Studies reveal that there has been a drastic change in consumers’ purchasing behavior over the past decade, driven majorly by their apprehensiveness with the natural environment. As noted by Bockman et al., consumers have, in the past, expressed their demand for green products to companies (cited by Joshi & Rahman, 2015). This willingness to purchase green products is mainly triggered by environmental concerns such as the depleting ozone layer and land degradation, which are closely associated with a lack of sustainable business activities. The growing consumer consciousness towards the environment is gradually compelling businesses to accommodate multiple changes in their operations, including practicing sustainable marketing to contribute towards a sustainable environment and attract and retain their consumers.
This paper aims at exploring Univeler’s sustainable marketing activities. Some of the secondary concepts that will be examined in the research include the company’s target audience, an assessment of whether the company’s environmental record is positive, and the ethics of the company related to green marketing. Furthermore, the research will evaluate Unilever’s market segmentation, targeting, and positioning for sustainability, evaluate its marketing channels and sustainable marketing communication, and make recommendations to help the company achieve a sustainable marketing strategy.
Sustainable marketing is a highly studied concept in the field of marketing. Scholars view sustainable marketing as a concept that prioritizes sustainability over economic efficiency (Costa & Vila, 2014). Seretny (2012) also adds that “sustainable marketing focuses on meeting the needs of today’s consumers but moreover including the next generations of consumers and the possibility of meeting their needs” (p.13). Notably, unlike traditional marketing that emphasizes the economic value of a product, sustainable marketing promotes the products and services that are environmentally and socially responsible. This concept’s underlying notion is to meet the present consumer needs while indulging in practices that support future generations’ availability of goods and services.
Sustainable Marketing in Unilever
Unilever ranks among the few companies in the UAE involved in sustainable marketing. This aspect is evident in the company’s current practices, whereby it emphasizes some of its products’ sustainability. For example, Persil, one of Unilever’s home products, is promoted as an environmental and business winner. According to the company’s advertisements, the New Persil Small and Mighty liquid detergent is manufactured in such a way that the same number of washes are concentrated into a bottle a third the size leading to a third the packaging, one third the water used, and a third of the transport compared to diluted liquids (“Small & Mighty”, 2012). This advertising message reflects sustainable marketing, whereby Unilever attempts to portray its products as environmentally sustainable because they require minimum packaging and promote water and environmental conservation.
Besides the move towards small and mighty home products, Unilever’s current product recycling practices, reuse, and water preservation are also associated with sustainable marketing. As noted by George (2012), Unilever has been pursuing the objective of sending zero waste to landfill by recycling and reusing all of its waste products. The author also adds that the zero waste to landfill is part of Unilever’s sustainable living plan to reduce its environmental footprint by 2020 (George, 2012). All these efforts directed towards ecological preservation are often captured in the firm’s marketing campaign. One of the most notable practices promoted in sustainable marketing is water preservation, whereby the company promotes itself as a “water saver”.
Company’s Main Audience
An analysis of Unilever’s sustainable marketing suggests that its primary audience is environmental and non-environmentally conscious consumers. Unilever has been accommodating sustainable marketing to target consumers that are vigilant about the products they consume, including their effect on the natural environment. Arguably, indulging in sustainable marketing enhances the firm’s preference among environmentally conscious consumers, translating to more sales and revenue. The company also targets non-environmentally conscious consumers in efforts to encourage the former to engage more in sustainability. This aspect is evident from the firm’s Persil’s small and mighty product campaign, which seemingly influences consumers to make purchase decisions based on the advertised product’s environmental sustainability.
From a marketing view, Unilever would expect that sustainable marketing and the promotion of sustainable products would translate to enhanced customer demand in its business. This premise is based on prior research that suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices can garner positive consumer perceptions of the firm and increase profitability (White, Habib & Hardisty, 2019). However, this notion is not entirely true in the firm’s scenario. As noted by Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, only a small proportion of consumers are motivated to base their purchase decisions on sustainable and environmentally friendly products (Baker, 2012). Arguably, most consumers are more focused on the economic value of products, making sustainability a secondary factor of consideration during purchase. Therefore, while Unilever’s sustainable products enhance its image among environmentally conscious consumers, it lacks significant association with enhanced customer demand.
Critique of Unilever’s Environmental Record
An analysis of Unilever’s sustainable practices suggests that the company has a positive environmental record. This view is supported by evaluating the firm’s overall performance in greenhouse gas emission (GHG), water, waste, and sourcing. For example, in recent years, Unilever has significantly reduced its CO2 emissions from energy by 65%, water abstraction by 47%, and total waste sent for disposal by 96% per tonne of production (“Reducing environmental impact”, n.d.). Furthermore, the firm has avoided approximately 733 million Euros of energy costs via eco-efficiency since 2008 (“Reducing environmental impact”, n.d.). Synthesis of this information shows that Unilever has a positive environmental record because it makes significant efforts to control GHG, water usage, waste disposal, and sourcing, which are strongly associated with environmental pollution.
Ethics of the Company Related to Green Marketing and Green Washing
Green marketing and greenwashing are common concepts used in marketing and are seemingly antonymous of each other. On the one hand, green marketing is the practice of endorsing a company’s products as green. The move towards green marketing has, in recent times, given rise to greenwashing, a practice that is unethical in marketing. Greenwashing is most notably described as the dissemination of incomplete or false information to project an ecologically responsible public image (Khandelwal, Sharma & Jain, 2019). Often, firms indulge in greenwashing to garner a larger market share among environmentally conscious consumers.
