Marketing and the 4 Pillars of Sustainability

April 06, 2023

Table of Contents:

What is sustainability?

Sustainability Marketing

When you think of sustainability, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, it’s making a conscious decision about the impact that products have on the environment. One simple example is the shift from plastic straws and water bottles to Stanley Cups, Hydro Flasks, Takeya water bottles and more with the intention to reduce single-use plastics. Sustainability, however, can be broken down into four key factors, including environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, social sustainability and human sustainability. With 79% of global consumers changing their purchase preferences based on a product’s social or environmental impact, brands that focus on these categories and effectively market them have a greater chance of resonating with their target audience while making a difference.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. The United States Environmental Protection Agency pinpoints sustainability to a single, simple principle: “Everything that we need for survival and wellbeing depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.” The ultimate goal of sustainability is to create and maintain conditions in which human beings and nature can coexist to support this generation and those to come. The four specific areas of sustainability mentioned above, including environmental, economic, social and human sustainability, impact one another and each have a stake in the outcome.

A collage of sustainable and environmental marketing pieces with the words "Sustainability. Impact. Future." overlaying the images

Environmental Sustainability

Land, air, water, minerals – environmental sustainability seeks to improve human welfare by protecting the planet’s natural resources. While there are federal and state regulations for aspects of these resources, many businesses and organizations go beyond to support better environmental conditions for all stakeholders. A move that resonates with customers as nearly six in 10 consumers say they’re willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact and are even willing to pay a premium of 35%, on average. Environmental efforts can include reducing consumption and waste, measuring and monitoring carbon emissions across supply chains, advocating for sustainability policies, conserving water and switching to renewable energy. Focusing on consumer wellness with mattresses for better sleep, our client South Bay International focuses on reducing their carbon footprint by reducing plastic wrap around their mattresses, utilizing recycled PE and polyester fibers in their textiles and lessening landfill waste by rigorously testing and providing patented designs to increase product durability.

Economic Sustainability

There are times when our favorite brands garner popularity, get bigger and, on occasion, change ownership. Sometimes as a result of ownership change, the quality of the product shifts. While we’d like to think that it shifts in a good way – getting better as more revenue is generated, this isn’t always the case. When these decisions affect not just the quality of the product but the resources being used to make the product, it has a negative impact on the environment and the long-term viability of the product. This scenario describes the exact opposite of economic sustainability, which economist Paul Krugman defines as “a broad set of decision-making principles and business practices aimed at achieving economic growth without engaging in the harmful environmental trade-offs that historically accompany growth.” Like environmental sustainability, the goal is to consciously make decisions that slow the use of the planet’s natural resources. Economic sustainability replaces wasteful short-term processes and replaces them with options for long-term wellbeing. One example of this is the ban throughout several cities and states, including California, on single-use plastic bags and even non-compostable produce bags.

People in a marketing agency posting Post-its on the window of a glass conference room

Social Sustainability

Social sustainability is a measure of humans’ welfare. Applied to business, social sustainability focuses on the impacts that businesses’ decisions have on people. From an internal standpoint, the way that a company treats their employees and every individual they work with plays into a business’ social license. Unregulated workplaces can result in inequality and weak rule of law, which negatively impact business operations, growth, workplace wellness and happiness levels. From an external standpoint, environmental and economic decisions that businesses make can affect natural resources and individual’s standards of living. Improvements in social organizational systems, accountability of cradle-to-grave life cycle costs and social costs and use of natural, recyclable materials are all ways that companies can promote social sustainability. A framework to help stakeholder better understand how organizations manage opportunities and risks around sustainability issues, ESG or Environmental, Social and Governance, has garnered investment globally. According to Statista, ESG is the most common approach to investing sustainably and requires companies to report on how they deal with important environmental, social and governance topics.

People in a yoga class

Human Sustainability

All three sustainability pillars: environmental, economic and social circle back to health. Humans are at the center of these decisions and directly impacted by each of them. We know that environmental health and human health are interconnected and that the quality of the air we breathe, water we rely on and food we consume impacts our physical and mental health, and that of generations to come. In the healthcare industry, Deloitte analysts forecast a shift in health dollars from care and treatment toward improving health and wellbeing, with activities accounting for nearly two-third of spending by 2040. This focus on wellbeing includes preventative health and early signs of disease. Society’s shift toward wellness is a move toward a healthier population and one that’s being recognized by a variety of industries outside of the traditional wellness space. From a professional standpoint, 64% of workers from a recent Deloitte survey said they would be “more attracted to and remain at an organization that creates value not just for shareholders, but for workers as human beings and greater society as well.” Like creating a thriving company culture, the survey finds that business leaders are taking responsibility to do just that.

Sustainability Marketing

With this all-encompassing view of sustainability in mind, businesses can decide which areas they want to focus on and get specific about their goals. The more specific the sustainability goal, the more attainable it is for the business and impactful for the consumer. Like celebrities called upon on social media to use their platforms for good, companies have the ability to champion a cause and stand behind it – marketing themselves in the eyes of the consumer and making a difference for better. The key is to ensure efforts are genuine, reliable, measurable and made for the right reasons. Through clearly outlined goals and initiatives, partnerships and relevant certifications, brands can establish consumer trust and dismiss any ideas of greenwashing, or marketing unsubstantiated claims to be a sustainability focused brand. To effectively promote your sustainability efforts and reach your target audience, contact Orange Label to learn how marketing can help your brand.

Written By: Ashley Ruiz

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