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How to create sustainable marketing: from strategy to marketing mix

by Adeline Ochs

Over the past years, sustainability has become increasingly central to all stages of marketing, from strategy, designing to implementing. But how can we ensure that marketing further evolves to effectively integrate the challenges of the ecological and social transition?

Moving from traditional marketing practices to sustainable ones means using both power and influence to develop and promote production and consumption models that are compatible with the limits of our planet and the social issues attached to it. It is therefore a question of integrating the environmental and social impacts into the heart of the marketing strategy and the brand’s mission, which can then be applied to all the dimensions of the marketing mix (or the four Ps of marketing – product, price, place, and promotion).

From a strategic perspective, sustainable marketing translates into a brand’s commitment to society, notably through the development of a relevant, meaningful, and credible raison d’être, but also through the definition of objectives and KPIs, which are consistent with the brand’s environmental and social challenges.


Within the marketing mix, the sustainable nature of the product offer is paramount and central. This implies eliminating offers with high environmental and social impacts and developing and promoting sustainable ones. This development is part of an ecological and social approach, notably through product lifecycle thinking. Lifecycle analysis considers the social and/or environmental impacts of all the stages in the life of a product, from the extraction of raw materials to the end of its life. 

For example, the lifecycle analysis of a smartphone shows that its primary environmental impact occurs in the extraction and use of raw materials phase. Marketing should focus on bringing solutions to this problem. A good example is Fairphone, a Dutch company that designs and produces smartphones with the goal of having a lower environmental footprint and better social impact than is common in the industry. They also sell spare parts for their products, which means that the lifespan of their phones can easily be extended.  


Developing a fair pricing policy is necessary for a coherent global sustainable approach and to ensure that the products sell. What is a fair price?  A “fair” pricing policy includes two important aspects:
 – upstream price justice, i.e., fair pay for people involved in the value chain and the financial compensation for hidden ecological costs. 
– downstream price justice (as perceived by consumers). In the eyes of consumers, does the price of the product reflect its fair value? Transparency and honesty are one of the levers. For example, the American fashion brand Everlane breaks down all its costs on its website to provide total transparency to consumers.


The place where the product is sold, and, the way it is delivered, is another variable of the marketing mix. Distribution holds a crucial role for moving towards greater sustainability as distributors are at the interface between producers and consumers. Again, we see two aspects to this:
– upstream of the value chain, through discussion channels (short vs. long circuits), selection and relations with suppliers (product sourcing, negotiations, support, partnerships, etc.), logistical transport (supply, consumer routes, product returns, etc.)
– downstream of the value chain, at the heart of the (virtual or real) purchasing points: through the assortment of sustainable offers and the location in the (e-)shop, communication at the point of sale, the policy of reducing waste (e.g., bulk, deposits, etc.).Sometimes, companies might opt for choice editing, which consists in eliminating a range or category of products deemed to be unsustainable. For example, the French company Botanic, a specialist in garden and household-related products, has removed all chemical pesticides and fertilisers from its shelves.


The final element of the mix is the promotion of the product or service. And to do so, effective, and responsible communication is essential if we want to go beyond greenwashing and promote a new image for sustainable products.

To avoid greenwashing, brands must respect the rules defined by national advertising authorities. But they can go further by promoting new ideas, concepts and images helping to convey new ideals and lifestyles. Why not promote sharing, soft mobility (cycling, walking, etc.), or inclusion? A good example is the leading outdoor clothing company Patagonia who famously ran an ad in The New York Times on Black Friday telling people, “Don’t Buy This Jacket” to address the issue of consumerism and to it head on. 

However, this does not guarantee the effectiveness of responsible communication. The question of the credibility of the message is central. Some messages can give rise to scepticism, so it is paramount that it should have provability, transparency, humility, and credibility.Finally, let’s not forget the eco-design of digital marketing campaigns, and crucially the reduction of their environmental impact and footprint. 

The road to sustainable marketing is not easy: it requires brands to make profound changes to their business models, and to help consumers change their consumption practices. Nevertheless, marketing is in an ideal position to participate in the promotion of a more sustainable world. And the power it enjoys can be used to encourage a positive impact on society and the environment.

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Adeline Ochs

Professor of Marketing at Audencia. She specialises in sustainable marketing and is the author of "Marketing durable" (Pearson)

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