model, which we know is very flawed.

Gemma Butler 07:29

I think from a start point, marketers need to educate themselves on what's happening, you know, in the broader operating environment, because there is so much changing, you know, consumer behaviours are shifting what they want, we're seeing that people want to live with purpose, we're seeing that people want to shop with purpose. And we need to look at that action, intention, action gap and how we close that. So I think marketers need to get educated and understand the wants of the markets, which is their role. And they need to bring those insights back in as the connective tissue between the organisations and society. And then I think within the organization's they need to understand what's happening on their sustainable agendas, you know, and work with the sustainability teams or whoever is, You know, responsible for that. And then sit down and think about the ways that they can have that dialogue, more sharing less broadcasting. And I'm not saying that you can't do a campaign on sustainability. But where I would come in with that is you look at things like social marketing, where you have that ongoing campaign that runs consistently at certain periods. But then look at what you do on your social channels, how do you talk about things, you know, social impact companies do this brilliantly. They talk about everything from their products, how they're made through to how you get people to engage or more sustainable behaviours, like, you know, refill, and recycling. And all of those, you know, models around circularity, you know, not going to change the narrative overnight, but I think you have got to plan ahead and think about how you keep this conversation going. It's interesting, isn't it? Because you've spoken in the past about things I've heard from you. There's this tension, at the moment in the market between awareness and understanding. So awareness is increasing amongst the consumer, and also amongst marketing industry, but understanding is not necessarily increasing or certainly not increasing at a quick enough rate. And what I mean by that is, people are aware of the problem. They're very, very cognizant of the problem, but they're not always clear, as marketers or as consumers what they need to do to solve the problem. Yes and it's really interesting because that trends, so Deloitte ,Kantar, Porter Novelli,and an agency called Savanna have all come out with the same trend, which is awareness and concern around climate change is growing and growing at quite a rapid rate. And rightly so. It means you only have to look out of your window, and it's affecting everybody across the world. But a lot of the research that's coming out around terms associated with sustainability and sustainability terms is still incredibly tough and if you think about the terms NetZero, circularity, carbon neutral and carbon offsetting, they're quite technical terms. I was having conversation just yesterday around the fact that do consumers actually have to understand what these technical terms mean? And I would say, No, because as marketers, we should be the ones to almost explain and interpret those terms in a way and translate them into a way that that consumers can understand. So instead of talking about circularity, we talk about reuse, refill, repair, all of those things. And then we focus on the behavioural side. So they don't necessarily need to know what the circular economy is, it'd be great if they did. But it is, as you know, you have to meet people where they're at, you have to meet people with something that's relatable to them to get them to engage.

Ben Walker 10:50

There's a lot of professional scientific jargon around this stuff, isn't there sort of that patois has developed that the sustainability experts use? And that doesn't always resonate with the consumer. And that's a problem because you're hitting a brick wall, if they don't understand these terms like circularity, what it means to them in terms of changing their behaviour, we have a real problem? How could you think marketers are so far at making those translations?

Gemma Butler 11:16

I think some organisation marketers are doing it very well. And it's a bit of a willy answer, but others are not thinking about it like that. And I think that's because there's this focus on other things, you know, AI is also a massive conversation. There's a lot of distractions out there. But I think those that are doing it well, are effectively, you know, using the right words and language. And again, I go back to the social impact companies, if you look at the likes of who gives a crap, Tony's Choc-Aloni, too good to go and OLIO. Just the words and language they use in relation to sustainability, they don't use the S word. They don't talk about sustainability. They literally talk about behaviours, you know, Too Good to go talk about rescuing food. I think it's a really lovely way of talking about something you know, they're saving 300 odd million meals, as opposed to we're tackling food waste, you know, so what do I do to get to go so too good to go take food that is about to go off its sell by date, or they work with with, the likes of the coffee chains, independent retailers and independent cafes and things like that. And they work with them in a partnership whereby food that is going to go off they bag that up in not too good to go themselves, but they will get the independent coffee houses and such. They bagged that up and then they sell that off through the app. And people go along and collect those bags of food. They're almost like blind bags, you don't know what you're gonna get.

