Why is marketing missing from the sustainability agenda?

David Whiting
David Whiting Associates

In the 1980s there was a first flowering of what came to be called 'green marketing', but it foundered on the rocks of too many unproven claims and ineffective products, which began creating consumer cynicism. Despite initial appearances, we are almost certainly not currently witnessing a repeat of this experience but something much more profound that will have a more revolutionary impact on business and marketing as a profession. Business leaders are discovering that they need to consider a spectrum of issues, which until a few years ago, would have been regarded as either irrelevant or at best peripheral to the main task of increasing shareholder value.

Companies are under pressure from many directions to become more sustainable – from governments, NGOs (non-governmental organisations), investors, customers and end consumers. Employees, too, are focusing attention on sustainability and corporate responsibility. Sustainability has become a compulsory subject on MBA courses – it used to be elective – while children are being educated at school about the subject. The media is filled with stories about climate change, the depletion of rainforests, water shortages, the need to change future energy sources, etc. The weight of scientific opinion gives us no more than ten years in which to make significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid reaching a critical tipping point.