Marketers around the world are finally realizing that they have a key part to play in delivering a sustainable future and brands that meet consumer demands.
That’s the key take out from Sustainable Marketing 2030, a new report conducted by Kantar’s Sustainable Transformation Practice and the World Federation of Advertisers.
The function certainly has a lot of work to do with the largest share of respondents globally (39%) still only taking the first steps in on their sustainability journeys.
The new study argues that some data will get worse as the size and scale of change required dawns on marketers. Capability gaps are cited as a challenge by 35% versus 20% in 2021, when the WFA last looked at the issue, for example.
More broadly, such findings reflect the fact that as people become more aware of the response needed, they understand that what their organizations are currently doing is not enough, despite making meaningful progress. As a result, organizational confidence is down with fewer performing in the top bracket, from 29% in 2021 to 15% in the new study.
Setting the future of sustainability through marketing
There are also some more positive numbers and insights in the study. Marketing often has the budget and authority to better activate sustainability compared to sustainability departments or other functions in isolation.
There’s a greater ambition to transform, with 90% of marketers agreeing that sustainability agendas need to be more ambitious and 94% saying we need to act more bravely and experiment to drive transformative change. This is reflected in more brands now having sustainability as a KPI in their marketing dashboards – up from 26% in 2021 to 43% in 2023.
Additionally, despite the fear of being accused of greenwashing, 82% say companies need to be braver in communicating their sustainability efforts and 41% of brands now say they have a sustainability story and are proud to communicate it, compared to 25% in 2021.
Fifty-four percent agreed with the need to educate people about their choices and actions, reflecting the insight that marketing must seek to drive and normalize new sustainable behaviors – both internally and externally.
Leveraging innovation and creativity
The key question for many companies, will be what’s stopping marketers delivering? The top five challenges cited by respondents were focused on organizational issues; lack of internal resources, perception that sustainability is expensive, a P&L that factors in planet and profit; and a robust way of measuring progress.
Thirty-five percent of respondents saw a lack of allocated internal resources as a challenge with 35% citing marketing's knowledge and skills gap on sustainability as a concern – and organizational mindset –32% of respondents said that sustainable solutions are perceived as costing more and that this presents a challenge to progress.
The lack of a P&L policy that treats planet and policy equally to profit is another challenge and presents a barrier to progress according to 35% of respondents, while 30% said that the lack of a transparent and robust way of measuring progress was proving to be an issue.
Progress will also require marketers to leverage innovation and creativity to make a difference, with innovation cited as the No. 1 opportunity to drive transition (57%), followed by new business models (55%) and educating consumers at scale (54%) making up the top three.
The solution is circular
Making the shift a circular understanding of value presents an opportunity for marketing leaders committed to driving new ways of thinking and acting, with 44% agreeing that the organizational value chain holds opportunities that marketing can benefit from.
For some brands, partnerships have the potential to play a key role in driving the pace and scale of change required, for example.
But perhaps most encouragingly the message from the study is that 90% of marketers around the world agree or strongly agree that the sustainability agendas must be more ambitious if brands are to have the scale of impact on the timescale its needed for people and the planet.
Sustainable Marketing 2030 is based on both quantitative and qualitative research with 18 in-depth vision interviews with Global CMOs and 10 interviews with sustainability experts as well as responses from 938 senior client-side marketers across 48 countries around the world, including a wide mix of territories, company size and categories. Research was conducted between October 2022 and March 2023.
Get a copy of the report Sustainable Marketing 2030 here