The strategic imperative for sustainability marketing

24 Sep 2018, 12:00 am
Akachi Ngwu


Sustainability marketing is about delivering more value to customers and ensuring that the brand promise is viable over a long time.

Group CEO, Access Bank Plc, Herbert Wigwe, addressing delegates at the Global Sustainable Finance Conference 2017 in Karlsruhe, Germany

Sustainability marketing is an emerging field in marketing communication and a growing number of brands are now taking it very seriously. Also known as green marketing, it is a concept that draws on ideas of environmental and social sustainability. Businesses are increasingly coming to the realisation that to increase business value, they need to broaden their focus beyond financial bottom line, to include social and environmental considerations.

Sustainability marketing also involves building relationships with consumers and seeing them as stakeholders. As a key marketing strategy, savvy brands understand the importance of building loyalty with this generation of customers, while protecting the environment for future generations.

For instance, the Sustainable Brand Index, published by the Swedish company, SB Insight AB, enables consumers to determine how socially and environmentally sustainable popular brands are. The 2017 index has companies like IKEA, Philips, Unilever, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Shell, and NESCAFE in its rankings.

In the coalescence of financial, environmental and social considerations in business, sustainable organisations are promoting and helping to address the three dimensions of sustainable development, namely, social, economic and environmental. It is around these dimensions that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) revolve. The 17 SDGs stand as the benchmark for global commitment towards the fight to wipe out poverty, end inequality and tackle climate change over the 15-year period between 2016 and 2030. In 2015, Nigeria joined over 190 countries to adopt the UN development agenda.

When an organisation considers the social and environmental impacts of its products or services and seeks ways to address such impacts, the organisation is embracing sustainability principles. Having said that, entrepreneurship is needed to galvanise a corporate agenda designed to promote the wellbeing of the consumers. As such, sustainability marketing is about delivering more value to customers and ensuring that the brand promise is viable over a long time.

The practice of sustainability marketing can also help brands and institutions to address issues pertaining to poor service, for instance. There are many instances of consumers being at the receiving end of poor service delivery by organisations without receiving the appropriate redress. Sustainability entails the long-term pursuit of economic relationships with consumers in other to achieve the common good.

I like to share two examples that show lack of a sustainability marketing approach. Amazon, the global e-commerce giant, failed to deliver four books that I ordered on its platform. And neither was the payment refunded, despite several complaints I made. Though the books were bought through other merchants on Amazon's website, Amazon is vicariously liable as the books were sold on its platform. That experience leads me having to rethink whenever I consider carrying out an online transaction.

My colleague had a transaction with a leading e-commerce brand in Nigeria. The item that was delivered to him was different from what he had ordered. Rather than getting a replacement, the company offered him a gift voucher as compensation for future purchases. Sadly, the voucher cannot possibly be a satisfactory resolution of my colleague's bad experience with this merchant.

But there are organisations that are demonstrating their sustainability marketing commitments through various projects across their value chains. One of such organisations is Access Bank Plc.

Sustainability has become the cornerstone of Access Bank's corporate philosophy. The bank drives its sustainability agenda through strategic partnerships, some of which involve addressing education, health, women's rights and social wellbeing of people in communities where it operates. Some of the bank's products focus on promoting financial inclusion of women to help achieve gender-equity in access to finance.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) is reportedly at the heart of the company's business model. Unilever has three goals under the USLP, which are to improve health and well-being; reduce its environmental impact by half; and enhance the livelihoods of millions of people.

The Nestle in Society sustainability strategy is designed to enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future. Nestle's three overarching ambitions are to help 50 million children to lead healthier lives; help to improve 30 million livelihoods in communities where the food and beverage company has business operations; and Nestle's ambition to strive for zero environmental impact in its operations.

In addition to the obvious sustainability interests of Access Bank, Unilever and Nestle – as shown in their programmes, which span education, health, women empowerment, sanitation, youth entrepreneurship, nutrition, rural development and water – the youth demographic is a critical component of sustainable marketing. And Nigeria has a gigantic youth population that needs to be empowered and tapped by brands and policymakers alike.

The Nigeria population, currently estimated at over 196 million, is forecasted to grow to over 200 million by the year 2020, according to Worldometers. The country is not only the largest in Africa in terms of population, the median age in the country is 17.9 years. For this reason, Nigeria could be described as having a millennials-driven consumer market. Although this demographic cohort has diverse definitions, Pew Research Center says millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996.

But generally, millennials include the Generation Y (people born between 1981-1991) and Generation Z (those born between 1991-2001). Marketing Magazine described Generation Z as the “holy grail for brands.” Millennials are, therefore, a key frontier for sustainability marketing and growth. Given the current and future potential of this demography in Nigeria, brand engagement will need to be tailored to meet their expectations.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, this publication – Financial Nigeria – is holding a colloquium with the theme, “Nigeria's Sustainable Development Agenda.” The event will hold on Tuesday, September 11th, 2018, at the Shehu Musa Yar'Adua Centre in Abuja.

The colloquium, which promises to be highly-engaging and impactful, will feature two keynote speeches by Muhammad Ali Pate, Global health and development expert and former Nigerian Minister of State for Health; and Arshad Rab, Development thinker and CEO, European Organisation for Sustainable Development. Financial Nigeria is hosting this colloquium to promote policy dialogues to evolve the best policy options for Nigeria's sustainable development agenda.

This event also presents an opportunity for private institutions and brands to participate and forge partnerships with the publication and other stakeholders to strengthen their sustainability marketing strategies.

Akachi Ngwu is the Founder/CEO of Consumer Scores International Limited, a Lagos-based in–store advertising solutions provider. He is an alumnus of the Business Leadership Programme of Leap Africa. Email:


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