Marketers trail their organizational colleagues in push to sustainability: WFA

Most marketers believe sustainability is a critical issue facing their business today, but many Canadian brand leaders say their marketing department trails the rest of their organization when it comes to sustainability, and don’t regard it as a key business metric.

The findings come from new global research by the World Federation of Advertisers in cooperation with 18 associations around the world, including the Association of Canadian Advertisers. More than 650 marketers participated in the survey, including 41 from Canada.

The global report, Marketing and Sustainability: Closing the Gaps, was released last week, while the ACA released Canadian numbers on Tuesday. According to the survey, just 26% of respondents said sustainability was a KPI on the marketing dashboard. Just 34% of marketing departments said their organization was on the “first steps” of developing a sustainability agenda, while 15% said they were about to start, and 15% said they had no plans to start.

Just 7% said they were well advanced in developing a sustainability agenda, and 29% said they were progressing well. However, 27% of respondents said they were well advanced at an organizational level, and 41% said they were progressing well. That gap suggests that many marketers believe their marketing department trails the rest of their organization.

“These results are reflective of what we’re seeing with our membership,” Judy Davey, the ACA’s vice-president, media policy and marketing capabilities, told The Message. “Canadian marketers are just beginning to think about how to incorporate sustainability into their agendas. I think we’re going to see a marked increase in marketing initiatives that are related to sustainability over the next couple of years, and they will be in lockstep with organizational initiatives.”

The report is wide ranging, and the research includes simply defining “sustainability.” Based on Canadian responses, it defined sustainability as “not causing harm to the environment or to societies to ensure long-term continuity.”

In terms of how organizations are attempting to be more sustainable, there is widespread awareness of the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals—with 66% of respondents saying their organization is taking at least some actions towards those 17 goals.

Responsible consumption and production, cited by 81% of respondents, and gender equality (78%) were the most relevant SDG goals cited by Canadian respondents, mentioned more than they were at the global level—where they were identified by 69% and 64% respectively.

However, Canadian marketers are less likely to say marketing has an important role to play in their organization when it comes to pursuing sustainability goals. For example, while 89% of Canadian respondents believe marketing can make a difference in the “sustainability journey,” that rose to 95% globally. And while 76% of Canadians agreed brands have a responsibility to change consumer behaviour, that number was 92% globally.

Just 59% of Canadian respondents agree that marketing is central to the evolution of the sustainability agenda, compared with 81% globally.

In addition to the research report, the WFA also introduced a “Planet Pledge” for marketers. It includes a framework to help marketers take a leading role in their organization’s moves toward real action to address climate change.

It is meant to close that gap between marketing and the rest of their organization. According to the WFA, closing the gap will require “the same transformative mindset that organizations had to adopt during the ‘digital revolution.'”

The pledge calls for action across four key areas:

  1. Commit to being a champion for the global Race to Zero campaign, both internally within their organizations and encouraging their marketing supply chain to do the same;
  2. Scale the capability of marketing organizations to lead for climate action by providing tools and guidance for their marketers and agencies;
  3. Harness the power of their marketing communications to drive more sustainable consumer behaviours;
  4. Reinforce a trustworthy marketing environment, where sustainability claims can be easily substantiated so that consumers can trust the marketing messages they are presented with as they seek to align their own consumption with their values.

“Marketers have been behind the curve in driving sustainability but now is the time for change,” said WFA CEO Stephan Loerke. “Marketing should be leading the charge in communicating consumer demands for action internally, while also demonstrating to their customers how their company can help them make more sustainable choices.”

“Marketers have not until now been at the forefront of the sustainability journey within their organizations,” said Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer for Mastercard and WFA president. “But as the ultimate voice of consumers and consumers demanding companies help address the climate emergency, it’s time for marketers to step up and lead.”

David Brown