Ben Walker 12:43

So it's similar to what you get if you sort of want me going to the supermarket at nine o'clock at night, which exhibits the qualities you often get these sort of bins where there's a whole bunch of bread and so on and so forth that you can get from thruppence. And if you don't buy that evening, it gets destroyed. Yes. So they're actually automating that process and amplifying that process so they can get that stuff out. You mean not working with the big multiples the big supermarkets as yet?

Gemma Butler 13:08

Well, I mean, when we interviewed Jamie Crummey, the founder of too good to go. He talked about the fact that they've removed the stigma from the yellow labels in supermarkets, people are now proud to go and rescue food. When I go into the supermarket with my daughter, I say she would go and rescue some fruit and vegetables, and it's a really great way to engage with, but they are they have amplified it but they've also just started or not just recently they announced their partnership with Unilever. They work across Europe with massive, massive retailers. They are growing and they are doing things in different ways. But they ultimately are tackling food waste.

Ben Walker 13:48

It's interesting, isn't it that the language that you use, that makes a huge difference? Rescuing food, rather than collecting waste food, or reducing waste. It just sounds more visceral. It sounds like a positive step. It's outside of some it's fun to do that you're going to benefit from. So great example of how marketers who introduced better language to change behaviours. But we're still a long way on we know from getting the making that the norm.

Gemma Butler 14:20

Yes, we absolutely. John Grant said to us, we need to stop trying to make normal things seem green and make green things seem normal.

Ben Walker 14:30

So if we're going to do that, as marketers, we need first of all to make people aware of what is green and what is not. And when we were talking pre podcast, you said something to me, which absolutely resonated because I think it's one of those things where people do not realise they're having an impact. You know, I think people know that if they're chucking food away at home, that's not green. They know if they're buying items if there is more packaging than food that's not green. And they know that buying stuff that contains lots and lots of chemicals that's not green. But what there are a whole bunch of activities that happen day to day, which people aren't even aware of how big environmental an impact they are having.

Gemma Butler 15:13

I think you're talking about marketing's carbon footprint, aren't you? And I don't want to put too fine a point on it. So there's marketing sustainability, which is how you talk about your products and services and what your organisation does, and the purpose and you go beyond those products, services, then there's sustainable marketing. And that's aligning your marketing to the organisations sustainable agenda and supporting it. But that's also making sure that your marketing activities are sustainable. And for example, when we interviewed the Environment Agency, every department in the Environment Agency has a carbon budget, exactly the same as a finance budget, you get x amount of carbon, and if you go over that you can't do any more activity, or you have to borrow it from another department, or buy it from another company. So when we talk about marketing's carbon footprint digital now has, if you look at the numbers, and believe the numbers, and they do they do vary slightly, but ultimately digital, not just digital marketing, digital as a whole sell the streaming and the videos and the service and everything has a bigger carbon footprint than the aviation industry.

Ben Walker 16:39

Goodness me. So that everyone who's listening to this podcast has heard that, that digital has a bigger carbon footprint than the aviation industry.

The latest figures I saw was around 2.5% for the aviation industry about 3 to 3.5. For digital.

Ben Walker 17:02

I'd think that if you took 100 people off the street and ask them that question, you would probably get something close to zero people thought that that would be the case that it was outstripping aviation.

Gemma Butler 17:12

I mean, think about the power that AI requires. And it's only going to get more power hungry, or intense should we say. But if we think about it from a marketing carbon footprint perspective, the majority of what we do in marketing is digital. Why? Because of the reach because of the eyes. And because the fact that you know, in many cases, stuff like email marketing, doesn't cost an awful lot of money you can reach a lot of people in one go, everything in the world has a carbon footprint, okay? And emails have a tiny carbon footprint, but we send last year we sent 322 billion emails a day.

Ben Walker 17:53

How many of those were read, I think, to the poem.

