Sustainable Marketing: Managerial‐Ecological Issues

Michael Saren (University of Strathclyde)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Saren, M. (2000), "Sustainable Marketing: Managerial‐Ecological Issues", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 34 No. 5/6, pp. 747-748.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As the numerous consumer and media concerns with the environmental and safety consequences of the activities of the food sector alone highlight, the natural environment is now a “key variable” in, what is known in the textbooks as, the marketing environment. If the recent tide of consumer and media concern does not bring the importance of green issues to the attention of managers, a further powerful incentive will come from the launch of shareholder and investor initiatives such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index, which rank companies according to their commitment to sustainability in order to meet growing demand from “ethical” fund managers and ecologically concerned individual investors and retailers.

In this sense, the ecosystem itself can be viewed as a “stakeholder” in all enterprises. So, there are good reasons for Phil Harris of Manchester Metropolitan University to write in the brochure for the British publication of this book by Sage that; “This text is much needed and long overdue for the modern (sic) senior marketer or manager”.

The value of this book then is likely to be greatest for managers and for those needing a text for teaching managers about the environment. As the subtitle indicates, the author takes a very managerial approach to ecological issues. The text is structured along the four Ps (or four green Ps, at any rate) with a step‐by‐step guide to sustainable variants of marketing strategy, the PLC and market development thrown in as well. Fuller argues that sustainability is “a logical extension of contemporary marketing”. At that level he makes a pretty good job of operationalizing green marketing principles. He is a kind of green Kotler – “Environmental Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation and Control”.

And here lies the book’s weakness. The blurb on the back cover boasts that Sustainable Marketing is structured around the traditional “4Ps” of marketing and explains how marketing mix decisions can and do influence environmental outcomes. But, can green principles (never mind “sustainable” ones which go further) actually be successfully operationalized using the normative marketing management toolkit?

The traditional, functionalist, anthropocentric and consumerist marketing concept itself must be fatally implicated in the waste, damage and excess that is the modern (not Post; I agree with Phil above) market and consumption system (yes, not process). As Douglas Brownlie and I have argued elsewhere the problems with the marketing concept are essentially ideological. Fuller appears to think that they are essentially managerial. Managers can “bolt on”, as it were, a “green extension” to the basic concept and the traditional 4Ps approach to marketing and there you have it, Sustainable Marketing!

If one looks at the green marketing literature – authors such as Peattie, Kilbourne, Kajzer, McDonagh and Prothero – there is a clear sense that nothing short of a revolutionary reassessment of basic marketing ideas, techniques, orientation and practice is required to achieve the undeniably radical goal of sustainability. The roles of people, society and technologies all have to fundamentally change yet Fuller doesn’t address any of these aspects. This is precisely the danger of the reductionist 4Ps format which he adopts, as Foucault put it, that “categories create outcomes” – i.e. that you carefully segment and analyse the chosen parts and lose sight of the whole. This is surely the antithesis of the holistic environmental paradigm.


Brownlie, D. and Saren, M. (1992), “The four Ps of the marketing concept: prescriptive, polemical, permanent and problematical”, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 3447.

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