How Is Sustainable Marketing More Profitable in the Long Run?

Tom Maskill smiling, sitting at a desk

Tom Maskill is the Sustainability and Sales Director of Webmart, a marketing company that calculates the environmental impact of every campaign it creates.

In the context of high inflation, record rates of business insolvency, and an escalating climate crisis, Tom believes all companies stand to gain from going green.

At a time when business balance sheets have never been under such pressure, Tom argues that caring for the planet nurtures commercial success.

Tom Maskill smiling, sitting at a desk
Tom became Sales and Sustainability Director of Webmart in April 2023, after four years at the company.

30 Seconds With… Tom Maskill of Webmart

Can becoming greener as a business make your business more profitable?

Yeah, I think so. Generally speaking, the younger generation values those kinds of things more highly. Both in the place they want to work, and the products they want to buy.

Whilst now it’s the right thing to do morally, I think increasingly it will be the right thing to do commercially. And ultimately it’ll be the thing you have to do.

Look at the rate of growth and employee retention rates in ethical brands generally, there’s a massive improvement that comes from brands acting in that way.

What are the financial arguments in favour of being more sustainable?

Energy’s a classic example – it’s incredibly expensive. If you are able to reduce your energy consumption, you’re going to be able to reduce the amount you pay and it’s more sustainable.

Being more sustainable could help you attract more customers or retain better staff, which is ultimately going to impact the bottom line.

There will increasingly be a closer link between brands that are purpose driven and operate sustainably and their bottom line, because it is going to be increasingly demanded by businesses.

How do you see this trend impacting your own sector, marketing?

[Sustainability] will start to become a bigger barrier to be able to win work. So there’s two sides to it: the potential of reducing cost by being more sustainable, and the potential of not being able to win work if you’re not shown to be sustainable.

When we are bidding on contracts, we have to be able to calculate the carbon footprint of delivering that contract and suggest ways to reduce it. So if we hadn’t done all the work on the carbon calculations upfront, we’d have lost out.

Public sector contracts now are starting to require certain levels of sustainability. Be it ISO 14001 [on] environmental management or carbon reduction programs, and things like that.

There will increasingly be a closer link between brands that are purpose driven and operate sustainably and their bottom line, because it is going to be increasingly demanded by businesses.

What is the ISO 14001 Standard?

An international benchmark from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on how to properly set up an environmental management system.

How does sustainable marketing work?

Marketing isn’t often an area that’s considered as having a big impact [on the planet]. But with digital communications, like emails or paid social campaigns, they all have a big impact as well.

When you can assess the impact across all of those areas, you’re armed with the information to make decisions that are both commercially and environmentally sustainable.

We’re launching a suite of products next month, called Eco Metrics, which is going to address that and give a like-for-like comparison of running a PPC campaign or a website versus doing a direct mail campaign or a piece of print.

How can improved sustainability improve business efficiency?

For example, looking at a checkout process on an ecommerce website, we can take that from 13 pages that need to load down to five.

If we can reduce the load size of each of those pages, not only is your website going to be quicker, you’re hopefully going to improve your conversion rate because it’s an easier checkout process.

It helps with SEO, too. But also it’s a more sustainable website.

Should some companies avoid trying to “go sustainable” from a business point of view?

No. Different companies with different resources will be able to do more or less. I don’t think it’s a case of “you are sustainable” or “you aren’t sustainable” – it’s about doing the right thing that’s possible within your power.

Small businesses that are struggling – of which there are many – aren’t all going to be able to switch onto more expensive [energy] tariffs overnight. But there will be things that they can do.

For instance, there are lots of local authority grant schemes and Net Zero accelerators, which are free to attend and get expert advice on how you, with your resources, can be more sustainable. So yes, I think everybody should be striving to be sustainable.

What is your company doing for sustainability right now?

Two key areas were switching to 100% renewable energy contracts and switching to a fully electric fleet.

We do free workshops and free carbon assessments. We don’t have sustainability as a kind of a profit-generating activity – it’s something that we’re passionate about as a business and a group of people.

We’re a well-established business, so we have a 164 acre forest in Scotland which we’re putting hundreds of thousands of pounds into rewilding.

bird's eye view of evergreen trees in Scotland
Webmart has partnered with the Scottish government to regenerate this area of woodland in Coldingham, near the southeastern coast.
What is rewilding?

The process of helping nature to grow back stronger in a place where it’s been damaged by human activity. This can involve adding in plants, streams or even animals which used to live there. The aim is to make an area “wild” again.

Have you ever considered going back on any of those green improvements you’ve made as a company?

No. We’re looking at bigger office space right now in, in the North, for example. Some of the offices we’ve looked at haven’t had electric [vehicle] charge points, for example, but it’s never been a question of not having them. It’s been a case of, well, how do we put them in?

What is the biggest challenge your business is facing right now?

I would say accurately calculating scope three [emissions from third parties connected to the business], which is 95-98%+ of our emissions. There are so many different approaches and standards, it becomes quite difficult to compare apples with apples.

Understanding our scope one [emissions from within the business] and two emissions [from energy use] is fairly straightforward, but our scope three emissions are the biggest challenge that we face from a sustainability standpoint.

How is your company working to overcome those challenges?

We asked our suppliers – we have over 250 – what information they could provide to assess sustainability. And it became apparent that we would have to help them out.

We work in conjunction with a consultancy, CarbonQuota, to calculate the carbon emissions of each individual element that builds up a print, a mail, a digital marketing campaign, and so on.

From a broader perspective, how do you see the workplace changing over the next five to 10 years?

I think the office will become a space more for collaboration rather than deep work. So companies that continue hybrid work, and retain some office space will do well.

Particularly with young people coming in, having the kind of learning by osmosis when you’re in the office and overhearing other teams is really, really valuable. And we lost a lot of that over the pandemic when you had to work from home.

And I think the workforce are looking for very different things now in an employer than they were 10-15 years ago. Employers now seem to be responsible for so much more than just an income. They’re responsible for social life, for mental wellbeing and health to some extent.

I don’t necessarily see that changing. I think employers who are responsible and look at the whole person will do well. Our model is to maximise the intellectual, emotional and financial return that every Webmart [employee] gets from the business.

This interview is part of a series of conversations we’re having with small business leaders in the UK today. Look out for the next one on our Business Insights page.

Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master's in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camden New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.