Gemma Butler 17:56

I think something like the latest click through figures is down under double digits and the bounce rates over 10%. And if you imagine your own email habits, how many people have email boxes that are just dedicated to spam? How many people sign up to stuff that they never ever read? The waste is catastrophic, if you add all of that up, and there's loads of debate over whether email is damaging, or isn't damaging, but ultimately, if you were to put a cost against every email you sent, you would have a very different behaviour. So why do we not associate the same thing with carbon websites as they are the same so I looked at figures where it's estimated 576,000 websites a day are created, only 15% of websites are active across the world. And then we've got to think about things such as, our advertising all of this comes with a carbon footprint associated with it. So you know, we do a lot of work with marketers around greening your channels, do you even consider the impact your marketing is having and actually as marketers we should be looking at the impact of what we're doing is having naturally to see if it's having any cut through but I think the world of digital has opened up this spray and pray approach hasn't it? You know, you throw enough spaghetti at the wall and hope that some of it sticks.

Ben Walker 19:34

It certainly has opened up a spray and pray approach. We don't necessarily think that's a good thing in terms of marketing outcomes, nevermind sustainability outcomes, but it does strike me that if you are trying to make those changes, you are looking at a huge culture shift in this sector that you've got to affect, where do you start?

Gemma Butler 19:53

I think we go back to the basics do we have right message, right audience, right time and apply those. And I think we just need to be much more mindful of our activities, and this is where we also have to marry up out of home versus wood, there's, an interesting organisation called uni feeder who do a carbon calculator, and they have looked at the cost of traditional channels is higher in terms of monetary cost, the cost of carbon, when it comes to digital, it completely flips that on its head. So I just think as marketers, it's something to consider when absolutely we need to be thinking about how we green our channels, we need to be thinking about the activity and also reducing that noise as well, which we've been talking about for years, you know, there is so much noise. We are served ridiculous numbers of ads every day, the numbers vary, depending on which which report you read, but ultimately, when there's something like a nought point 2% click through on ads, that's a lot of waste. And I think, like the demand side emissions that marketing is responsible for people purchasing products and the waste of that those products generate, I think we have to look at our digital waste because it's it's off the charts.

Ben Walker 21:08

It is interesting as we've moved from a sort of an attack on merch, you know, actual physical waste that people can see. And that's in many ways easy for people to understand that, going to a conference to get a bag of plastic goods, those plastic goods sooner or later end up in landfill. People can see that that's wasteful. And to some degree, we as an industry reduce that this is harder to envisage in your mind. Because you can't see it, is it ultimately going to come down to the heavy hand of regulation that governments are going to have to say to companies. As you say, you've got a certain carbon budget, you've got so many employees, you've got this as your turnover, this is your budget, and you've got to stick to it. And once you've run out of that budget, you can't continue any activities unless you can find budget from somewhere else.

Gemma Butler 22:00

I'm not sure that the government would be able to do that. I think organisations need to take responsibility for that. I think there's a lot of organisations out there who because of scope, one scope two scope, three emissions and those organisations that have decarbonisation targets, there's very much you know, when they go out to tender for business. Unless the organisations that come in to to, want to bid for that business don't have decarbonisation targets, they're not getting past the first gate. So I think this is where within the business world pressure between organisations is going to hopefully come into play. Because your scope three emissions are basically out of your there, your supply chain, they're all of the things that's outside of your control. Therefore, you can work with somebody, if they are not looking at their emissions it could blow your scope three emissions. Likewise, marketing, if they're not aware of their own carbon footprint, it could blow the organisation scope one emissions, because it is essentially not aware of the emissions that it's putting out there. So we talk about the fact that the need for marketing to support its organised sustainable agenda goes beyond just talking about sustainability and what the organization's doing, there is that physical carbon budget there that they also need to be aware of and support?

Ben Walker 23:28

It's fascinating, isn't it? So the market is the market, the market is starting to work in some regard there with ESG reporting, as you say, and the fact that if you're a supplier, you are contributing to your clients own carbon budget. And if you are the client, you also have your own carbon cap your own carbon targets to do to deal with so everybody in that supply chain is contributing to each other. And it becomes a commercial imperative, presuming that's the great hope is that that commercial imperative becomes ever stronger as we move forward. And that almost the market drives this rather than having to rely too much on government regulation.

