Rio+20: Could it be a marketer to save the world?

Today’s featured Rio+20 entry comes from Henrietta (Etta) Smylie, a BSc Marketing student from the Newcastle University Business School.

Etta’s entry drew on her expertise in marketing and examined the power (and responsibility) of big business to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. The judging panel were impressed with the way Etta focused in on one particular aspects of the debates we had last year, and used her particular background in marketing to give a different perspective. They were also very impressed by the very concrete, tangible (and eminently implementable) suggestions made by Etta in her report.

This entry saw Etta secure fourth place in the competition (congratulations Etta!) and win a trip to Sao Paulo over the summer to visit one of the Brazil’s leading PR firms, Linhas Comunicacao (appropriately enough, given the content of Etta’s entry!) and see the work they and some of their high-profile clients are involved in.

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Could it be a marketer to save the world?

A reoccurring question from the Newcastle Rio 2012 preliminary discussions was, ‘what can big business do to help ‘save the world’?’. It was widely thought that there is a lot they can do.

Having so much power, there is a responsibility on big business to take action.  However, there is also much to be gained for both brand image and profitability by businesses themselves.

To be seen as a good citizen is a strategic position for a business to take and so, by introducing effective corporate social responsibility policies it is a ‘win win’ situation.

It has been suggested that corporate social responsibility policies are simply a PR stunt and do nothing to really help solve the world’s problems.  Yet, as more and more businesses pursue this idea of being a more socially responsible citizen it will become a point of differentiation and an area of competition between business rivals.

Businesses are upping their game in terms of what they can give back to the world to win customers over.  Business ethics researcher, Gaski said, “without doubt the ethics of one day may be the law of the next”.  Business must step up and take action if they wish to remain profitable in the future.

Rio 2012 looks to be very much business focused, so what can Newcastle University do to make their mark on this issue?

Marketing will be used as an example of how this specific function can help ‘save the world’.  In many of the debates ‘Fairtrade’ and ‘organic produce’ were mentioned, but why are these issues at the forefront of peoples’ minds?

The answer is marketing.

Yes, it is policy makers and NGOs that have really pushed the concepts but it is marketing that has sold the ideas to customers.  Every Starbucks chain now sells Fairtrade coffee and it is ‘trendy’.  It is the marketing that makes us buy into these issues by giving them a name, a logo and an identity to which people wish to belong.

This then answers a major question that was asked at the preliminary talks – ‘how can we persuade the majority to get involved in sustainability issues?’  From Procter and Gambles’ campaign that persuaded consumers to wash clothes at 30 degrees to American Apparel’s anti-sweat shop clothing range, marketing has made people take notice of sustainability issues.

However, many marketers do not realise the potential they have to impact the world. It is often seen that sustainability issues are for environmentalists and geographers, not future businessmen.

This is where Newcastle University can take a pioneering role. My suggestion is that the Newcastle University Marketing course should incorporate a compulsory sustainability lecture on the potential marketing has to make people aware of sustainability issues.

This will also make our students more employable as this issue of corporate social responsibility comes to the forefront of business strategy. The sustainable element of the marketing course may only be one lecture each year but it will make marketers realise that sustainability is an issue they can impact. The aim will be to help marketers realise the responsibility they have and the potential benefits of sustainable business practises.

I have specifically looked at the marketing function; however, every business role can have a part to play.  Indeed any job can have some sort of role to play in sustainability issues.  Even if it is simply switching off lights in the office, every person in every career field can do something.

This idea of, ‘how can your degree course link to sustainability?’ could be rolled out over every course at Newcastle University, from marketers, to speech therapists to zoologists.  Sustainability issues are not just for the environmentalist, they are for everyone.

In my opinion, I believe it could be a marketer that saves the world. Who do you think it could be?

Etta Smylie
BSc (Hons) Marketing

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One Response to Rio+20: Could it be a marketer to save the world?

  1. Pingback: Reflections on a week in Sao Paulo | Sustainability@Newcastle

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