• Global report on marketing and sustainability issued by the World Federation of Advertisers in partnership with the Association of Canadian Advertisers and over thirty other marketing associations.
  • Report reveals marketers feel they can make a difference in their organizations’ sustainability efforts but have a long journey ahead to do so.

April 28, 2021: New research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) on marketing and sustainability reveals that while marketers believe they can be a force for change, marketing, as a function, often lags behind the organization as a whole with regard to the sustainability agenda. The ground-breaking global study was conducted in Canada in partnership with the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) and over 30 other countries. Eighteen countries, including Canada, enjoy country specific reports.

As consumer expectations of brands’ responsibilities to sustainability have risen, the urgency for brands to act has become undeniable. The survey, Marketing and Sustainability: Closing the Gaps, sought to take the global pulse of the marketing community on the subject.

Marketing and Sustainability: Closing the Gaps found that just 10% of marketers claimed to be well advanced in the area of sustainability, lagging corporate efforts at twenty-nine percent (29%). Importantly, 95% of those surveyed believe that the marketing function can make a difference.

The findings are based on a quantitative survey of more than 650 marketers around the world, including a wide mix of geographies, company sizes and categories, and in-depth qualitative interviews with thirteen global Chief Marketing Officers.

Sustainability has seen a rapid climb on marketers’ agendas. In the WFA’s 2020 Marketer of the Future study, sustainability was at the bottom of the list of marketing functions, but was placed in the top spot when asked which areas would become more important to marketers over the next five years.

Part of the challenge for marketers is the organizational structure, as sustainability does not fit neatly into an existing function. Globally, marketers cite challenges such as conflicting business priorities (39%), lack of dedicated internal resources (27%) and pressure from shareholders (26%).

Marketing and Sustainability: Closing the Gaps argues that true progress will necessitate the same transformative mindset that organizations had to adopt during the ‘digital revolution’.

In Canada, there is universal agreement that sustainability is a business strategy and not simply a comms agenda. However, marketers need to embrace the sustainability agenda as an integral component of the ecosystem, not simply a new chapter in the marketing playbook. In this regard, only a quarter of Canadian marketers report having sustainability as a KPI on their marketing dashboard and approximately 20% of organizations are not measuring sustainability efforts at all.

Above all, it will take courage for marketers to more boldly communicate corporate efforts, once they have something positive to say. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of Canadian marketers say companies need to be braver in communicating their efforts. However, 35% believe communicating on what they’ve done well may lead to consumer criticism of an organization’s shortcomings. Indeed, only one quarter of those surveyed are proud to tell their sustainability stories.

Respondents to the report cited a wide range of solutions for driving a step change in action. Curiously, there was less interest from Canadian marketers than their global counterparts on efforts to influence consumer behaviour. However, Canadians did report two areas of common focus for change: Internal commitments to sustainability-oriented advertising and comms spend, and access to sustainability case studies with which to derive inspiration.

Marketing and Sustainability: Closing the Gaps was run in partnership with Project 17, the communications unit centered on the United Nations’ Global Goals and behavioural change experts, BVA Nudge Unit.

Both the global report and a Canada-specific report can be accessed by members of the ACA on the company’s website.

Stephan Loerke, WFA CEO: “Marketers have been behind the curve in driving sustainability but now is the time for change. Marketing should be leading the charge in communicating consumer demands for action internally, while also demonstrating to their customers how their company can help them make more sustainable choices.”

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Mastercard and WFA President: “Marketers have not until now been at the forefront of the sustainability journey within their organizations. But as the ultimate voice of consumers and consumers demanding companies help address the climate emergency, it’s time for marketers to step up and lead.”

Conny Braams, Chief Digital and Marketing Officer, Unilever: “Just as marketing is at the heart of our business, so it must be at the heart of our response to the climate crisis. Our brands have the power to connect emotionally with people all over the world, to help them make sense of that world and provide solutions to the issues they face. With concerns around climate change at an all-time high, marketers have a unique role to play in communicating the benefits of making sustainable choices and adopting sustainable behaviours, truly becoming a force for good in the world…”

Valérie Hernando-Presse, Chief Marketing Officer, Danone Group: “We are in an era of “show me, don’t tell me”. The more you act, even in a small way, the better. People want to know what you are doing now, not in five years. What matters is not the purpose, but which impact our brands will make on planet, people and health driven by their purpose – It starts with purpose-driven and sustainability savvy brand people.