Marketing for a sustainable future

Those of you who’ve visited this blog before may see a slight change in emphasis in future posts. I’ll be exploring more frequently the personal and professional interest I have in marketing’s role in a sustainable future. Some would say marketing is antithetical to sustainability. As a long-time marketer, I don’t believe that. However, I also know that marketers shoulder great responsibility for supporting companies, products and business practices that are fundamentally unsustainable.

I don’t believe marketing, by definition, is the problem. One marketing executive I know believes in the Peter Drucker objective of marketing: to create and keep a customer. Sounds simple enough. And non-controversial. It says nothing about creating demand for material products we don’t need and end up throwing away in gigantic landfills. Nor supporting businesses that indulge in wasteful and polluting manufacturing practices. Nor ignoring an economic system that places shareholder interests far above those of the environment and the larger human community.

As marketers, we have choices in who, what and how we market. We can create awareness, build preference and generate demand for organizations and products that do good, or at least no harm. Or we can put our talents in creativity and persuasion to work for the bad guys. I believe it’s time for marketers to awaken to our capacity to change the world for the better and to make conscious choices about how we are going to employ our skills and ourselves.

There are organizations and businesses trying to do the right thing for shareholders, customers, employees, communities and the environment. These are the employers and clients we need to be supporting. If that isn’t a practical option for you as a marketer (since you need a job and income), then do what you can to change the marketing — if not the behavior — of your employer or client. Stand for sustainability, even if you stand alone.

For better or worse, marketers are perhaps the most visible storytellers of our time. The stories we craft and publicize are meant to move people to act, and very often they do. The question we must face is whether the actions we instigate support or jeopardize a sustainable future. If you don’t know the answer, then consider the physician’s maxim: First, do no harm.

April 3rd, 2008

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