Sustainability Marketing or Marketing Sustainability?

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In this post, Maria Paula Hoyos talks about sustainability, the way this notion has entered the marketing discourse and how it can truly be utilised to propose a better future for society and nature. Leading up to the Degree Show, she shares her perspective of the Anti-Solutioner as an Innovation Manager.

Sustainability was taken for granted and the day Earth could no longer support human capacity was considered as a far-future threat. However, that day came sooner that we expected and now constitutes a complex and problematic reality that clearly exhibit humanity’s failure to master nature and protect its own specie.

The concept of sustainability has been denuded with meaning, making this a buzzword that could be easily apprehended by organisations into their marketing strategies to align to their customers social and ecological concerns, but without any real commitment to shape the future of humanity and Earth. As a consequence, this gloomy landscape, as I consider it, calls for a self-reflexive and more conscious period that reconsiders past mistakes of a mature industrial civilization.

Thus, as an Innovation Manager, I got immersed into an exploratory journey. This allowed me to critically reflect and work transversally within the sustainability, philosophy and marketing discourses in order to disrupt the profit-driven business paradigms of neoliberalism that have continuously spoiled the planet and hindered the ability of society to reflect on its own existence and thereby to act towards factual and progressive social and ecological change.

The latter, exposes my role as an Anti-solutioner, in which I questioned the capitalist system-old sustainability philosophical orientations – that gave priority to economic prosperity of business and the passive role of consumers within the sustainability collective project.

Moreover, in order to digest and propose an alternative pathway, I was keen to look at sustainability from a holistic angle, that integrates different divisions of a firm and creates multidirectional business value that derive the establishment of symbiotic relationships with business, society and nature.

One of the major findings of my investigation discovered that sustainability as it is, embraced today by firms, is mainly focused on either the social (Corporate Social Responsibility) or the ecological responsibility (Corporate Sustainability or sustainable development) that has resulted in a miscommunication or integration of these perspectives and the marketing department. As a result, this has enabled the creation of marketing claims that are perceived as contradictory, building a falsified structure of sustainability picture in consumers’ eyes.

Another crucial and significant aspect that gave a prominent turn of this notion is the reconfiguration of the three pillars of sustainability. Currently, these pillars concern the planet, profit and people. However, this framework has not humanity’s potential to reflect and propose new courses of action that reconnect humanity with nature and with itself and its ability to disrupt the current harmful consumption and production ideologies and practices.

It is for this reason that my research puts forward Felix Guattari’s (2005) tri-ecological vision that changes the sustainability equation, taking the place of profit as one of the pillars and replacing it with human subjectivity. The latter constitutes a new reformulation that is not people or ecology but concerns a tri-ecology vision that led me to propose an unorthodox macro marketing strategy -Activist marketing. This is a philosophy-driven strategy that involves the firm’s (1) real commitment to transform and act against current harmful production and consumption patterns, ideologies and practices, (2) desire to ignite customer’s individual reflexivity, subjectivity and participation on the quest to sustainability and (3) willingness to learn and constantly adapt its own core values, business and action for the sake of society and the planet.

In conclusion, this new proposition creates the missing link between social and ecological responsibility and marketing. It fulfils current expectations of customers toward sustainability, nurtures the company’s adaptability and long term growth by establishing long-lasting relationships with its stakeholders and nature.

To learn more about the Anti-Solutioner and Maria’s research stay tuned for the upcoming MAIM 2015 Degree Show, taking place at Central Saint Martins in the week starting on the 23rd of June.