Marketers are facing a classic dilemma; they know consumers want brands to promote their environmental credentials yet professionals are hampered by a lack of robust evidence, triggering fears they will be slated for greenwashing.
That is just one of the key conclusions of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Sustainability Marketing Skills Gap report, which warns marketers and businesses alike that, by ignoring the environmental crisis, they risk falling behind in their own careers and missing out on one of the biggest opportunities ahead.
The report explores the views of both marketers and consumers, with multiple surveys conducted, assessing the views of 210 marketing professionals, 2,000 UK adults, and an additional online survey of 1,193 respondents which includes CIM members.
It reveals that two in five (40%) marketers would like to attain a marketing qualification relating to sustainability, but do not currently possess one. Despite this, the number of marketers participating in sustainability work continues to increase, with three-quarters (76%) saying they have engaged in this work in the last five years, and nearly half (45%) feeling pressure in their role to communicate their company or clients’ sustainability credentials.
However, consumers expect companies to do far more when it comes to sustainability, with two thirds (63%) of Brits agreeing that brands should increase communications around the sustainability of their products and services. Worryingly, at present, only two in five (41%) marketers report that their companies or clients have publicly available sustainability commitments.
As consumer demands for further action and transparency grow, it is more important than ever for brands to communicate their sustainability efforts and, crucially, follow through on the promises they make.
And the accusation that two-thirds (63%) of consumers believe most initiatives are for commercial reasons rather than ethical ones highlights the need for authentic and meaningful marketing to build consumers’ trust, the CIM insists.
Like many reports before it, this study finds that younger age groups are more receptive to sustainable marketing, with six in ten (59%) 18- to 34-year-olds saying they are more likely to buy products or services from a brand that advertises how sustainable they are, as opposed to just three in ten (31%) of those aged 55 and above.
The introduction of regulation in the past couple of years has seen an increase in the number of brands being held accountable for making misleading claims, including those accused of ‘greenwashing’ through misleading advertising. Shell, Etihad Airways and Anglian Water have all recently came a cropper over the issue.
Sadly, this can have the injurious effect of deterring marketers, with half (49%) saying they are wary of working on sustainability focused campaigns due to fear of their company or clients being accused of exaggerating their environmental record.
Despite these fears, over half (55%) of marketers recognise that sustainability is an increasing business priority, and one in two (51%) go as far as to say that climate change could threaten their existence, raising alarms about the impact the climate crisis will have on businesses.
Businesses that are able to demonstrate their sustainability efforts not only retain top talent, but attract new talent too, with half of both jobseekers (48%), and current employees (48%) saying they are more willing to work for a company that they know has strong sustainability credentials.
CIM chief executive Chris Daly commented: “As marketers, we are all responsible for being proactive in implementing positive changes and embracing environmentally friendly working practices.
“If the marketing profession is to deliver meaningful and tangible change at scale then, as an industry, we must do more to address the sustainability skills gap and ensure that marketers are equipped with the skills they need to work confidently on environmental campaigns which can encourage others, and drive the positive responsible behavioural changes needed within society.
“Ignoring the environmental crisis is not an option, and this report shows that marketers and businesses alike, who chose to do so, risk falling behind in their own careers and missing out on one of the biggest opportunities ahead. Marketers need to use their unique skill sets to influence, change behaviours, drive innovation and build communities where collective action makes a real difference.”
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