Sustainable Marketing Expert

Interview with Sustainable Marketing Expert – Dr. Sujata Khandai

In general, sustainable marketing can be described as the inclusion of environmental and socially responsible products, practices, and brand values. ‘Sustainable marketing’ is a new concept that requires going beyond a commercial and product orientation towards building a broad societal system together with a economic impact for a long-term relationship.

Five Principles of Sustainable Marketing

  • Consumer-oriented marketing
  • Customer value marketing
  • Innovative marketing
  • Sense-of-mission marketing
  • Societal marketing

Let us listen to Dr. Ms Sujata Khandai. She is a professor of Marketing and Deputy Dean (academics) at Amity University Noida with over 21 years of experience. She also serves as Director at Amity college of commerce & finance and Officiating head at Amity school of business. She completed her undergraduate degree in Economics from Ethiraj College, Chennai, PGDM Marketing from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. She also holds a PhD from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. She has also served in Bajaj electricals, Kathmandu university, IILM, and ITS.

Q1. Sustainability-related processes have recently gained ground in businesses across the globe. How does sustainability impact marketing?

Answer: Sustainability is something which is a primary concern to each one of us. If you see developed economy they are more way ahead when it comes to incorporating sustainability processes and all their activities of their daily lives in fact. Now marketing is very important function of our daily lives because this is how corporations earn revenues and this is what gets the corporation going. The reason sustainability has prompted, initiated worldwide is initiated by UN and is commonly known as sustainability development goals. Society’s driving for today is nothing else but sustainability because we need to take care of the environment, we have to leave behind something for our generations to come.

If we consume all the natural resources, we pollute the environment and we bring about massive climatic changes that we see happening today also, especially in India we are witness to it, we will probably leave a planet which is so much worse for a much generation that they would probably will not livable earth, they will probably have to go elsewhere and to search other planets to live on. So that is the reason why sustainability is so so very important today.

Q2. Marketing is currently confronting immense change due to sustainability and evolving customer expectations. This brings both risk and opportunity. What’s your opinion about it?

Answer: Let us not forget, sustainability is a very complex issue. It is very nice to talk about the sustainability and we are very sustainable. But for an organization to incorporate sustainable practices is not easy, but considered difficult. Most of the organizations incorporating sustainability to their business practices as in the raw materials that they use, the manufacturing processes that they adopt, the supply chain processes that they have. To a certain extent they incorporate sustainable practices in some of these process but not in all the processes. It is so because it is very expensive, and risks are associated. It becomes a hugely expensive process to make your entire operation sustainable. From end to end it is not really possible.

It’s not like we started decades back, we started very recently. Some organizations like Bodyshop, they are probably more sustainable and they have worked hard incorporating sustainability into their process and practices some time back. They would probably at much more advance level but not the others. So yes, risks are certainly there, and there are immense financial risks involved. Opportunities are huge because if you see from a customer’s point of view, a large number of customers are very woke today, aware today as you call them.

They are the ones who try to be sustainable consumers. Until & unless we engender sustainable consumption amongst consumers, sustainable marketing will fall to pieces. So yes, that is an immense opportunity because if you look at the millennia especially Gen Z and the alpha generation coming up, they are the ones demanding sustainable development, and it is not only the product that is sustainable by the marketers but is also the processes that have been adopted to market and manufacture the product, even that needs to be sustainable. So it will be the demand of the generation we are going to see tomorrow that is Gen z which is already a purchasing consumer and alpha generation consumers from 2010 onwards demand sustainability from all the marketers.

Right now we have the choice, to adopt or not adopt or to what extent as long as it does not negatively impact the bottom line. But eventually we are moving towards circular economy. Circular economy is something , the more we are going towards it, the more it is going to benefit each and every stakeholder/shareholders.

Q3. What is the biggest challenge for implementing and reporting sustainability in marketing and other business processes?

Answer: Some of the big challenges for implementing and reporting sustainability would be supply chain because this can be difficult especially most of the companies are global companies. They work across countries, and market across countries. So supply chain could be difficult preposition because it involves several nations and each of the nations have their own legal requirements which is not necessarily company specific.

The second challenge, there are numerous reporting frameworks available today. Every country probably has their own unique reporting frameworks. There are some global reporting frameworks but every country has their own unique reporting framework. Under this, it can be quite difficult to harmonize them in order to present a clear picture of company’s operations.

The third challenge for sustainable marketers could be is to provide information about a company that covers broad variety of topics that include climate change, human rights, labour. Probably these are 3 big challenges that could pose difficulty in implementing sustainability.

Q4. Pandemic disrupted supply chains across the globe. How does sustainability help us to address the issue?

