Can marketing save the planet? The role marketing can play in promoting and driving sustainability

Rich Campbell profile image on light purple background

Sitting at the heart of your business or organisation is your marketing function. Marketers have a significant role in building more sustainable businesses, responsible for brand, product, communications, and stakeholder management.

According to Richard Campbell, Marketing Director and an environmentally educated and responsible marketer, who was our latest lead speaker at our Chief Greenie event, change is on the horizon, and believes there’s no one better placed to effect change, align and influence customers, and ally with your organisation’s greener initiatives than a responsible marketer.

Our world systems led to success recognised by growth driven by consumerism. Historically marketers play a key role, but change is coming.

“In most sectors, marketing has led the way in developing unsustainable behaviours. Advertising has become increasingly smarter at selling the idea that stuff is better when it’s cheaper, available, and disposable.

Marketers have a unique skill set to turn that around. We’re creatives and storytellers. We are influencers. It’s my view we have a responsibility to do that. Marketers have a significant role to play in driving sustainability within their organisation.

The first way to address any problem is understand it. Can Marketing Save The Planet (CMSTP) is a community bringing together marketers to create education and make more people aware of the role marketing must play in addressing the climate crisis.

Led by Founders Gemma Butler and Michelle Carvill, CMSTP hosts regular podcasts where marketers speak about their experiences. Rich had the opportunity to speak on how to calculate your carbon impact and drive change within an organisation.

“Can Marketing Save The Planet opened my eyes to what was possible to create a better, more sustainable future with the businesses they work for. It empowers people who work in marketing to understand what they can do and gives them a framework for how to do it”.

So how do you deliver a positive message about the climate crisis?

It can be incredibly challenging to deliver positive messaging around something so scary and complex as the climate crisis, but it’s a message that has often, according to Richard, been left behind. The climate crisis hasn’t always capitalised on the hope side of things, more so focusing on the doom and gloom and what we’re looking at if we don’t act.

“It depends on what message you’re trying to send out. Most marketers are trying to drive consumption, indirectly or directly. They must bring these results back to their company and sadly, that goal is often to ‘use more, do more, sell more, buy more’.”

If we look at the other sector, that can give us some insight into what messaging can land with individuals. Government advertising around seatbelt safety in the early 00s is one that sticks with Rich and one where the imagery sticks with the individual.

“The hard-hitting messaging of seatbelt safety ads hits you and can be shown to drive behavioural change. It’s, in essence, a message about accountability, and one that might land with a certain audience.”

Social selling

“Social selling is one way, the idea that we’re all in it together, to help your neighbour, to help your community. For example, a hotel wanted to increase towel reuse to help save money and cut carbon. They found that rather than ‘save the environment’, they tweaked this message to say, ‘join your fellow guests in helping the environment’ and towel reuse increased by 33%.”

This example shows us how important messaging is. If you can focus on community, you can have a profound impact on results, and that can be taken back to CFOs or CEOs as a business case they understand now.


Marketers are storytellers, and while dealing with data, KPIs, and consumer demand, marketing can turn that into a story that can influence citizen choices.

“During the Superbowl as an example, seven of the 12 advertisers for the 2022 season were for sustainability products. So, there’s already a shift happening. The one that springs to mind is the Hyundai advert featuring Jason Bateman.

It sold the vision of an EV to consumers that goes beyond sustainability. It’s the story of humanity accepting imperfection in a story that begins in pre-history, weaving through the Romans, the Victorians, and the modern era. It’s an evolutionary voyage through time culminating in the Hyundai ICONIQ5. It’s also one of the funniest ads of the year. It’s so refreshing to see so much marketing invested in a sustainability product.”

Using messaging how can marketing encourage people to build sustainable behaviours?

Richard believes that marketers have a responsibility to use their skills to talk about the benefits of environmental choices.

Buying plant-based is a differentiator, it’s something people seek out. But there’s often a misconception that buying plant-based is more expensive. It’s our role as a marketer to show that it’s not always. Eating seasonally, or choosing plant-based meals, often leads to spending less. That’s a story that hasn’t been told effectively… yet!”

And there’s a good business case for doing so because citizens care. They are searching more frequently for sustainability content across all kinds of product categories. Although, if we are truly sustainable, we must also be conscious not to drive too much consumption. Even sustainable products bought new can make a negative impact on the planet!

Aligning your KPIs and goals with positioning your brand more sustainably

How does being a responsible marketer align with traditional KPIs, which are often driven by getting more growth?

“There’s a real opportunity for change with KPIs. I’m not suggesting we do away with the traditional growth metrics that many finance officers and CEOs are expecting, but there’s the potential to add something else into the mix.

Patagonia recently made Earth their only shareholder. They gave the planet a leading voice in their decision-making and ensured that all board members listened to the impact their decisions would have on our environment.

Other organisations haveOther organisations have added nature, or climate impact, into their KPIs – asking questions like ‘Has this growth strategy increased or decreased deforestation rates?’. By doing this, you can be measured on your growth but also overall impact.”

“For change to happen, we need to challenge what good looks like in our sector. If you lead on strategy, understand your company’s sustainability strategy, align that with long-term opportunities, and how it can apply to marketing. What changes does your growth engine need to make? How can you make changes at every touchpoint from planning to execution? How can you measure and show value to your board, CEO, or similar? It will take true visionaries and leaders to do this initially, but many inspiring examples give me hope.”

Marketing led many organisations through the pandemic, pivoting strategy and putting citizens (their customers) first. If you didn’t, you didn’t ‘survive’. No one has experience navigating a climate crisis, but we all have experience navigating another global crisis, and that experience will give us skills and confidence.

If you are interested in starting your own Giki programme, you can find out more and get in touch via the button below.