Half of UK marketers fear ‘greenwashing’ despite consumers wanting more insight into companies’ sustainability agendas

New research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) reveals that half (49%) of marketers are weary of working on sustainability marketing campaigns due to the fear of their company or clients being accused of ‘greenwashing’. It comes as new regulations, such as the Competition and Markets Authority’s ‘Green Claims Code’, are introduced to hold brands more accountable for their sustainability claims.

The survey, which looks at the views of over 200 marketing professionals in the UK, shows that over half (55%) of marketers’ companies and clients recognise sustainability as a business priority, with 51 per cent going as far as to say that climate change could threaten the very existence of their business or clients.

The skills gap

Regardless of this urgency, 2 in 5 (40%) marketers admit they do not have marketing qualifications relating to sustainability but are interested in one, revealing a critical skills gap that needs addressing. 

Despite a lack of formal training, three quarters (76%) of marketers say they have been involved in sustainability work in the last five years, and nearly half (45%) feel under pressure in their role to communicate their company or clients’ sustainability credentials.

Consumer expectations of marketers

Additional research carried out by CIM looking at 2,000 UK consumers reveals an expectation for companies to be doing more when it comes to sustainability, with 63 per cent of adults agreeing that brands should increase communications around the sustainability of their products and services.

However, the research shows consumers are sceptical of brands’ sustainability efforts, with 63 per cent believing that many brands only get involved with sustainability for commercial reasons, as opposed to ethical reasons. 

The findings also show that younger age groups (18-34 year olds) are more receptive to sustainable marketing, with six in ten (59%) saying they are more likely to buy products or services from a brand that advertises how sustainable they are, as opposed to just 31 per cent of those aged 55 and above.

Gemma Butler, marketing director and expert in sustainable marketing at CIM says: “We see regulation is coming to try and stem the volume of ‘greenwashing,’ and this is a good thing in my opinion. To really make progress in tackling the sustainability challenge, we must see businesses be more open and transparent about their impact on the environment as consumers, employees and indeed investors are all asking for it. 

“At CIM we welcome new supporting legislation like Competition and Markets Authority’s ‘Green Claims Code’. We feel passionately that marketers should not shy away from communicating on their sustainability credentials out of fear of being labelled as ‘greenwashing’. If anything, it should encourage them to upskill immediately, so they have the tools and knowledge to feed into effective sustainability-led organisational strategies – after all, the environmental challenge will only get worse if we don’t start taking decisive and collaborative action to change the path we are on.”

Marketing’s ability to drive change

Encouragingly, 71 per cent of marketers feel they already have a voice within their company or with their clients when it comes to sustainability, demonstrating the positive impact they could have within businesses when armed with the right skills. 

An additional online poll on LinkedIN by CIM of over 1,000 people (1,193) found that 71% of respondents felt that marketing now played a significant role when it comes to driving sustainability initiatives. Only 3 per cent felt that marketing had no power to drive through change. 

Butler continues: “Every marketer should remind themselves that their job is not just about driving click-throughs or marketing a product. They are in a unique position to influence social change, mediating the relationship between brands and their customers. They should act as a catalyst for positive change and have an important role to play in making sure that brands have sustainability high up on the priority list.”

The findings come at a time when recent adverse weather headlines and social conversations about climate change have made nearly half (49%) of UK adults consider how they can adapt their behaviours to be more sustainable in their day-to-day lives. Nearly half of workers (48%) say they would also like their employer to be more transparent about the impact it has on the environment, with only a third (32%) claiming they are proud of their company’s current sustainability credentials.

For marketers looking to upskill in the area, the Chartered Institute of Marketing offers two programmes: ‘The Sustainable Marketer’ course providing marketers with the opportunity to rethink how their business approaches sustainability whilst helping to leverage it as a source of brand loyalty, competitive advantage and commercial success; and the ‘Sustainable Transformation Programme’ which has been designed to equip marketers and businesses to take the lead in developing transformational sustainable, and responsible business and marketing strategies for their organisation.  

For more information on sustainable marketing and how marketers can drive sustainability change across the business visit the: CIM ‘Sustainable Transformation Hub’.

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