Answer: Pandemic probably has given rise to or awakened people mostly individuals and consumers. We were extremely consumerist earlier, in the sense that we would buy, use and dispose. When we buy, use and dispose, we forget that whatever we are disposing of and most of it like 80% of that non-recyclable. What we are throwing in the trashcan, trashcan is taken away the administration. The point is it not dumped it is disappeared into thin air.

If we dispose clothes on daily bases, each one of us, considering most of them as non-recyclable, they would probably fill up all the oceans in the world. Where would we go if all the oceans in the world gets filled up in a few years time. Water is something which preserves and sustains us. If all the oceans are going to filled up with trash, what will happen to us? and that is where we come to the concept of the circular economy.

Circular economy mostly talks about sharing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, recycling existing materials and products. So today if you see, in India for instance, this has been a trend in France & England for quite sometime, in India also, it could be seen that a particular site which often pops-up i.e.

Poshmark is generally selling recyclable products. They don’t call it second-hand, although it is, but they mostly call it reusable products. There is no harm or shame in reusing the product if it’s in good condition. In India it is not considered very good to reuse, we have our own superstition which needs to be get rid off. Such superstition should not be allowed to prevail. We should be more conscious about our economy and see that we don’t overburden it with our rubbish. Let’s learn to recycle, refurbish and reuse. Pandemic has bought us something which could have taken probably 2 decades more. Excluding the scandivian countries which are very progressive in nature, in India it could have taken not only 2-3-4 decades more but pandemic has brought closer to being a circular economy which is being much more sustainable for future.

Q5. How is sustainability enabling new-age entrepreneurs?

Answer: New-age entrepreneurs are not necessarily those only in their 30-40s. You will find a lot of entrepreneurs who are 50s also. Look at Nykaa’s CEO. She has done a marvelous job as such in Nykaa. She was one of the 4 runners in that platform. You must have heard about the brand Mama Earth. They have come up with a lot of beauty products for skincare basically. It is one the examples of Indian startup which very effectively implemented sustainability into their practices. They plant a tree with every order placed with them, for every order they dispatch, they plant a tree (We can even track that).

In India we are cutting down trees on daily bases because we have a hugely growing population which is not declining at all. It maybe increasing at a slightly declining rate, but it’s still increasing, we have not been able to arrest our population growth. But we have a limited lands pace and the population needs to live on this limited land space. India is not a land of the rich, but land of middle-class. So, India cuts down it’s tress to accommodate this ever growing population, we are loosing trees. Now we have woken up to the fact that trees needs to be saved but we have already cut huge amount of trees. So what Mama Earth is doing is remedy for previously cut trees.

Delhi witnessed a temperature of 49 degrees this summers, which is absolutely alarming. A temperature of 43-44 would be very high for Delhi. But 49 is unimaginable. Why did this happen? This is probably because we have cut down the trees, this huge climate change is going all over the place. So mama earth is remeding the situation by planting trees. On the other aspect it is also satisfying an eye-feeling by mama earth, it is planting a tree in my name against my order. I feel in a certain way that i have contributed to protecting the environment. Apart from social and economic bottom line, mam earth is taking care of environmental bottom line.

There’s another new age entrepreneur called Waste Ventures India. What they have done is, over 90% of waste landfill is prevented by waste ventures India. They also use this to create organic compost which is rich in nutrients. So this is how sustainability has enabled new age entrepreneurs.

Q6. What tools and methods are used for implementing sustainability in marketing more Effectively?

Answer: Let me be more theoretical rather, corresponds to being practical. If you look at sustainable value from environment, from the economic value form and from the social valuable form. So environmental value form renewable resource, low emission, low waste, biodiversity and pollution prevention. And when we include economic value form we cannot sacrifice it just because we want to protect the environment or take care of social value form. The social value form includes equality and diversity, well-being, community standards and taking care of labour standards, health and safety. Both the environmental and social value form can only be taken care only if we make profits. So economic value form includes business stability, profits, financial resilience and healthy return on investment. Sustainability stand on these three pillars, we cannot shorten one pillar. All pillars need to stand strong.

There was a paper published by Belz & Peattie in 2009, they gave 5 most effective tool- product, price, place, promotion, people. So as in marketing, these are the 5Ps of sustainable marketing but they should necessarily correspond with customer solution, cost, convenience, communication and correlations. So you have to build the 5Ps with 6Cs and amalgamate it with 3 pillars of sustainable marketing i.e. social, economic and environmental value form.

Q7. What will sustainable marketing look like in the coming five years, significantly impacted by new-age technologies?

