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Marketing sustainability: How CMOs navigate climate change

A quick temperature check of the sustainability landscape

Environmental sustainability is a topic nearly every organization is thinking about—and CMOs are no different. However, how CMOs perceive the importance of sustainability—and their personal ability to influence their organization’s sustainability initiatives—varies considerably. This report highlights four insights from a recent pulse survey conducted with The CMO Club that provide a quick look into the current marketing landscape around environmental sustainability.

Sustainability looms over most companies, but CMOs are split on its place in marketing

Whether it inspires product design and delivery, or guides organizational decision-making and investments, nearly every respondent acknowledged sustainability plays some role in their organization today. Despite sustainability looming over most companies in some form or another, CMOs are split on how important sustainability is to their marketing strategies in the coming year. 45% percent see environmental sustainability as integral to the long-term success of the organization. On the other hand, 38% recognize sustainability will have implications for their organization but see other ways to succeed, and 15% say it’s not important at all. While CMOs may differ on whether sustainability is a fundamental component for their marketing strategy or simply an addendum, CMOs do agree on what makes for a successful approach.

CMOs see cross-functional coordination as key for sustainability initiatives

When we asked CMOs what will contribute to a successful sustainability initiative, a coordinated strategy is at the forefront with nearly 70% indicating its importance (figure 1). This may not be surprising given the scope of sustainability and, more generally, how marketers increasingly see the importance of collaborating across the business to push their initiatives forward. Further, it may be a possible explanation (or barrier) for why fewer than half of CMOs see sustainability as integral to success. That is, if it’s not coordinated across the enterprise, it will be difficult to successfully implement.

Figure 1: Top contributors to success for sustainability initiatives

The CMO Club, June 2022.


While a coordinated strategy may be the primary component to success, it’s not the only one needed (CMOs cited three contributors on average from figure 1). Incorporating insights and feedback from across the organization is crucial for shaping a marketing strategy that not only aligns with that organization’s goals, but also takes into consideration its constraints.

In fact, our next finding underscores a reason why cross-functional coordination is important for marketers.

Sustainability is just as important for internal employee marketing as it is for consumers

CMOs indicated their sustainability initiatives have the company’s workforce in mind just as often as its consumers. When we asked CMOs about the primary goal of their sustainability initiatives, 70% cite improving employee recruitment, retention, and morale as a key objective—a figure equal to those who cite strengthening existing relationships or attracting new customer segments. And nearly half of CMOs state their objectives are meant to appeal to both employee and consumer perceptions alike.

This finding reinforces a growing trend in the importance employees place on companies’ attitudes toward environmental sustainability. A 2021 Deloitte study found 47% of companies reported a positive impact on employee recruitment and retention as a result of their environmental sustainability efforts. While these findings underscore the importance of marketing’s role in driving sustainability, our last finding also highlights a crucial component CMOs must take into consideration.

Measuring success stands out among the biggest obstacles for sustainability

When you can’t measure outcomes, it’s difficult to determine success—and sustainability initiatives are no exception. Though budget narrowly ekes out the most commonly cited obstacle, the next two biggest obstacles both involve establishing measurable outcomes. Fifty-seven percent of CMOs cite at least one of either establishing success metrics for their marketing initiatives or measuring the actual environmental impact of their company’s efforts as obstacles (figure 2).

Figure 2: Top obstacles for CMOs’ sustainability initiatives

The CMO Club, June 2022.


This finding speaks to evergreen obstacles CMOs must face that permeate into sustainability. First, it may not be enough for marketers to boast of their company’s efforts—both consumers and employees need to see a demonstrable impact as a result of those efforts. Second, it remains just as important for CMOs to demonstrate the ROI from their sustainability initiatives for internal stakeholders.

Recommendations for marketers taking up environmental sustainability

  1. Find your internal sustainability partners to identify key concerns and objectives: CMOs need to align with key stakeholders in their organization to clarify objectives and avoid the potential consequences that occur as a result of a misalignment between practices and messaging. If your organization has a chief sustainability officer, start with them—or bring together heads of function to establish areas of shared interests. Leverage your voice of the customer to inform strategy.
  2. Build consensus on metrics that tie to clear business outcomes: Work closely across the organization to identify metrics that can be tied to tangible business outcomes. Consult other functions to understand what can be measured, and leverage your customer understanding to identify what will matter most to your audience. Use this same process for potential gaps in your customer or employee understanding, such as an employee pulse survey or adjusting existing customer feedback surveys to capture attitudes toward sustainability efforts.
  3. Consult Human Resources to clarify what matters to employees: Finally, work closely with the chief human resources officer to understand what both current and prospective employees care about, and use that to inform your messaging and marketing strategy. Establishing a strong link between employee satisfaction and sustainability efforts can also improve buy-in from the rest of the organization. And while this is relevant to all marketers, it may be especially important for B2B marketers who often are marketing to current and prospective employees.

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