Maria Andrews: Embrace sustainable marketing for post-covid recovery

After two weeks of intense media coverage throughout COP26, public interest in sustainability issues has never been higher. Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s (CIM) charity and social marketing group, Maria Andrews, discusses how charities can capitalise on this interest to thrive in the post-pandemic landscape.

Earlier this year, nearly 600 organisations from across the UK responded to a survey for the Respond, Recover, Reset: The Voluntary Sector and Covid-19 project, which explored the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector.

While it warned of projected declines from all income sources, a drop in funding is not the only challenge for charities as we head towards 2022. They also face demands to be more sustainable, to respect the environment and to deliver on their visions.

The good news is that addressing one issue could help solve the other.

CIM recently conducted a survey of 2,000 UK consumers which revealed an expectation for companies to be doing more when it comes to sustainability, with 63% of adults agreeing brands should increase communications around the sustainability of their products and services. Charities are not exempt from these expectations, and are being challenged by funders and supporters to do more with less.

A separate survey by UNiDAYS of Generation Z, found 93% believe brands have an obligation to take a stance on environmental issues. Given Gen Z – the next generation of charitable donors - has just shy of £105 billion in spending power, marketing your environmental policies are a potentially lucrative strategy.

Many not-for-profit organisations are now taking action to demonstrate that they take sustainability seriously. Arts Council England (ACE), for example, has announced environmental responsibility as one of its core investment principles. All ACE-funded organisations will now need to demonstrate environmental impacts across programming, events hosting and artistic practice.

For charities struggling to market their sustainability goals or credentials there are a lot of useful resources available. The Chartered Institute of Fundraising has a free publication called ‘Charities working with agencies: a practical guide’. This looks at the key considerations that charities and agencies should think about when fundraising with the public.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has also produced a helpful document - Charity ethical principles - to support charities, governing bodies and those who work and volunteer with them in recognising and resolving ethical issues, including environmental considerations.

These resources can help charities build a robust sustainable marketing strategy, but there are a few steps you can take immediately to boost your green credentials and give your marketers something to shout about.

Highlight that you are sustainable by nature
Organisations that resell or distribute donated goods are already engaged in eco-friendly activity, appreciating the power of reuse, recycle, up-cycle and reduce to reduce our collective carbon footprint.

It’s something the public is becoming more interested in too. The ethical ratings app, Good On You, claims 107 billion items of clothing were purchased globally in 2016 alone. Since then, 84% of this clothing has gone to landfill or been incinerated. Likewise, sustainable media company Green Matters claims 32 million trees are cut down every year due to demand for new books in the US, with 40 million tonnes of CO2 produced in the process.

Advertising that your organisation engages in the collection and resale of second-hand goods is sustainable marketing which requires little to no disruption.

Opt for eco-friendly merchandise
Whilst giving away branded items like pens, notebooks and water bottles is a time-tested method to increase brand awareness, many of these promotional products cannot be recycled or repurposed.

When the UK introduced a charge on plastic bags in 2015, many brands developed alternative packaging which was exempt. Some organisations have taken this process one step further with seeded paper bags; branded, biodegradable bags which can be planted after use.

You can also look for Fairtrade suppliers who invest in lower income countries and rural communities to provide alternative promotional merchandise.

Support claims with statistics
Sustainable marketing is beneficial for the environment and for an organisation’s PR, but even claims by not-for-profit organisations will be heavily scrutinised for their authenticity. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently published its a new “Green Claims Code”, a series of guidelines aimed at preventing false environmental advertising. Therefore, organisations should aim to evidence all sustainability claims, or risk a CMA fine.

Embrace social media
Marketing online and on social media is hardly a new phenomenon and the benefits of these advertising methods are well established.

But reducing the need for hard copy marketing materials such as leaflets, billboards and other marketing materials can also be beneficial to the environment. According to DCI Kodak, a remanufacturer of inkjets and toners, 65 million printer cartridges are sold each year in the UK and 80% are incinerated or sent to landfill. Cartridges can contain plastics which take 1,000 years to fully decompose, whilst some inks are toxic and harm the environment.

Focussing marketing efforts online also makes sense economically, with the National Philanthropic Trust (NPT UK) claiming almost a fifth (19%) of charitable donations come from online sources.

Have a less wasteful website
Whilst a not-for-profit organisations digital presence can be lucrative and improve sustainability, websites can contribute heavily to an organisation’s carbon footprint.

According to Torque Magazine, about 7% of global electricity use comes from the IT sector. Just one email can require enough energy to release 50g of CO2 – more than the average petrol car releases every 100meters.

Organisations can reduce their carbon footprint by finding a sustainable company to host their websites. The physical data centres, which store and process web data, require electricity to function and hosting companies can choose where this energy is sourced from. An ethical supplier can enable organisations to offset their website’s carbon footprint thereby making less impact on the earth’s limited resources and provide another opportunity for a sustainable marketing message to consumers and potential donors to a charity’s website.

From identifying eco-friendly marketing opportunities to setting up less wasteful online campaigns, marketing professionals have the knowledge and skills to guide charities towards sustainability success.

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