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Dare to Do Sustainable Marketing

It is impossible to continue to produce and consume as if natural resources are unlimited and as if we live alone in this world. We need to invent new methods of production and consumption which use less energy and fewer resources.

Marketing, when considered as a technique of social influence between companies and markets, should play two roles: 1) to encourage companies to create sustainable products and offers and introduce them onto the market, and 2) to encourage consumers to buy responsibly.

In order to improve products and offers, we have a large range of solutions at our disposition: eco-conception, the circularity of exchanges in a cradle-to-cradle approach, de-materialization and the "servicization" of exchange are only a few possible examples.

This last option seems like one of the most attractive choices in order to decouple the creation of riches and the use of resources and energy. This entails offering services instead of goods, which serve the same purpose, but with a reduced environmental impact.
Christophe Sempels authored “Dare to Do Sustainable Marketing.”

Big companies such as Xerox or Michelin have made this shift in strategy with great success. By integrating eco-conception, servicization and circularity of exchanges, Xerox now re-uses between 70 and 90 percent of its existing photocopier parts to develop new models. This has entailed a financial gain of $2 billion dollars in less than 10 years, coupled with enormous environmental benefits.

Michelin has experienced a similar success story by launching Michelin Fleet Solutions, a management service program. Instead of selling tires, the company now manages its carriers' tires -- billing them for their travelled miles -- so as to maximize the tires' life, to reduce the time that trucks idle and to decrease fuel consumption. These are all results the carriers ultimately seek out. In addition to reducing the negative effect on the environment, the company has enjoyed great commercial success. In 2006, it had more than 260,000 trucks under contract in more than 20 countries.

Moving from product to service puts the focus back on the consumer. Because the company no longer offers a material item, the marketers must analyze the acceptability and the use of such a service.

Beyond this, in terms of marketing, the sustainable offer must be made more attractive than the classic one. Marketers should get rid of the belief that the "green" argument is a "miracle" argument and completely rethink marketing strategies in order to implement a global, sincere, and thus credible process.

Christophe Sempels is a permanent professor and researcher at ESC Lille (, where he teaches sustainable marketing. He is author of the book "Oser le marketing durable" ("Dare to do sustainable marketing"), published by Pearson Publications in February 2009.

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