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Becoming a Sustainable Content Marketer

Becoming a Sustainable Content Marketer
By Anja Prosch
Anja Prosch

9 Min

March 20, 2023


In order to understand the pressures of Net Zero in the marketing world, we have to take stock of the global business and sustainability environment. The best way to understand the correlation between market expectations and what needs to be done is to look at the data. 

  • 74% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging 
  • 46% of global customers switched companies because they lost trust in the company 
  • 73% of B2B buyers plan to deselect suppliers based on environmental performance 
  • 42% of green online claims may be false or deceptive, according to the European Commission 

Now that we understand the market expectations, let’s embark on a regulatory sustainability crash course to uncover the legislative pressures we face in business. 

What is ESG, and why is it so important for content marketers to understand it? 

ESG are three of the hottest letters on the corporate agenda today. ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. While each of the three disciplines has its own set of standards and practices, together, they indicate an organization’s dedication to achieving the greater good. Investors, customers, employees, and other stakeholders are turning up the pressure on companies to reduce the environmental impact of their business and be more transparent about ESG reporting. 

With that in mind, let’s delve into the meaning behind the letters. 

The E in ESG stands for Environmental 

Environmental criteria focus on the company’s impact on the planet. In addition to climate-change initiatives, this category includes energy usage, pollution outputs, water management, and other environmental impacts. 

The S is for Social 

The social element of ESG focuses on the way the company treats people. It includes the relationships that organizations have with their workforces, the societies in which they operate, and the current political atmosphere, including diversity, equity and inclusion, health and safety, labor management, data privacy, and community relations. 

And lastly, the G is for Governance 

The governance portion refers to a set of organizational practices, controls, and procedures used to make effective decisions, remain compliant, and meet stakeholder demands, including fraud, anti-bribery and corruption, security, financial performance, business ethics, and internal audit, as well as executive leadership and pay. 

There are different reporting frameworks that are easily available and help companies disclose ESG-related information. Some of the most commonly used ones are: 

  • UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 
  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) 
  • Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) 
  • Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) 
  • Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) 

In content marketing, we can use these frameworks to call out the added benefits of our offerings for society, the environment, as well as the economy. If you find yourself offering a product or a service that does not add benefit to ESG, you can take that responsibility and become a catalyst in your organization, because integrating your company’s mission with a larger purpose, will be imperative for businesses of the future. 

Becoming a Sustainable Content Marketer

Scope 1-3 emissions and what you need to know! 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has divided Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions into three scopes: 

Scope 1 – Emissions from fuel burned in owned or controlled assets—think buildings, vehicles, and equipment. Scope 1 also includes accidental or fugitive emissions like chemical and refrigerant leaks and spills. 

Scope 2 – Emissions from purchased electricity, steam, heat, and cooling in buildings and production processes. Think of these as indirect emissions you create by figuratively “keeping the lights on.” 

Scope 3 – This includes all other indirect emissions associated with a company’s upstream and downstream operations. Unless a business has significant real estate holdings and energy consumption, scope 3 typically represents the most significant contributor to a company’s carbon footprint because it includes things like:   

• Business travel (e.g., air travel) 

• Employee commuting 

• Waste generated in operations and waste disposal 

• Purchased goods and services 

• Transportation and distribution tied to suppliers and customers 

• Capital goods, investments, and franchises 

• Leased assets 

• Emissions from the use of a product or service sold 

• Product’s end of life (when it’s no longer useful) 

Measuring GHG emissions or creating an emissions inventory is critical to understanding your company’s carbon footprint and impact. If you want to reduce your emissions and fossil fuel use, you have to calculate them before creating a reduction target. If you didn’t, it’d be like saying you want to lose weight without first stepping on a scale. You can exercise and diet all you want, but how would you know what’s working without an initial benchmark? 

While carbon or GHG accounting might seem daunting, it should be the first step on a company’s sustainability journey. After that, you’ll be able to look for efficiency opportunities, waste reduction, or ways to streamline procurement or other essential activities. And for us, marketers, you want to be able to lead by example and share that story with the world. 

The human impact of sustainability 

When learning about the impacts of sustainability, it is important to also look at it through a human lens, which is something we tend to lose sight of when we talk about emissions and circularity. What about the people who are victims of climate change and exponential waste? Here are some insightful data points to shed light on the challenge: 

  • The 27 countries most vulnerable to climate change contribute to less than 5% of the emissions of G7 nations. 
  • 61% of people do not have access to or know how to use recycling infrastructure. 
  • 1 in 5 children are victims of child labor in poorly developed countries. 

