Marketing ‘lags’ corporate progress on sustainability

Marketers are less advanced on sustainability than their businesses as a whole, so with the backing of brands including Diageo, Mastercard, Tesco and Unilever, the WFA has launched Planet Pledge to help bridge the gap.

Although most marketers believe consumers expect brands to tackle environmental issues, marketing “lags” behind other business functions in making progress on sustainability, according to new research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). The organisation is launching a sustainability framework to help marketers bridge the gap.

The ‘Marketing and Sustainability: Closing the Gaps’ report shows just one in 10 marketers claim to be “well advanced” in their journey towards sustainability, compared to 29% who say their company as a whole is at this stage.

In fact, of the 650 respondents in 34 markets around the world, over half describe their marketing organisation as either “about to start” or still taking “first steps” towards sustainability. Just one third of organisations have sustainability as a KPI on their marketing dashboard and approximately 20% of marketing organisations are not measuring sustainability efforts at all.

At the same time, 95% of marketers believe marketing can make a difference in the sustainability journey and 88% agree consumers fundamentally expect brands to help improve the environment.

Just as marketing is at the heart of our business, so it must be at the heart of our response to the climate crisis.

Conny Braams, Unilever

According to the report, a significant part of the challenge for marketers stems from an organisational level, as sustainability does not sit neatly into an existing function. Marketers cite challenges such as conflicting business priorities (39%), lack of dedicated internal resources (27%) and pressure from shareholders (26%).

Marketers also express apprehension towards communicating corporate efforts even when they have something positive to say. The vast majority (89%) say companies need to be “braver” in communicating their efforts but only a quarter do, in many cases due to the fear of consumer backlash.

Some 16% of those questioned claim to have a good story to tell but are not yet ready to share it, while 47% say they need to improve their narrative.

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Unilever’s chief digital and marketing officer, Conny Braams, says: “Just as marketing is at the heart of our business, so it must be at the heart of our response to the climate crisis.

“Our brands have the power to connect emotionally with people all over the world, to help them make sense of that world and provide solutions to the issues they face. With concerns around climate change at an all-time high, marketers have a unique role to play in communicating the benefits of making sustainable choices and adopting sustainable behaviours.”

Planet Pledge

As a result of the findings, the WFA is urging global marketers to sign up to its new initiative, Planet Pledge. The sustainability framework is designed to put marketers in a position where they can lead brands’ responses to climate change and help consumers act more sustainably.

Through the pledge, CMOs are encouraged to commit to being a champion for the global Race to Zero campaign, provide climate action tools and guidance for their marketers and agencies, harness communications to drive sustainable consumer behaviours, and reinforce a trustworthy marketing environment.

Progress on these goals will be reported annually by the WFA. The organisation expects it may take some time for its members to sign up to the pledge, as signing up to Race to Zero is a corporate commitment that extends beyond marketing.

As the ultimate voice of consumers and consumers demanding companies help address the climate emergency, it’s time for marketers to step up and lead.

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard

However, it claims to have seen “strong support” among its members, while CMOs from companies such as Bayer, Danone, Diageo, Dole Packaged Foods, Mastercard, Ørsted, Reckitt, Telefónica, Tesco and Unilever played a part in the pledge’s development.

“Marketers have not until now been at the forefront of the sustainability journey within their organisations,” says Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard and president of the WFA.

“But as the ultimate voice of consumers and consumers demanding companies help address the climate emergency, it’s time for marketers to step up and lead. The WFA Planet Pledge is a fantastic framework for empowering senior marketers to help address an issue which is of paramount importance to consumers and society. It makes good business sense while making sure we as an organisation do the right thing. Mastercard for one will be signing up.”

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WFA CEO Stephan Loerke adds: “Marketers have been behind the curve in driving sustainability but now is the time for change. The Planet Pledge aims to embolden senior marketers to become climate champions both within their companies and with consumers at large and become catalysts for positive change.”