Marketing is not changing fast enough according to new research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) in partnership with Kantar’s Sustainable Transformation Practice. The function needs to catch up with other business areas, with the largest share (39%) still only taking the first steps on their sustainability journeys.

Some challenges appear to have become more prominent in recent years. So much so that the size and scale of change are gradually dawning on marketers as they learn more – capability gaps were cited by 35% versus 20% in 2021.

Sustainable Marketing 2030 identifies a greater ambition to transform with 90% of marketers agreeing that sustainability agendas must be more ambitious and 94% saying marketers need to act more bravely and experiment to drive transformative change. This is reflected in more brands now having sustainability as a KPI in their marketing dashboards – up from 26% in 2021 to 43% in 2023.

Additionally, despite the fear of being accused of greenwashing, 82% say companies need to be braver in communicating their sustainability efforts, with 41% of brands now saying they have a sustainability story and are proud to share it, compared to 25% in 2021.

Fifty-four per cent agreed with the need to educate people about their choices and actions, reflecting the insight that marketing must seek to drive and normalise new sustainable behaviours – both internally and externally.

The top challenges identified are organisational issues: lack of internal resources (35%), knowledge and skills gap (35%), organisational mindset (32% said that sustainable solutions are perceived as costly), the lack of a P&L policy that protects the planet (35%), and a lack of transparency in measurement (30%).

Progress will require marketers to leverage innovation and creativity to make a difference to the business – with innovation cited as the top opportunity to drive transition (57%) followed by new business models (55%) and educating consumers at scale (54%).

Sustainable Marketing 2030 includes a circular marketing framework that reimagines marketing’s role within the business and its ability to drive growth in a way that is compatible with a sustainable future. The shift to a circular understanding of value presents an opportunity for leaders to drive new ways of thinking and acting, with 44% agreeing that the organisational value chain holds opportunities that marketing can leverage. Partnerships have the potential to play a vital role in driving the pace and scale of change required. Forty-six per cent of respondents agreed that marketing could drive a bigger impact through collective responsibility.

Other key findings on Sustainable Marketing 2030 include:

  • A job for all: Sustainability does not neatly fit into one function and is increasingly seen as a job for all.  A lack of standardised measurement to provide a common language and monitor progress is a recurring challenge, alongside a seemingly perpetual knowledge gap (35% in 2023 vs 20% in 2021).
  • An opportunity for marketing: The marketing function is still lagging compared to the rest of the business two years on. Sustainable transformation is still seen as a responsibility and an opportunity for marketing. Marketing has the budget and authority to better activate sustainability within the strategic agenda versus sustainability departments or other functions in isolation.
  • The scale of the challenge: As people become more aware of the response required to solve issues like the climate crisis, they understand that what their organisations are currently doing is not enough, despite making meaningful progress. As a result, organisational confidence is down, with fewer performing in the top bracket, from 29% in 2021 down to 15% in 2022.

“Marketers are finally starting to grasp the scale of the sustainability challenge, particularly the climate crisis. We have reached the point where the status quo is no longer an option. Radical transformation is essential. We passionately believe that marketers are uniquely placed to drive the change we need on account of their unique creativity, innovation and communication skillset. The Sustainable Marketing 2030 initiative focuses on how marketers can drive growth while embracing the sustainability agenda,” said Stephan Loerke, WFA CEO.

Sustainable Marketing 2030 focuses on the value-action gap within marketing organisations. It’s remarkable that even though 94% of marketers are willing to be brave to drive transformative change, organisations still behave in the same way. Our benchmark aims to provide marketing organisations with a compass to assess where they are and help them take the first steps towards the right direction,” Ozlem Senturk, Senior Partner, Sustainable Transformation Practice, Kantar.

Sustainable Marketing 2030 is based on quantitative and qualitative research with 18 in-depth vision interviews with Global CMOs and 10 interviews with sustainability experts as well as responses from 938 senior client-side marketers across 48 countries worldwide, including a wide mix of territories, company sizes and categories. Research was conducted between October 2022 and March 2023.

Download the report on request