There are real people behind these numbers, which makes the agenda so much more urgent for us to advance in a positive direction. 

Building a Sustainable Brand that Matters 

It’s no longer an option for brands to ignore sustainability issues. As it becomes more ingrained in the brand-consumer relationship and purchasing, there’s a clear opportunity to win favor with the right approach. 

  • 42% of U.S. and UK consumers say products that use sustainable materials are important in their day-to-day purchasing. 
  • 33% of consumers see brands as responsible for the environment. 
  • 60% of U.S. consumers find authenticity to be the most appealing quality of their favorite brands. 
  • 2 in 3 consumers think brands that make a public promise to be sustainable are more trustworthy. 

It’s time for brands to measure up by proving to consumers, in an authentic and transparent way, their dedication to the planet and, in turn, the people they serve. 

Moving beyond brand | Leading examples 

Moving beyond your brand narrative and into the core sustainability journey for your company will not only eliminate the risk of your company being associated with "greenwashing," but it will, most importantly, help us scale these positive efforts for our planet to thrive. To help inspire you, I have identified some leading examples that are doing just that in the marketplace. Let’s start with… 

  • Nike – Move to Zero is Nike’s journey toward zero carbon and zero waste. They share their solutions transparently through a digital hub + in collaboration with its community at select stores. Circular solutions include reusing and refurbishing footwear and apparel. 
  • Unilever is not only listed as one of the world’s top 100 sustainable brands, but they are also perceived as the invisible giant behind some of the biggest sustainable systemic changes in the industry and have publicly introduced the Unilever Compass as its holistic business strategy to deliver growth that is consistent, competitive, profitable, and responsible. 
  • Niantic, the company behind the pop culture phenomenon “Pokémon Go”, has organized its community every year during Earth Day, by teaming up with nonprofits to host local clean-up events for Pokémon Go players worldwide. By participating in clean-up efforts, players were able to unlock several tiers of in-game rewards. 
  • Patagonia has won our trust over and over again by donating enormous sums of its profit to environmental causes. For almost 40 years, Patagonia has supported grassroots groups working to find solutions to the environmental crisis and has now also invited its community to participate and be part of positive change through its volunteering platform “Patagonia Action Works” 
  • Chipotle is recognized as the most sustainable fast-food chain, and for a good reason. When they discovered that animals were maltreated in their supply chain, they instantly turned off carnitas from the menus of thousands of restaurants. They did not go back until months later when the issue had been fully resolved. 
  • Carlsberg is continually pushing the limits of its sustainability efforts as they journey towards a zero-carbon footprint. A few years ago, they introduced glue technology for the six-pack, completely eliminating the use of plastic wrapping. And just recently, they’ve released prototypes of the world’s first “paper” beer bottle – made from 100% bio-based and sustainably sourced wood fibers. Moving forward, Carlsberg intends to work with other leading global brands to develop sustainable packaging. 
  • Maersk is another great example. It is an invisible brand that we all rely heavily on, especially living in a remote island chain like Hawaii. Maersk is the largest shipping company on the planet, on a mission to decarbonize its entire industry. They have made incredible strides and will next year be shipping their first carbon zero ships out to sea to deliver all of our packages, paving the way for a more convenient and sustainable future. 
  • (IKEA) Last but not least, another Scandinavian favorite, IKEA! Unfortunately, we do not have a store on the island, but that does not make me less excited about their initiatives. With the introduction of their circular stores across their warehouses, you can now buy lightly used furniture and give them new life. IKEA restaurants, including the famous Swedish meatballs, are now also 50% vegan, leaving a much smaller footprint. 

I am inspired by these brands' ability to think outside the box and, most importantly, look at sustainability as a mission much bigger than any single brand. If we all act that way, the planet still has a fair chance to thrive. 

As sustainable content marketers, it is our duty to harness the momentum of sustainability and infuse our materials to send a powerful message that’ll spur change not only on behalf of our own organization but influence our peers and partners to create impact at scale. Sustainability is a team sport, and neither one person nor a company can win alone. I look forward to fighting the good fight. Together.