5 Ways Marketers Can Approach Sustainability Like a Creative Project

Make it part of the brief from the beginning

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The catalyst for becoming more sustainably minded came around six years ago when I quit fast fashion. Instead, I vowed to buy only from ethical companies. My wallet became my way of voting in favor of brands that put people and the planet before profit. 

Living a more sustainable lifestyle needs to be both a priority and manageable for people, and it needs to be happening now. While we know that tackling the health of our planet is vital, it’s not always easy. Take, for example, the pandemic. Our air may be temporarily cleaner as a direct impact of less air travel, but we’ve taken huge steps back in our single-use consumption, à la disposable face masks littering the streets. 

In working with some of the world’s most recognizable brands, we can embed sustainable thinking into the work we do every day. 

Progress over perfection

You may not be an expert in sustainability, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting started. Starting from a genuine interest can help you become a changemaker at work. We can’t all be Greta Thunberg or Leonardo DiCaprio, but each of us possesses the potential to have a positive impact on the planet. Being perfect isn’t the objective here. 

Think about what motivates your household. Do you wonder how much energy you’re wasting or how much nonrecyclable waste you create? Take that concern and turn it into the fuel that motivates you at work. 

Start at the beginning

Consider sustainability at the beginning of a project. Read your client’s environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) report to start off right. Remind clients that consumers are rewarding sustainable brands with their loyalty, influence and wallets to help land your POV with a stronger business case. 

Clients should be excited about all the sustainability awards popping up, so keep the conversations going. Inspire your team along the way at every stage of the project. Doing good helps your client look good, which can sometimes be motivation enough.

Consider the cost

Trying to appeal to altruism won’t always work. Doing the right thing isn’t always enough to persuade clients, but sustainable options aren’t always more expensive. Collaborate with clients on ways to make the project more sustainable at every stage. Can we influence the packaging materials, the supply chain, production or even how we present our ideas? Can we form alliances with other agencies and suppliers to create better outcomes for our shared client and the planet? What new economies of scale can we create together through more sustainable solutions?

Make it cool

You’d be surprised at the number of clients that still think sustainability comes at the expense of design. As creatives, it should be our imperative to prove them wrong. We love to curate the world around us and make it more aesthetically pleasing, so why not curate a beautiful world of sustainability around your brief or a client’s long-term goals? Continue to bookmark, pin, share and build references to inspire and make sustainability desirable, and clients will turn their heads. 

Embed your space

One easy way to keep sustainability top of mind is to surround yourself with it. While the majority of us continue to work from home, we can make it more beautiful—and functional—with sustainable choices. Choose energy-efficient light bulbs, eco-friendly notebooks, Zoom-friendly glass water bottles, renewable pens and ethical hand moisturizers. Creatives are both influencers and consumers, and something visible onscreen might even start the conversation on your next briefing.

When it comes to sustainability, there is a lot of useful information and inspiration, but also a lot of misinformation and scaremongering. It can sometimes feel like a big issue to tackle that becomes overwhelming, despite knowing where to start. As creatives, it is our job to inspire our clients by approaching their brand and business challenges with new perspectives, playing in those gray areas to create something new and interesting. And that’s exactly how we should approach sustainability: Identify and understand the challenge, turn words into actions and make it enjoyable along the way.

If we all start taking these small and manageable steps, then sustainable thinking will become a natural, effortless part of the creative process. And, collectively, we can create a more sustainable future.

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This story first appeared in the April 5, 2021, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.