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Marketing and Comms
New Guide Shows How CMOs Can Mainstream Sustainability by Closing Say-Do Gap for Good

BCG and the CMO Sustainability Accelerator — a coalition that includes Sustainable Brands, ANA and Adweek — have developed a practical guide to help brands “bring green to the mainstream” by developing and marketing sustainable choices for all consumers, not just those moved by sustainability claims.

A growing bank of evidence suggests consumers want to do the right thing when it comes to shopping more responsibly. Buoyed by increasingly reliable and attractive sustainable products and services, people are happy to back brands they see as being authentically led by purpose and acting responsibly.

Yet an even bigger bank of evidence points to the frustrating paradox that, despite this apparent appetite for environmentally friendly consumerism, few consumers actually follow through with their purchases.

Much of this has to do with affordability; in the face of a cost-of-living crisis — particularly across Europe and the US — making more responsible purchases choices remains inaccessible to many, especially the younger generation. There also appears to be a lack of confidence that individual choices and personal decisions will not make the blindest bit of difference in solving the climate crisis. Consumers commonly display emotions of disillusionment when asked about their ‘green’ shopping habits.

The ongoing struggle to narrow the so-called intention-action gap is worrying. The planet needs us to make better buying choices; the climate impacts associated with our consumption of goods — whether it’s food, clothing or electronics — make up a significant proportion of national carbon footprints.

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Brands also need customers to make the jump to more sustainable options. For example, two-thirds of the climate footprint attached to most consumer goods brands product ranges occurs when they leave the shelves. But in meeting corporate sustainability and net-zero targets, a lot still depends on which products customers choose. A shift in buying behavior is crucial — yet, it remains a challenge.

“We need to make sustainable options meet consumers’ core needs, rather than expecting the majority to make tradeoffs when they choose a sustainable option,” Lauren Taylor, Managing Director and Partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), told Sustainable Brands®.

To help, BCG and the CMO Sustainability Accelerator — a coalition that includes Sustainable Brands, ANA and Adweek — have developed a new, practical guide to highlight ways in which brands can better link sustainability to broader consumer needs. The Future Is Mainstream Green: Introducing a New Growth Strategy aims to “bring green to the mainstream” by exploring how companies can develop and market sustainable choices for all consumers, not just those moved by sustainability claims.

“That group is still a small proportion of the population. So, this action plan focuses on driving sustainable behavior for all the rest and creating sustainable outcomes — even if not for the sake of sustainability alone,” Taylor said.

The guide also helps to define the role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in driving growth through sustainability, something that “until today, has been unclear,” Taylor pointed out. “In some cases, CMOs and customers have not been in the sustainability conversation at all; and it has been more focused on decarbonizing the supply chain. In other cases, CMOs have been focused on the small subset of consumers motivated by sustainability as one of their top drivers of choice.”

The coalition suggests that, with an intimate understanding of customer needs, brands can cement their differentiated purpose and value proposition. This will help to bring customer demand for sustainable goods, services, and lifestyles “from the fringes to the mainstream” — with CMOs able to make complex topics digestible and unfamiliar products desirable.

A three-step strategy for CMOs

The document outlines a three-step strategy for marketers to make sustainability a driver for growth:

  1. Understand drivers of choice: By linking sustainability to broader related needs, such as health, CMOs can unlock two to four times the number of customers for whom sustainability is a concern but not a primary driver of choice.

  2. Create a sustainable offering: Focus on value, efficacy, taste — and innovate to make sustainability an ‘and,’ not an ‘or.’

  3. Promote sustainable choices: Leverage the full customer-engagement toolkit — such as removing friction to purchase, strengthening customer connections and amplifying advocates authentically — to overcome perceived barriers and drive demand for sustainable choices.

“To reach the mainstream, sustainable choices need to be seen as at least as attractive or appealing in terms of meeting consumers’ core needs — like convenience or value — as the top options in each category and market,” says Taylor, who hopes the guidance will support CMOs who can bring a critical lens to removing real and perceived barriers. In a statement, ANA CEO Bob Liodice said he hopes the guidelines and recommendations will help CMOs that need guidance on “how to fulfill the promise of true sustainability while growing their business.”

While many CMOs are well placed to lead the charge for sustainable growth, representing the voice of the consumer, companies will need their entire C-suite and senior leadership to be aligned.

“Organizations cannot achieve the environmental sustainability goals that they’ve pledged without inspiring consumers across the board to change their habits,” Taylor says. “But many opportunities will require new products and innovation, new marketing, messaging and pricing.”

Download The Future Is Mainstream Green now.