Understanding the Role of Digital Marketing in Sustainable Business

Digital marketing, powered by green energy, plays a huge role in sustainable business practices.

Among the initiatives embraced by sustainability companies is the adoption of digital marketing rather than traditional, physical methods. Many other businesses adopt sustainable business practices for a number of reasons. Including reducing energy bills, cutting down on waste, and to enhance the perception that they are practicing corporate social responsibility.

Digital marketing plays a key role in sustainable business practices, and offers logistical and environmental advantages, but only if executed properly.

Choosing Between Paper and Digital

Limiting printing, using digital ads when possible, and having documents and forms available electronically does decrease the amount of paper a business uses. However, research showed that digital documents have an environmental cost as well.

In fact, other than the paper supply chain, the paper industry is one of the most sustainable on the planet. Just over 67 percent of paper used was recycled in 20162, and the amount of forest in the United States has increased substantially over the last decade, rising 28 percent in 2012. In addition to those numbers, the number of electronic devices thrown away has increased substantially over the last decade. Not to mention that those devices use power, often generated by traditional means rather than sustainable ones.

So making the most sustainable choice for your business does not always mean choosing digital. Determining which type of media has the greatest impact on the environment is still challenging. The two types of media are extremely different, The life cycle of paper is easy to track and e-media and the overall impact of devices still difficult to determine.

What it does mean is to avoid paper use as often as possible. Businesses should also mitigate the effect of paper on the environment by using 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. It uses 31 percent less energy than virgin fiber, 53 percent less water, and nearly 100 percent fewer trees.

It also means recycling digital devices when you are through with them. While recycling digital devices is not as efficient yet as reclaiming paper, the materials used in their creation can often be reclaimed, reducing the impact of e-waste.

Making a sustainable choice when it comes to paper vs. digital may vary greatly by company, project, and situation. Being conscious of the difference and the environmental cost of both is the key.

Using Green Energy for Power

If the internet were a country, it would rank fifth in the world for energy uses, just behind Japan. The internet is a global collective of the global power usage required by the world wide web, but the real issue behind data centers is how the power for them is generated.

The giant of data centers, Amazon Web Services, just brought on five more solar projects to power their cloud services at the end of 2016, and plan to have all of them active by the end of 2017. Because of the intense power requirements of data centers, companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple are looking to renewable energy sources to run them.

Whether the motive for these actions is to save the environment or save money may be an irrelevant argument. If what saves a company money is also good for the environment, it is a win-win situation.

Using clean energy to power digital devices, including servers and computers, reduces e-waste, making digital vs. print marketing an even more valuable step in the right direction for sustainability companies. Magnifying the environmental impact of going digital also involves the companies a business chooses for various services such as their server, cloud services, and internet providers.

Gaining a Competitive Advantage

Digital marketing also offers sustainable business the opportunity to gain several competitive advantages. Not only does it save them money and present opportunities to do what is best for the environment, but their ads enter spaces where their competition is not investing their efforts.

Using sustainable energy and digital marketing means a company can double its efforts with the same energy footprint, not to mention avoiding the increase in energy costs that 79 percent of businesses expect annually. Over 50 percent expect costs to rise between 6 and 20 percent each year.

By utilizing social media and digital ads sustainable businesses often reach individuals their competition does not simply by being in the right space at the right time. The use of digital media also shows their customers that they put into practice what they say, putting advertising dollars to work in sustainable spaces.

This enforces in the mind of the customer the commitment of the company to the environment and engaging in practices that are less harmful to the planet.

Spreading the Message

Not only does digital marketing save paper, use green energy for power, and help companies gain a competitive advantage, it helps them spread their message of sustainability and conservation.

Social media allows businesses to share their values and their beliefs about sustainability with followers they target, those who share their values and concerns. Digital ads can be similarly targeted.

The message is often the most important part of any campaign by a sustainable business. “People buy from you not because of what you do, but because of why you do it,” says Simon Sinek in his well-known TED talk about how great leaders inspire action. “That is how you develop trust with your customer.”

Especially in the case of sustainability and businesses pursuing sustainability initiatives, this message must be consistent and in line with the company’s actions. Social media and digital ads provide a platform to embrace this consistency.

Digital marketing, social media ads, and paperless advertising all offer companies an opportunity to save money, gain a competitive advantage and spread their positive message about the environment. Choosing digital marketing is just one choice among many that helps define a business and their brand, and open conversations within industry about corporate responsibility.

Students who pursue an MBA with an emphasis in sustainability from Marylhurst University will learn about green initiatives and the role digital marketing plays in sustainable business, creating awareness of environmental issues, and developing initiatives to help businesses deal with them responsibly.