Answer: As we are moving towards the circular economy, if you look at what Petagonia does, it has been in sustainable marketing for a very long time. They reduce, recycle. For instance, there are small steps which companies have taken to move towards being sustainable and to making the economy more circular economy. If you look at Mac, which makes skin care, color cosmetics primarily. You buy mac products, you use the lipsticks, don’t throw them away, once you finish the lipsticks take them back. If you give them 3 lipsticks, they give you 1 lipstick free. This is one way of encouraging don’t throw you trash, probably of course mac reuses that. Body shop does the same. All these brands and marketers have tried to reduce landfills and trash to a very large extent.

In the future, organizations in this manner will be able to produce more and buy using less resources, because they are recycling their own products. they will use less resources and this way they improve accountability and credibility. Which would result in stronger relationships, will reduce consumer spending. So i instead of spending more on the lipsticks, instead of buying 2 lipsticks, i will buy just 1 and would give back 2 empty tubes. So that i get 1 lipstick free. So i’m buying less. When i buy less, i spend less. Therefore it reduces consumer’s spending also.

The sustainable marketing again just goes beyond using green materials or beyond manufacturing product ay lower costs and so on. It’s more about collaboration, value co-creation as we call it. You have to bting in customers, they have to become a part of your creation process. They have to understand what they are doing, and what you are doing. So that when customers co-create with you they more aware of how much is being wasted, how much is being spent. They become more conscious consumers in the long run.

Q8. Which skills and qualifications are essential to being a sustainability entrepreneur?

Answer: To become sustainable there are lot of skills required. They are very important and for everybody in fact. But in going forward, you have to become a sustainable entrepreneur. There cannot just disregard for sustainability or being sustainable in your operations in your thoughts and processes and thing you will run a profitable business, that’s not going to work. As I said 3 pillars- economic, environment, social value form are your go to pillars. There is no way you can work around them.

The first thing is awareness, you have to be aware of what being sustainable means and you have to kind to integrate the 3 pillars into your DNA, when you start out on your business. That is absolutely non-negotiable. If you have some of these qualities, would of course become a sustainable entrepreneur, you have something called a foundation knowledge, strong leadership, clear understanding of what strategic opportunities are, should be extremely future oriented and must have creative and imaginative solutions to problems, you should be able to calculate and ditch potential values and of course effective communication skills.

Effective communication skills is important because if you are able to communicate well, you will be able to educate your customers well, which will lead them to willingly adopt your product. Sustainability comes at a price. Buying a sustainable product, it will be more priced than a comparable product, which has not been manufactured using sustainable pratice. So a cream by bodyshop, will be more expensive and jacket by Patagonia than a comparable manufacturer not using sustainable practices. Commication is important because it requires them educating what they are buying.

Q9. What, according to you, are the common mistakes committed by new entrants in sustainability operations?

Answer: What happens with new entrants is that, they need to look at the bottom line also. Most entrepreneurs especially in India, start out with their own money. Venture capital funding comes later on. It’s only when they have proven themselves, that they are able to attract funding. Till then they are on their own from Family, friend and fools. They constantly have to look at bottom line. In an entrepreneurial set-up, the founder becomes all-in-all, he take all the risks, assumes all the responsibilities, everybody looks at the founder for everything. So he/she is in a pretty vulnerable position. While constantly looking at the bottom line, even you want to be sustainable, you tend to commit a mistake of missing the relevancy of sustainability in your business.

Sometimes you are not able to find the right person to lead sustainable business initiatives as probably they cost more, and you don’t have the money to pay to the person. You don’t have the time because you are running the business and sustainability takes a back seat, lack of employee engagement, you don’t buy in your employees to your sustainability methods. Then the employees themselves are not aware of what you intend doing as far as being sustainable is considered. When employees don’t engage, sustainability don’t happen.

Lack of sustainability programmes and frameworks in your organizations. When the framework is missing, nobody really address to it. When it is preset, it is much easier to work accordingly. So these are the some of the common mistakes committed by the new entrants in sustainability operations.

Q10. What is your advice for people looking to build a career in this field?

Answer: You have to believe in being sustainable. You have to believe that you have to leave a planet for future generation. We need to leave a healthier planet for them. So that is something we must believe in. This planet is ours, there is no plan B as far as planet is concerned. This is the only planet we have, so there is just 1 plan and 1 planet. So let us make this planet more liveable. For that we have to believe, in being sustainable. Until and unless we do that, we learn and understand more about it, enhance our knowledge related to sustainability , read about sustainability goals, understand sustainable marketing & consumption, how to use limited resources in the most effective and efficient manner.

Sustainability is using minimum resources to maximize benefits. So if we believe in it, we become sustainable in our daily lives, we believe in and integrate that into our DNA, that would be enough. We will make our planet a much better place to live in for the future generations to come.

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