Major: Marketing; Minor: Saving the World
Nathan Schock, author of Greenway Communique, reviews the textbook Sustainability Marketing: A Global Perspective. The authors take a look at the evolution of green marketing (from a different perspective that Fast Company) and provide a vision for where sustainability marketing should go now. The book advocates that green marketing needs to shift from being the marketing of green products to fringe audiences to the marketing of products that happen to be green to mainstream Americans.
Ahhh. Remember that first day of college? Young. Naive. You think you
can change the world. Then, your parents start bugging you about
choosing a career and so you major in business and leave the
world-changing ideas in the past.
But do you have to choose one or the other? Can you get your business
degree and then set off to save the world? You can if your professor is
Dr. Frank-Martin Belz or Ken Peattie, the co-authors of Sustainability
Marketing: A Global Perspective.
Released just 10 months ago, the textbook has already sold 1,500
copies and been adopted by universities in the United States, Canada,
UK, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Austria and more.
Sales have been “far more than we expected or the publisher calculated,”
said Dr. Belz, Professor at the Technische Universitaet
Publisher Wiley sent me a review copy of the book and the mission of
the authors is made clear in the preface. The 25 years that preceded the
book were marked by the Brundtland
Report, the Millennium Goals, An
Inconvenient Truth, the Stern report and
the 2008 economic meltdown, which demonstrated that our existing way
of living and doing business was economically, as well as
That way of living and doing business is accompanied enabled by
conventional marketing that continues to exist within an economic
hyperspace in which there are no physical limits on the availability of
resources or on the number of holes that waste can be poured. It is
largely for this reason, that marketing is a discipline in crisis.
The authors want their students to aspire to something greater and
for sustainability marketing to become mainstream. They define
sustainability marketing as marketing that lasts forEVER,
an acronym that stands for: ecologically oriented, viable,
ethical and relationship-based.
To show where they want to go, the authors look at the history of
green marketing and the emergence of sustainability marketing. It
started in the 1970’s with ecological marketing that dealt
mainly with the depletion of energy and nonenergy natural resources and
the pollution created as a by-product of production and consumption.
Ecological marketing sprang from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
of Growth by the Club of Rome and inspired pioneering
companies like the Body Shop and Ben & Jerry’s.
That was followed by green marketing and environmental marketing in
the late 1980’s, which was focused on green consumers who would be
willing to pay premium prices for more environmentally friendly products.
Although this was more significant than the ecological marketing of the
1970’s, it had two problems that limited its success. The first was
that “green” was more difficult to define than most product attributes
and thus difficult to establish competitive advantage on. And the second
was that the green consumer frequently proved to be something of a
myth and the opportunities for green marketing proved to be far
less than had been predicted in the early 1990’s. But both were,
at their heart, simply continuations of conventional marketing and did
nothing to make society more sustainable.
Now, the authors want a new kind of green marketing to become the
dominant paradigm: sustainability marketing. This new green marketing
embraces the idea of sustainable development, seeking to build and
maintain sustainable relationships with customers, the social
environment and the natural environment.
The role for this marketing is an exciting and important one. It is
nothing less than changing the world. Progress toward sustainability
will take a change of our existing dominant social paradigm and it will
take persuasive communications for that shift to occur. Belz &
Peattie have an audacious goal for marketing and it involves
transforming it from a pusher of conspicuous consumption to a catalyst
for sustainable development. As they say in the final chapter:
Some commentators argue that escaping from the
unsustainable nature of contemporary capitalism and its commodity
culture will require exactly the same type of persuasive communications
and marketing efforts that have been used to promote consumption to be
employed instead to promote alternative, less consumption-oriented
lifestyles and behaviors.
It’s similar to the goal that John Grant has set out in the
Green Marketing Manifesto: that the role of green marketing is
to make the green seem normal. Is it achievable? Perhaps the career
trajectory of Dr. Belz provides a ray of hope. In an email, he said that
it was about ten years ago that my colleagues tried to talk me out
of exotic”, “ethical” subjects such as sustainability and marketing
(advising me to conduct “serious”, conventional marketing research).
With all the interest in green marketing these days, it’s no surprise
that Belz is glad he followed his heart and conscience. Perhaps he and
Peattie will play a role in convincing the rest of society to follow
Belz and Peattie intended the book for three different audiences:
students, those working in marketing research or business intelligence
and corporate marketers. Maybe it was the old teaching assistant in me,
but I really enjoyed it. Each chapter is bookended by company profiles
and includes many of the things you would expect from a college
textbook: key terms, review questions and discussion questions. I would
have loved this book if it had been around when I was in school.
If you’re interested in the latest on green marketing with an
academic flavor, follow the authors at their blog Sustainability Marketing.
Or, like Rodney Dangerfield, you could go back to school at one of the
universities using their textbook and really learn how to change the