Marketing vs. Sustainability – Different Planets?

Ever wondered how – or if – marketing and sustainability can work together? Thomas Kolster, author of Goodvertising; the most comprehensive book to date exploring communication for good, offers a brilliant characterization of the marketing and sustainability worlds – or planets, as he calls them.

According to him, “most brands are still scarily silent about the difference they want to make in our lives and yet hope we won’t notice them force-feeding us with advertising-as-usual until they produce consumer foie gras. This is in stark contrast to what people expect of brands today: According to Havas’ Meaningful Brands Survey findings, 71 percent of people globally want brands to solve some of society’s biggest challenges such as unemployment, climate change, etc.”

So why are brands still so silent? Why does there still seem to be an insurmountable wall between sustainability and marketing? “As in most struggles or conflicts”, Thomas writes, “the answer is often hidden in the differences between the two parties:

“It’s when sustainability meets marketing or the other way around that the problem arises — essentially marketing and sustainability people do not speak the same languages and they don’t have the same qualifications, only adding to the gap of sometimes planetary dimensions: Marketing is from Mars and sustainability is from Venus.

Life on Planet Sustainability and Planet Marketing

“On Planet Sustainability they care about facts and science: It’s about exploring supply chains, measuring the amount of carbon emissions in Brussels sprouts…, and there are endless discussions about materiality.”

“On Planet Marketing it’s quite the opposite: It’s about emotions, feelings, purpose — and the language is often more about fiction than facts. In sustainability, everything is complex and analysis is key. There are often no simple answers and it’s no longer about cradle to grave; oh, nooo — it’s now actually about cradle to cradle.”

“Conversely, in marketing, simplicity and emotion are key — so it’s easy to communicate a message people can internalise and act on.The overall goals of marketing are sales and building brands, which are often measured in monetary value, brand recognition and similar. In sustainability, it’s about doing things smarter to limit or eradicate negative impact and build a prosperous planet, which can rarely be measured one uniform way – again, more complexity.”

“For each of us wearing either the sustainability or the marketing hat, these differences can lead to frustrations, misunderstandings and unfortunately in many cases campaigns or branding attempts with more style than substance something sustainability people will quickly dub ‘greenwashing.’”

Via Marketing Is from Mars, Sustainability Is from Venus | Sustainable Brands.

More about Thomas Kolster’s book Goodvertising: Creative Advertising That Cares on Amazon (published 2012 by Thames & Hudson).


Spot on, was my first thought when reading the article. Then again, isn’t this divide between sustainability and marketing a bit outdated? Certainly, the challenge to align the two is very real, not only with consumer goods like Nike shoes or Coca Cola, but also – or even more – when the brands marketed are those of destinations, cities, or countries.

There aren’t many examples of place brands capable of luring tourists, investors or students, but also doing their bit to solve environmental or social issues. All to often the focus is on gaining and maintaining competitive advantage and differentiation, rather than collaboration beyond a place’s immediate borders.

Now that sustainability – commitment to people, planet and economic profit – has become mainstream management thinking (at least in theory), wouldn’t it be about time for the same to happen in the place branding and marketing field?

More about sustainability, sustainable business, marketing and tourism on Featured image:

Did you find this post on marketing and sustainability useful? Please share!

Tip: Subscribe to the Place Brand Observer newsletter to benefit from updates on latest place branding and reputation insights, strategy, thoughts and examples.

The following two tabs change content below.
Hi, we hope you found this post useful. Want to stay up to date on latest place branding insights, strategies, stories and examples? Join our mailing list! More about our Services here.

The Editorial Team

Hi, we hope you found this post useful. Want to stay up to date on latest place branding insights, strategies, stories and examples? Join our mailing list! More about our Services here.