Unilever is strongly involved in both green marketing and greenwashing. On the one hand, the company projects its products as environmentally friendly, which has been proven through their capacity to reduce GHG emissions, waste disposal, and water usage. However, to a significant extent, the firm also indulges in greenwashing by disseminating exaggerated information about its sustainable practices. For example, a few years ago, the firm claimed to be the first major international company to commit to absolute plastics reduction (Loh, 2019). However, based on an industrial analysis, it is evident that other firms, such as the Swiss group Nestle have had a similar pledge to plastic reduction. This information suggests that Unilever might be involved in greenwashing to enhance its market share in the industry.
Application of Sustainable Marketing Philosophies
Several philosophies govern the concept of sustainable marketing. These philosophies include meeting people’s needs, increasing global society’s development and raising the level and quality of life for today and tomorrow (Seretny & Seretny, 2012). Unilever can apply these underlying sustainable marketing philosophies by ensuring efficient utilization of manufacturing resources and sustainable consumption to ensure resources’availability to future generations.
Evaluation of Unilever’s Market Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning for Sustainability
Overall, it appears that Unilever’s market segmentation, targeting, and positioning are well aligned with the firm’s move towards sustainability. For example, the firm has four primary market segments- geographic, demographic, psychographic, and behavioral. Unilever’s behavioral market segmentation enables the firm to target consumers that are more focused on its sustainable products. Furthermore, Unilever positions itself as a brand with purpose, which is fulfilled through its sustainable practices, such as helping children access education. Besides, the company mainly targets conscious consumers who make up a significant fraction of its sustainable products.
Sustainability in the Value Chain
Based on Unilever’s operations analysis, it is evident that the company has made significant efforts to realize value chain sustainability. This sustainability is reflected in the company’s engineering process of products, packaging, and material inputs. Most notably, some of the firm’s products, such as small and mighty Persil, are engineered to reduce water usage to a third of its original consumption. Also, the product’s packaging process only requires a third of the packaging used in its previous products (“Small & Mighty”, 2012). Furthermore, the firm has multiple manufacturing plants globally, which helps reduce the carbon footprint associated with transporting products across borders. As can be seen from this information, Unilever achieves sustainability in the value chain by modifying its engineering processes, packaging, and material inputs to make them environmentally friendly.
Sustainable Marketing Communication
Besides indulging in sustainable practices, Unilever also pursues sustainable marketing communication to help achieve its sustainability objectives. Examples of sustainable marketing communication utilized include online blogs, which are used to create awareness about the firm’s sustainable products and reassure its consumers about its commitment to environmental sustainability. Besides blogs, Unilever also utilizes online media such as Facebook and its website to send its sustainability message to stakeholders.
As is evident from this research, Unilever is among the international firms operating in UAE that has, for the past few years, adopted sustainable and green marketing in its operations to attract a substantial market share among conscious consumers. It is also evident from the research that Unilever is involved in greenwashing, whereby it endorses and exaggerates efforts adopted by other market participants to enhance its market share. The research also reveals that although sustainable marketing has been associated with increased consumer demand, the notion does not entirely apply in Unilever as consumers do not make purchasing decisions based on the sustainability of the company’s products. This information suggests that consumers’ attention toward green marketing does not occur organically.
Therefore, for Unilever to eliminate this shortcoming and achieve a sustainable marketing strategy, it should focus on its primary products and move towards differentiation. Most notably, the firm should begin by making the quality of its products and prices more appealing to its consumers. After focusing on the product, the firm should make the products appealing to conscious consumers who are willing to be part of sustainable practices. Arguably, the proposed strategy would help Unilever build lasting relationships with its consumers by creating awareness about its commitment to a sustainable future while generating significant revenue from present sales.
“Reducing environmental impact” (n.d.). Unilever. Retrieved from https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/reducing-environmental-impact/
“Small and mighty says: Just concentrate!” (2012, May 1). Unilever. Retrieved from https://www.unilever.com/news/news-and-features/Feature-article/2012/small-and-mighty-says-just-concentrate.html
Baker, R. (2012, April 24). Unilever: Sustainability marketing is the biggest challenge. Marketing Week. Retrieved from https://www.marketingweek.com/unilever-sustainability-marketing-is-biggest-challenge/
Costa, G., & Vila, M. (2014). Sustainable marketing: An exploratory study of the perceptions of marketing managers in international Spanish hotels. Journal of Management for Global Sustainability, 2(1), 73-94.
George, S. (2012). Green marketing in UAE. Academia. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/13761928/GREEN_MARKETING_IN_UAE
Joshi, Y., & Rahman, Z. (2015). Factors affecting green purchase behaviour and future research directions. International Strategic Management Review, 3(1-2), 128-143. doi: 10.1016/j.ism.2015.04.001
Khandelwal, M., Sharma, A., & Jain, V. (2019). Greenwashing: A study on the effects of greenwashing on consumer perception and trust build-up. Research Review International Journal of Multidisciplinary, 4(1), 607-612. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331630061_GREENWASHING_A_Study_on_the_Effects_of_Greenwashing_on_Consumer_Perception_and_Trust_Build-Up
Loh, L. (2019, October 10). How Unilever’s brands are trying to remain “relevant”. Unreserved. Retrieved from https://www.unreservedmedia.com/how-unilevers-brands-are-trying-to-remain-relevant/
Seretny, M., & Seretny, A. (2012). Sustainable marketing- A new era in responsible marketing development. Foundations of Management, 4(2), 1-23. doi: 10.2478/fman-2013-0011
White, K., Habib, R., & Hardisty, D.J. (2019). How to SHIFT consumer behaviours to be more sustainable: A literature review and a guiding framework. Journal of Marketing, 83(3), 22-49. doi:10.1177%2F0022242919825649