Marketing & Sustainability

What exactly is marketing? Is it just convincing people to buy products through various media? Billboards, TV commercials, junk mail and magazines filled with advertisements? From the consumer’s perspective, that is how it seems (Kotler et al. 2010, p. 5). But from a business’s standpoint, marketing is viewed very differently. Marketing is viewed as being based on an exchange relationship between a business and its customers, where a business offers something of value, and customers purchase this product, which provides the business with the means to continue producing this item of value (Moscardo et al. 2010, p. 277). Where does sustainability fit into marketing?

In the past, the discipline of marketing has been accused of stimulating unsustainable levels of consumption amongst consumers (Rettie, Burchell & Riley 2012 p. 420). Now with the impact of our overconsumption starting to take its toll on our earth, marketers must reassess its strategies and practices to accommodate the reality of limited resources and the environmental impact our consumption is having on the planet. In order to sustain our valuable resources for future generations, businesses need to re-evaluate their research and development strategies, production methods and financial and marketing practices (Kotler 2011, p. 132). This involves integrating social and environmental concepts into conventional marketing strategies (Peattie & Belz 2010, p. 9). Consumer behaviour

In the chapter by Wells, et al, the relevance of consumer behaviour in marketing is discussed and broken down into the “four A’s” of sustainable consumer behaviour, Awareness, Acceptance, Ability and Action. This addresses a method that can be used to encourage consumers to support and engage in sustainable behaviours (Moscardo et al. 2010, p. 277). Awareness

In order for a customer to buy a green product, they must be aware of the sustainability issues that are being addressed by the product. If you are not aware of a problem, how can you make changes to address it? A study conducted by whirlpool discovered that because its customers were not aware of what CFC’s were, they refused to pay a premium for a CFC-free refrigerator (Kotler et al. 2010, p. 23). Although many consumers remain uninformed about the seriousness of sustainability issues, the number of people considering the environment and social issues when making a purchase is on the rise. A study in Norway in 2011 discovered that most participants were aware of the sustainability concept, which when compared to a similar study performed in 1995, showed an increase in the familiarity of sustainability. It is plausible that this could be due to increased media coverage on the issue and is an encouraging finding for sustainability marketing (Hanss & Bohm 2012, p. 679). Acceptance

In order to want to solve a problem, you need to accept the problem as true and relevant. One factor influencing the acceptance of a particular behaviour is the individual’s level of concern about an issue (Galbreth & Ghosh 2012, p. 128). Is climate change really an issue or is it just another far-fetched theory being hyped up by the media? (Moscardo et al. 2010, p. 284). People believing the latter may be more likely to disregard products promoting their efforts of reducing their impact on climate change. Another factor that can affect a consumer’s willingness to participate in sustainable behaviours is the social acceptability of that action. The social acceptability of sustainable behaviours as a whole is becoming less of an issue in recent times, as environmental consciousness has seen things like locally and organically grown produce become more mainstream (Sheth & Sisodia 2012, p. 77). Personal biases can also play a role in acceptance. Some consumers may believe that products made from recycled materials may be of inferior quality and therefore their performance and reliability would be negatively affected (OECD 2009, p. 46). Ability

Ability refers to whether a person has the means in which to pursue the desired action. Products labelled as “organic”, “biodegradable”, “made from recycled material” or other similar green claims are generally priced higher than conventional products (Kotler et al, 2010 pg 405). Low income earners, students, pensioners and the unemployed may not be able to afford a premium on sustainable products and will buy the cheapest alternative conventional product. Also, not all products on the market may have an available green alternative and therefore the consumer has no choice but to purchase a non-green product (Moscardo et al. 2010, p. 284). Greenwashing

In the text, the issue of greenwashing was addressed and its impact on consumer purchase decisions and on the sustainability market. Greenswashing can be described as “the practice of overemphasising a company’s environmental credentials, often by misinforming the public or understating potentially harmful activities” (Doyle 2011). The practice of greenwashing has led to consumers being more sceptical of products marketed as ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’. This scepticism may result in consumers avoiding sustainable products for fear that the ‘green’ labelling may indicate an inferior product using promises of sustainable resources and production to increase its prices (Rettie Burchell & Riley 2012, p. 422).

One Study in Norway showed that labelling of products was considered the most indicative way to ensure the sustainability of the product and that consumers tended to favour labels in which they were familiar. As there are a large number of eco and fair trade labels used in Norway, customers intending to purchase sustainable products may avoid perfectly good sustainable products due to the lack of familiarity of the label and therefore trust and confidence in the product (Hanss & Bohm 2012, p. 685). Convenience

As stated in the text, convenience and green products are not generally two terms that go together, and there has often been a trade-off between convenience and sustainability. Although rechargeable batteries are more environmentally friendly, It is a lot more convenient to just replace old used batteries with new ones and throw the old ones away. In a constantly moving, time poor world, convenience is highly valued by customers, and sustainable products that cannot match the convenience of its conventional rivals may be unsuccessful in the marketplace (Peattie & Belz 2010, p. 13). Communication

When all is said and done, it all comes down to effective communication. Communication is vital to make consumers aware of the development of products and solutions tackling the issue of sustainability, and how they can meet customer’s needs and be efficiently integrated into their life
style (Peattie & Belz 2010, p. 13). Conclusion

This article effectively examines the challenges presented to companies in the sustainable production and marketing of their products. The movement towards the use of renewable materials is clear, nevertheless, consumers may be reluctant to accept these products for a variety of reasons. By examining the issues confronted by businesses today the chapter addresses the main concepts of consumer behaviour and the challenges for the future. Customer expectations are one of the main considerations in producing and marketing a product. While the author discusses the concept of awareness, one aspect that may have been mentioned is possible strategies a company might use in order to effectively increase awareness and methods for effective communication.


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