Selling Solutions: Collaborative Environmentalism and Modern Marketing

With the many prevalent dilemmas arriving along with a rapidly changing climate, one philosophical conundrum, in particular, has challenged our universal “green consciousness” for decades. From every minor one-click purchase to every major corporate or governmental settlement, the question remains: in today’s highly interconnected world, where does environmental responsibility truly lie? And what role can marketing play in the ongoing cultivation of ethical solutions?

How the Solution Became the Problem

With rising levels of eco-consciousness coloring the cultural narrative of the 1960s, the “save the planet!” discourse (and all the picket signs it begot) begged the question of who, exactly, was responsible for doing the literal “saving.” Rightfully so, demands were made of the American government to protect natural resources and universal rights to clean air and water, which led to some hallmark pieces of environmental legislation

But in the early aughts, the government—and the economy—began to encourage a public role-reversal in the vein of “ask not what your country can do to stop global warming; ask how global warming can be stopped by you and your American wallet.” Sustainability became increasingly individualized, a personal responsibility and means of privileged virtue signaling to oneself and to others that you can indeed have your cake and eat it too, just so long as that cake is local, organic, hormone-free, and non-GMO. 

This trend shifted the environmental focus from the necessity of systemic overhaul to the importance of microcosmic purchasing power that pushes for change in the aggregate—the idea being that if more people buy organic vegetables, for example, the more popular organic farming will become by demand. But because the personal is deeply enmeshed in the political, the binary between individual and organizational responsibility has become obsolete. 

Today, what we need most are answers detailing how to find success—both as producers and consumers—while at the same time navigating the complex realities of our planetary crises. Modern marketing is an incredibly salient place to investigate—and begin—this type of exploratory work. 

Marketing and the Environmental Equation

Historically, corporations have been exceptionally quick to adopt environmental angles to drum up business. But after one too many “buy-one-plant-one-tree” commercials and empty aesthetic promises, consumers were quick to sound the alarms on what became commonly known as “corporate greenwashing.” This concept is a marketing tactic geared toward progressive consumers wherein businesses espouse green virtue without implementing any meaningful internal change. 

This jaded trope often overshadows the fact that thousands of incredible companies are putting out products and services that are environmentally conscious, with that number ever on the rise; today, nearly 70% of consumers in North America prefer sustainable or eco-friendly brands. 

And it’s up to marketing firms across the world to assist these small businesses, brands, and startups in spreading the word, forming strategic alliances, and getting their goods into the hands of those who strive to make moral choices within an increasingly complex system. 

At its core, the purpose of marketing is to help businesses better address the people they serve. And all people, all consumers, need a habitable planet in order to live and thrive.  

Collaborative Answers to Ethical Questions

One incredible advantage of the marketing industry lies in the fact that it is inherently collaborative. Marketing facilitates a bidirectional conversation between producer and consumer; ideally, it constructs a dialogue of mutual trust that is both honest and direct. In essence, consumers want to know that the brands they buy aren’t just selling the idea of change but truly making it themselves. Though it’s left up to businesses to decide how green their goods and services are, marketing strategists can push for green collaboration as a strategic campaign asset.  

The Power of Partnership

Brands don’t need to exist within an inherently environmental niche to be effective allies of the climate movement. The vast opportunities for partnership range from ecological experts and NGOs to green ambassadors and community programs or mutual aid initiatives. Partnerships act as a collaboratively beneficial means of elevating messages that come directly from environmental activists rather than brand messaging that is (by necessity) artificially constructed. 

One compelling example is YETI’s recent campaign launched in April of 2020, a four-part docuseries on Youtube following John John Florence, a professional surfer and brand ambassador, as he launched a trans-Pacific sailing trip towards the Line Islands south of Hawaii. It’s an arresting cinematic journey that emanates passion for environmental conservation, culminating in the announcement that YETI contributed $10,000 to The Nature Conservancy in Palmyra Atoll.

There is an absolute authenticity to this project that speaks to the power of collaboration in the modern marketplace; by allowing their brand ambassadors to tell their own stories, YETI provided a space to self-promote while allowing genuine, unmediated activism of the project to remain nearly autonomous. Whether they are local or multinational, other brands can emulate this approach and allow new voices to participate in the conversation. 

When Planet Meets Profit

And who better than marketing professionals to make use of business potential through strategic outreach? Collaborations are incredibly marketable in the public eye; they can be easily translated and promoted through social media conduits and multimedia expositions. Both partners receive more publicity together than they would as separate entities. 

The future of environmental allyship through marketing must become increasingly egoless and authentic, with a focus, above all else, on aligning the incentives between planet and profit. Overwhelming research proves that it’s incredibly possible for green ideas to contribute to financial objectives, through sales, job formation, and resource retention allowing businesses to grow sustainably without running out of raw materials. 

For climate change remediation to be truly meaningful, efforts must be personal, political, and professional. This intersectionality embraces change through cooperation, as all of our work towards achieving a lifetime guarantee of a better future. 

Want to Get Involved? Marketing for Change with Online Optimism

Online Optimism is a leading digital marketing agency located in the heart of New Orleans, a city that has and will continue to experience the ongoing hardship of climate change firsthand. Our company partners with community organizations and local entrepreneurs to promote sustainable growth and the cultivation of shared value systems that support financial and environmental resiliency in the area. Learn more about our value systems here or browse our free resources online