These days and over the last 20 years especially, the word “sustainable” has seemingly become more of a buzz word rather than a nuance, especially in the marketing world. As we see more and more greenwashing tactics that make claims or lofty pledges, it’s often difficult to know what to look for when it comes to working with earth-focused marketing agencies and partners.
However, there is a paradigm shift happening with more and more businesses who are seeking agencies and partners who are putting the planet first. According to IBM, a 2022 survey of 16,000 global consumers found that more than half (51%) of respondents say environmental sustainability is more important to them today than it was 12 months ago.
With this in mind, we’ll be exploring how to choose a sustainable marketing agency, things to look for and questions to ask so that you can make the best decision for your organization.
My Own Journey and Discovery of Sustainable Marketing
Prior to running my own design studio, I spent over a decade working in corporate marketing and sales. The moment that sparked my interest in the concept of greener marketing occurred whilst attending an international trade show and conference.
I had spent months creating all of the booth graphics, glossy product data sheets and had invested in thousands in usb drives, pens and other swag with our logos and branding all over them. Toward the end of the first day of the show, I stopped in my tracks when I looked at the attendees walking out the door. All of the tote bags full of marketing materials, catalogs and branded knick-knacks were being tossed straight into the trash! And most hadn’t even bothered to see if any of it could be recycled.
At that moment, it hit me. This was one event, in one city, in one state, in one country. This was happening simultaneously around the world! From that day onward, I was committed to raising awareness around more sustainable marketing practices and vowed to start my own business to help educate other organizations on this topic.
What does it mean to be a “Sustainable” Marketing Agency?
In short, a sustainable marketing agency helps other business, brands and organizations be more intentional with their budget and strategy, prioritizing activities that lessen carbon emissions and have a greater impact on the planet. However, just as many large corporations have been caught for false claims around their sustainability practices, it is important to know what to look for when navigating their search for the right partner.
What to Look For when Choosing a Sustainable Marketing Agency
The rule of thumb that we share with our students is, the more transparency and information that a studio or agency is willing to share, the better. As an important disclaimer, no business or agency, no matter what they claim is 100% green in its entirety. There are always ways we can be working to lessen our carbon footprint, but here are a few guidelines to use and look for when researching and sourcing sustainable marketing agencies:
A dedicated page on their website outlining their own sustainability practices. This may also live on the organization’s About Page as its own section or it may be housed in an annual Impact Report. Remember, the more detail and transparency, the better. Even if they have blanket statement stating that they “care about the environment, etc.” this doesn’t hold the same weight as data that is specific and actionable.
Any certifications that they’ve earned such as B Corp, 1% For The Planet, Green Business Bureau, etc. or any industry-recognized certifications that show a continual, regulated commitment to these practices
Educational resources, articles, or blogs that cover topics surrounding purpose, impact or greener practices
Evidence of charitable giving of time or donations to nonprofit organizations whose mission is rooted in environmental/climate justice or social justice.
With that said, some small business are often doing more than what is displayed on their website. If you don’t see any or all of this information listed publically, I also encourage our clients and students to get in touch with the agency or studio and ask. It is best practice to schedule a quick call or email them a few more questions to answer as well. Depending on their response, it may reveal some information that they haven’t had a chance to include on their website yet. If an agency or studio is truly interested in making a difference, they will be more than willing to share what they are doing and what they are working on improving.
Sustainable Branding and Design
In addition to the topic of what it means to be a sustainable marketing agency, I often get a puzzled look when I tell people that we work with our clients to develop “sustainable branding” So, the way I typically explain it is this: Sustainable branding is a two-fold concept.
Our mission is to develop branding that stands the test of time and one that continues to call in value-aligned clients and customers. The other side of the coin is ensuring that the steps you are taking to make your business sustainable are not only reflected in your copy and messaging, but is crafted in a transparent, authentic way.
A few key ways that we work with our clients on infusing sustainability into their tangible marketing includes:
Diverting marketing materials printed on virgin paper stocks to FSC-Certified paper stock or paperless alternatives
Consulting on and finding more sustainable and/or compostable packaging materials
Choosing to limit or lessen promotional items or materials
Another common misconception surrounding green marketing practices is that it is limited to tangible marketing channels only. “We don’t do any print marketing, therefore we are green” is something I hear often. However, as I did not discover until later in my quest to learn about sustainable marketing, there is a whole other side to our modern marketing world that most are not aware of as having a negative impact.
The Digital Carbon Footprint
In the U.K alone, digital marketing agencies make up a $15.4 billion dollar industry as of 2022. Digital marketing is a huge portion of any marketing budget– from paid advertising to social media content, we are more connected to our devices than ever before, and businesses are capitalizing on this.
We send emails, share pictures, download music and stream videos at the simple click of a button, but our intangible online habits and screen time all contributes to the digital carbon footprint. Every photo we share, email we receive, video we download and hours of scrolling has an environmental impact that can add up to be a substaintial impact over time. With over 60% of the global population now connected to the Internet, the digital behavior of each of us can make a difference over our lifetime, without a doubt.
So what steps can a business or organization take to ensure that they are being more mindful of their digital footprint? Though this deserves an article all on its own, there are several simple changes and habits that you or your team can adopt.
Steps You Can Take Toward More Sustainable Marketing Today
Although it entirely depends on your business model, size, industry, etc, here are a few introductory guidelines and and recommendations that businesses can implement to make their marketing practices greener:
Whilst designing your businesses’ website, there is an opportunity to build it and maintain it in a way that is more earth friendly. The first is by choosing a green website host. The Green Web Foundation has a hosting directory that you can use to find a host that is powered by 100% renewable energy and is in close proximity to your business.
Get in the habit of compressing your images using a compression tool, limit the use of too many custom fonts and condense your code where possible on your website. This will not only boost your website load speed, but cuts down on unnecessary carbon emissions that are attributed to page weight.
Participate in regular and frequent digital cleanups within your business, marketing team or department. We are all guilty of keeping too many emails, old campaign files that won’t be used again, or marketing materials that never see the light of day. More files = more storage and more storage = more energy usage overall.
If you’re a product-based business, it might be time to book a sustainable packaging consultation to gather some preliminary information and steps you can take to move toward more earth-friendly options.
For a more complete list of ways you can lessen your impact, you can download our 15 Ways to Go Greener with Your Marketing Guide. We look forward to continuing to get more businesses, brands and organizations on board with being a part of the #greenmarketingmovement.
About the Author
Michelle Miller is the Owner & Creative Director of Minty Made, a full-service branding, web design and marketing studio based in Seattle, Washington. She is also the Founder of The Green Marketing Academy™, an online course, certification and training program that helps businesses, marketing professionals and teams adopt sustainable, ethical and inclusive marketing practices.