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  • Writer's pictureMary Elizabeth Wieder

The Power of Sustainability, Social Impact, and Marketing: A Triple Win (also in the classroom!)

Last week in my International Marketing class at USAC Verona, I did a dedicated lesson on sustainability, social impact and marketing with a visit to Verona-based sustainable fashion social enterprise, Progetto Quid. Here is a look at how marketing is moving in this direction and why we should be training students already at the university level.

Many challenges our society faces today, like climate change or social inequality, have become pressing concerns, and businesses have a unique opportunity and responsibility to make a positive impact. Sustainability and social impact initiatives are no longer mere buzzwords; they have become crucial pillars of successful marketing strategies.

How can we make that profound connection between sustainability, social impact, and marketing? How can companies leverage these three elements for a triple win – benefiting the planet, society, and their bottom line?

And more importantly, why should today’s students, our future marketers, already adapt this mindset?

Marc Benioff, the CEO of SalesForce, one of the most profitable companies in the world and a Best Places to Work for consecutive years, stated, “the Fifth Industrial Revolution will demand a fundamental change to the nature of business, and our roles in it, to address the global challenges ahead and improve the state of the world”.

As we round out the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the digital age and the era of automation, Benioff says it is now time to put all our innovative advancements and technological know-how to good use and tackle society’s greatest challenges.

What are the strategies of visionary companies building a sustainable future?

1. The Social Impact Imperative: Social impact goes hand in hand with sustainability. Businesses recognize that their success is intertwined with the well-being of the communities in which they operate. By actively addressing social issues, companies can build trust, enhance their reputation, and create a positive legacy as well as create genuine connections with their customers, employees, and stakeholders.

2. The Power of Purpose-Driven Marketing: the linchpin that connects sustainability and social impact with brand positioning. It involves aligning a company's values and mission with the concerns and aspirations of its target audience. Purpose-driven marketing builds a loyal customer base, creates brand advocates, and generates positive word-of-mouth, all of which can boost sales and drive growth.

3. Authenticity and Transparency: For sustainability and social impact initiatives to have a genuine impact, authenticity and transparency are paramount. By setting measurable goals, providing transparent reporting, and actively engaging with stakeholders, businesses can build trust and credibility, solidifying their position as responsible corporate citizens.

4. Collaboration for Collective Impact: Addressing complex sustainability and social challenges requires collaboration among businesses, governments, NGOs, and consumers. Partnerships and alliances can amplify the impact of individual efforts, create scalable solutions, and foster innovation. Collaborative initiatives also offer opportunities for cross-promotion, co-branding, and shared resources, bolstering the marketing strategies of all involved parties.

Taking Sustainability, Social Impact and Marketing to the Classroom

Teaching sustainability in marketing empowers university students to be responsible marketers who consider the environmental, social, and ethical implications of their decisions. By incorporating sustainability into marketing education, students are preparing for the future of global business, and what Philip Kotler calls “entrepreneurial marketing”, which is an approach to marketing that relies on innovation, collaboration and social impact.

In addition to marketing, students expand their knowledge on:

- ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) Responsibility and the challenges society, companies and consumers face

- Consumer demand and how to market to values

- Ethical considerations in marketing: from product development to promotion

- Regulatory compliance on a global level: what are countries and governments doing to ensure sustainability? For example, an EU initiative requires a social balance sheet for companies of a certain size.

- Long-term business viability: dynamic companies that foster an environment of collaboration, innovation and strategies of “corporate citizenship” ultimately thrive in the long-term

USAC and Progetto Quid

As a professor of a 300-level International Marketing for Universities Studies Abroad Consortium in Verona, Italy, I dedicated a lesson to CSR and social impact strategies in marketing with a local visit to Progetto Quid, a social enterprise from Verona, Italy that is making fashion sustainable and dedicated themselves to a mission of female employment and creating workforce opportunities for vulnerable populations.

What is Progetto Quid’s Business Model?

A social enterprise.

Registered as a non-profit in Italy’s Terzo Settore, Progetto Quid produces a line of women’s clothing and accessories, 100% Made in Italy, using reused or recycled fabrics from over 55 fashion houses and partners in Italy. As part of the circular economy model, Progetto Quid uses leftover fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away or burned (hence, polluting the environment) to create its new collections.

In turn, the profits from clothing sales – both brick-and-mortar with 7 physical stores in Italy and eCommerce – Progetto Quid finances social projects that get women in the workforce, especially low-skilled women or those in unprotected vulnerable categories (like domestic violence victims).

My students learned about the niche approach of this business model and how to adapt a marketing mix accordingly. Most importantly, we looked at the importance of defining the intangible benefits and “satisfactions” of a product.

We visited the flagship store in Verona’s historic center to get an idea of the clientele, look at the current product lines and some products created specifically for funding women placement in the workforce and subsequent training.

Lastly, the students have been assigned a case study in determining a Go-To-Market strategy for taking Progetto Quid and its business model to the U.S. market and creating a mood board for the next Autumn/Winter collection: a task that is both creative in nature but also strategic as fashion collections must reflect consumer demands and market trends.

Stay tuned for more from the world of marketing, sustainability and social impact!

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