A Sustainable Economy: The Potential of Marketing to Create a Positive Change

Céline Craipeau

VP Sustainability

According to the Purpose Disruptors, advertising contributes up to 32% of the carbon footprint of each individual in the UK.* This staggering statistic serves as a clarion call for all professionals in the marketing industry. It underscores the urgent need to overhaul our methods and join forces in fostering a sustainable economy.

In our recent webinar, "A Sustainable Economy: The Potential of Marketing to Create a Positive Change," we were honored to welcome three outstanding guests from across the industry to explore how marketers can reshape their roles and practices to drive a more sustainable future.

  • Sarah Sutton, Global Head of Media at Oatly, spearheads the brand's mission to catalyze a plant-based revolution. Despite navigating a complex institutional landscape and lobbying influences, Oatly stands out for delivering a sustainable dairy alternative while showcasing unparalleled creativity.
  • Gerald Breatnach, Head of Insight at Google UK, brings fresh perspectives from his studies in Sustainable Leadership at Cambridge University. Committed to redefining the role of CMOs in today's world, he advocates for impactful change.
  • Matt Bourn, Communication Director at the Advertising Association UK and co-author of "Sustainable Advertising," collaborates with Sebastian Munden to provoke critical discussions on brands' responsibilities in driving the sustainable revolution.

Key Takeaways:

Marketers hold the power to make a great difference when they work in companies that have sustainability at their core:

  • When interviewing CMOs for a memoir in the context of his Master's degree on Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University, Gerald found out that strong leadership at the very top of the company and shareholder involvement are essential for CMOs to be able to champion sustainability - at Oatly for example, Sarah mentioned that the CEO doubles as the Sustainability Officer, embedding a deep commitment to fighting climate change.
  • As Gerald said, “you can’t look at marketing in a vacuum,” marketing is servicing other industries, so it needs to support the development of the more sustainable brands out there.
  • “Accelerating sustainability in other parts of the economy is the 21st century brief” concluded Matt, inviting us all to reflect on advertising's emissions.
  • But to be able to achieve that, CMOs need to be properly equipped and be given permission to lead such transformation.

Sustainability experts and marketers need to work together more closely:

  • Sustainable initiatives thrive when they are integrated throughout the organization rather than isolated - in many companies, sustainability and marketing teams still barely talk to each other.
  • Sarah shared the critical importance of working hand-in-hand with sustainability experts to be able to deliver accurate, valuable information to consumers in a way that also counters the disinformation that many lobbies are spreading.
  • Although it’s important to deliver complex information in a digestible way, you do not need to make it ‘simple’ - people are way smarter than marketers sometimes think.

Creativity is a catalyst for sustainable change:

  • Creativity can bridge the information gap about the environmental impact of our consumption behaviors by helping people fully understand and digest complex information regarding the environmental impact of products and services.
  • Sadly brands are growing more reluctant to talk about environmental issues as they fear it may be seen as greenwashing, noted Sarah, and although it’s great that everyone is being careful with their claims, we need to keep building narratives that enable collective change - that is why we will need to be more fearless in the future.
  • Creativity is vital in combating misinformation and fostering actionable change because as Sarah brilliantly says: “people need a good laugh, not a lecture.”

Marketers still need to figure out how to measure the impact they are making:

  • Some CMOs have integrated sustainability metrics into their main dashboard but it’s still very rare.
  • Matt Bourn highlighted that there are many indicators that can be relevant depending on your business model, ranging from the carbon emissions of your media distribution to your impact on switching consumers to circular products that avoid excessive waste.
  • And of course environmental metrics are not the only ones we need to take into account, companies also need to put people’s well being at the core of their action, and for that the triple bottom line management system can help.

In Conclusion:

This discussion underscores the power of individuals, urging marketers to initiate change within their spheres of influence. Despite the complexities, transformative action is essential for building a sustainable future. As change often unfolds in a nonlinear way, each effort contributes to a broader movement towards meaningful progress. Therefore, even amid initial frustrations, taking action now lays the groundwork for future success.

In the foreword of John Elkington's latest book,** Hannah Jones highlights the nonlinear nature of change. She describes it as building in waves, often punctuated by tipping points before significant exponentiality occurs. While some may perceive overnight success, true transformation is messy and relies on coincidences, timing, and groundbreaking innovations. Therefore, it's crucial to take action now, even when progress seems slow or frustrating. Trust that your efforts will eventually yield meaningful results.

For further reading check out Sustainable Advertising - How advertising can support a better future, written by Matt Bourn and Sebastian Munden.


*Advertised Emissions Temperature Check 2022, Purpose Disruptors

**Elkington, John. Tickling Sharks: How We Sold Business on Sustainability (English Edition) Fast Company Press.

View the full webinar

Webinar: A Sustainable Economy: The Potential of Marketing to Create a Positive Change. With guest speakers from Jellyfish, Google, the Advertising Association, and Oatly.

View the full webinar

Webinar: A Sustainable Economy: The Potential of Marketing to Create a Positive Change. With guest speakers from Jellyfish, Google, the Advertising Association, and Oatly.