Gemma Butler 24:08

Yes, and I think there is a place for regulation, but we shouldn't be waiting to be regulated into doing the right thing.

Ben Walker 24:15

Yes. Well, let's talk about yours. Fascinating stuff. You're working with CIM Academy, you're working separately. Partnering with CIM, as an educator in the area of sustainable marketing. People want to take one of your courses, and they're going to need to know this stuff for the reasons we've discussed. What sort of courses you are offering, what are you doing?

Gemma Butler 24:33

So I teach for CIM Academy on their sustainable marketing qualification, along with can marketing save the planet? We are partnering with CIM on a range of online courses, ranging from two hour bite sized courses up to eight hours for our full courses and you know, they're accessible, they're scalable, and we cover topics such as effective sustainable communication, greenwashing. And they're just there, they are there essentially, to educate marketers to make them aware and to enable them to do sustainable marketing and market sustainability.

Ben Walker 25:12

And presumably, it enhances their understanding greatly in a relatively small space of time. So it's for a small amount of learning, they can enhance their understanding very quickly.

Gemma Butler 25:20

Absolutely. And we absolutely as marketers need to place a responsible lens over the work we do, ask a different set of questions. But to do that, we need to be more aware. And we need to, as Seth Godin said, when he came on our podcast, to, first of all, we need to talk about it, but to talk about it, we need to understand it.

Ben Walker 25:41

We need to understand it. And there's a separate point here isn't there that if you, once you gain that understanding, as marketers, you are able to communicate that understanding better to the rest of the business, which, of course, is a key role of marketing in so many areas, you've got to manage up, you've got to manage sideways, you've got to be able to know that stuff to communicate it. And sometimes that's a great challenge, isn't it for marketers?

Gemma Butler 26:04

Absolutely, I mean, if you don't understand your organisations sustainable agenda, and it's not being talked about internally in internal comms are just as important, then how can you effectively talk about what you're doing externally? And I think that's a really, really key point you raised there, because you know, marketing should be working with HR as well as the sustainability department, should we work with the HR departments on how do we break down that narrative and start that conversation internally? Because everybody's roles, no matter which department you work in, has sustainability in them?

Ben Walker 26:34

What are the key mechanisms to make the CEO listen to make the CFO listen to make the CHRO Listen. What are the key tools? What are the tricks to get that communicated across?

Gemma Butler 26:44

It goes back to the age old, we have to build a business case for it. It's all well and good saying that this is the right thing to do for the planet, this is the right thing to do for society. But that will not ultimately get the buy in. It has to also be a good business case. And I think you can bring in the pressures from investors, from consumers wanting you know to live more sustainably. And I think you can bring in the employees.Employees want to work for organisations that are aligned to their values. And there is a huge amount of climate quitting happening at the moment. And if you look at the latest report from Deloitte, Gen Z and millennials they will walk away from organisations or not accept roles. Organisations are not taking sustainability seriously. So there is the stakeholder chain, there's pressures at each each stage of that stakeholder chain, I think it's really incumbent on organisations, if they want to get the best talent and retain that talent, they have to take this seriously and they have to be seen to be doing something about it. So building that business case for the boardroom, there is plenty that can go into that business case. From a regulatory point of view, from a stakeholder pressure point of view. But also good business is good for business. You know, there is so much evidence out there that those organisations who are taking sustainability seriously and are making much more profit. But it's not just about making profit, often we forget that if you are more sustainable, you are also more efficient, and there are a lot of cost savings to be made as well. So we need to put all of those different lenses over this, which we call a responsible lens, and just asking a different set of questions.

Ben Walker 28:23

You're optimistic for the future.

Gemma Butler 28:27

So my business partner is incredibly optimistic. I am incredibly pessimistic by nature. But I am optimistic and I think that there is no better placed person than an aware and educated marketer to drive a more sustainable future.

Ben Walker 28:42

Well that's a great call to arms. Gemma Butler, thank you very much indeed. What an amazing conversation.

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Ben Walker Host CIM Marketing Podcast
Gemma Butler Course director CIM
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