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How brands should be approaching sustainability in experiential marketing

How Brands should be approaching sustainability in experiential marketing

With fires raging through the Amazon, Climate Week NY in full swing following Greta Thunberg’s incredibly moving speech to the UN and consumer environmental awareness at an all-time high, it’s an important moment for the planet, and imperative for sustainability to be front and center for brands. While consumers don’t expect perfection when it comes to environmental practices, they clearly want change, which means they want to know that company values are aligned with their own.

Historically, experiential marketing has been an extremely wasteful discipline, with bottom lines often taking precedence over being environmentally conscious. Travel emissions, mass product sampling, wasted food and beverage, not to mention the residual waste from events, have meant that activations often impact the environment far more than you might expect. Waste footprints vary between events, but even with a good disposal programme, mid-size events can result in up to 41% of materials deposited in landfills – with just 35% recycled, 21% composted and 3% donated (MetGreen – 2104).

So, as we embrace Climate Week and look at this moment through a marketing lens, we need to ask ourselves – how can brands and agencies best address the issue of waste when it comes to using their experiential platform?

Assess the impact at every stage

Campaigns, especially experiences, create waste. But it’s not always the obvious aspects that need to be considered when assessing the impact of an experiential activation on the environment. Brands should be placing their projects under the microscope from when experiential strategy begins, all the way through to execution. Looking at everything from travel emissions linked to client meetings and importing products, to engaging with vendors that share the same values and sourcing and disposing of environmentally friendly materials are all key components in ensuring your campaign remains as sustainable as possible.

Show you care by providing sustainable touch points

If you have to flyer, provide access to recycling bins. Is sampling unavoidable? If so, think about providing compostable (or even edible) cups and utensils, and then ensure that there are the appropriate touch points on site for consumers to compost the used materials. Also, don’t just go for the typical customer swag items often distributed en masse at brand experiences, and instead consider gifting consumers charity donations or a digital reward.

Incorporate sustainable practices into your offering and your new business strategy

As environmentally sound practices increasingly become the norm, it’s important for marketers to build sustainable offerings into their new business strategies for clients. Integrating sustainable practices into corporate culture is integral. Doing this slowly but surely is fine – consumers don’t expect brands to adopt a zero-waste policy from day one, but they need to know that the brand they are supporting is also working to support the planet. A great way to do this is by providing clients with ongoing sustainability audits, so that brands can gain a true understanding of how their campaigns affect the environment and how they can improve their processes for future campaigns.

We all have a responsibility to think about sustainability, and as marketers, environmental awareness is no longer simply an add-on, it’s a non-negotiable that needs to be a constant part of the conversation. Brands need to be aware of how their product or service affects not just the industry and their pockets, but the wider natural and human environment. While banning single-use plastic has been a great first step, we need to continue to make strides as an industry as there is much work to be done. As we can see by the conversations happening this week, sustainability isn’t just a trend that will dissipate by 2020, it’s a global issue that will continue to impact our world for years to come and as experiential marketers, we must ensure we’re doing our part – “The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” – Greta Thunberg, United Nations General Assembly, 23rd September 2019.

Zoe Barker is Senior Account Manager at Sense New York.

This article first appeared in Advertising Week.


Whether it be Festivals, Trade Shows, PR Stunts, Installations or Pop Ups to name a few, we believe brand experiences are one of the most powerful forms of marketing to impact consumer perception and attitude towards a brand. They can create real behaviour change when born out of a deep consumer insight allied to a compelling idea. And it’s these fundamentals we look to get right whatever the live, virtual or hybrid task in hand.


Sampling is all too often perceived as an unsophisticated, somewhat ‘blunt’ marketing tool. Over the last 16 years Sense has pioneered a set of strategic principles which underpin our unique approach to sampling and which are highly measurable from both an ROI and consumer behaviour change perspective. We will happily guide brands through the myriad of sampling channels and products available so whether it’s mass face to face sampling, in offices, digitally, at home or just a strategic framework that you are after, we can provide a blend of tactics to fulfil both brand and sales objectives.


With many clients now focused on activating in channels more closely associated with a sale, our heavyweight retail experience closes the loop on a typical shopper journey by encompassing the moment of truth in store. Be it prize promotions, shopper toolkits, key visual creation, path-to-purchase communications, category strategy, B2B campaigns or Amazon optimisation, our goal is to create forward-thinking retail experiences that deliver demonstrable brand value. We aim to make ‘retail fail’ a thing of the past for ambitious brands looking to thrive is an ever-competitive landscape and believe our streamlined team is perfectly placed to do this.


Knowing what will keep a brand bright, exciting, and vital means we need to keep one step ahead of the curve. Our thought leadership hub, The Futures Lab, helps us to understand the marketing trends of tomorrow. It’s also the origin of strategies and methodologies which have created over 65 award-winning campaigns. 


Creativity is nothing without results. And we know that commissioning bold concepts, capable of changing minds, requires reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. 

Data, insights, and research precedes every campaign we do, and our proprietary measurement tool, EMR, gives us a decade of campaign performance metrics. Which is why we’re proud to have been recognised as industry-leading by brands like The Economist, Coca-Cola, and Molson Coors. 


We believe brand experience is inherently more varied than other forms of marketing. No formula, no template, no cookie-cutter approach – and often no precedent. 

That’s why, Sense places trust at the heart of its business – grounded in teamwork between our people and yours. Our processes are efficient, our senior team stay involved and our partnership mentality had helped us sustain powerful client relationships, some lasting over 10 years.