Q&A with Giles Metcalfe, ethical freelancer and sustainability practitioner
Can you tell us more about your career history and current role?
I’m Giles Metcalfe – Ethical Freelancer and Sustainability Practitioner. My company is Giles Metcalfe Digital (established in 2014). I am a decent (meaning good at what I do and also a good guy) Freelance Digital Marketing Specialist who puts the person before the sale, and people and the planet before profit. Helping you sell your products and services to people, in the right way – which is ethically.
I’m a member of the FSB and the Association of Sustainability Practitioners. I’m accredited by the Good Business Charter, plus I have pledged to undertake ethical marketing with The Ethical Move, and reduce and offset my carbon footprint with Carbon Trap.
Giles Metcalfe Digital started in 2014. I decided to strike out on my own as a self-employed digital marketing freelancer with Giles Metcalfe Digital after gaining 20 years’ marketing and digital marketing experience.
I had had a series of redundancies and job roles that were on a contract basis or only lasted a couple of years, and so I decided that the universe was trying to tell me something – that I should be freelance self-employed! Some of my previous experiences were actually featured in a book that I contributed to, as a salutary lesson to other people who are considering going self-employed!
I got off to a great start by working with an agency in Huddersfield called Browndog. Alexis and Andrew and the team gave me enough work to keep me in business for the first year and beyond, as well as referring my services to their contacts.
I’m massively thankful to Alexis and Andrew for giving me that start in business, which saw me through the difficult first year. As with relationships, if you can get through your first year in business that’s half the battle.
How do you define ‘sustainable digital marketing’?
Well, it’s a moot point and a contentious one. We have to be careful when we talk about sustainable anything. Some people say that no marketing activity is truly sustainable in the current climate (and climate crisis). Like, “how can it be ethical [and sustainable] to flog people a bunch of stuff they don’t need” and hardline activists argue that sustainability is itself unsustainable.
Without wanting to get sidetracked by the rights and wrongs of all of that, let’s accept that digital marketing isn’t going away anytime soon.
Marketing is essential to finding clients, selling your products and services, and to a business surviving and thriving. We all have to do it. The question isn’t whether or not you do it, it’s how you do it.
The concepts of ‘sustainable digital marketing’ and ‘ethical digital marketing’ are somewhat interchangeable and related, but in practice they are distinct.
The textbook definition of ‘sustainable digital marketing’ is:
Sustainable marketing is the promotion of socially responsible products, services, and practices. While eco-friendly brands naturally work on sustainable marketing campaigns, brands that are not rooted in sustainability can still apply its principles to their strategy. Its goal is to promote a mission, not a product or service.
There’s the concept of Green Marketing vs. Sustainable Marketing, too. While both terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between green marketing and sustainable marketing.
Green marketing focuses on strategies that promote eco and environmental awareness and protection. Sustainable marketing does encompass green marketing but it also includes practices that go beyond the environment and eco-consciousness, like social and economic issues as well. This means there’s a crossover with ethical marketing.
Ethical marketing is easier to define:
Ethical marketing is a technique that highlights a company’s values – honesty, transparency, responsibility, or adherence to fair trade principles – as a promotional strategy.
Marketing ethics refers to the principles and values that guide how marketers behave, putting emphasis on honesty, responsibility, fairness, and respect for consumers and society.
Ethics is one of the main pillars of sustainable marketing. Without good ethics, businesses are unlikely to survive in the long run.
My ethical approach to digital marketing puts the person before the sale, and people and the planet before profit. I practice those principles myself, and I only want to work with individuals and businesses who do the same. There are people and companies that I will work with and those that I most definitely won’t work with. There are marketing channels and techniques that I will use and those I most definitely won’t use.
In practice, for me, that means using Google Search. Say what you like about Google, but they’ve been carbon-neutral since 2007 and will be carbon positive in the next couple of years. Google is pursuing net-zero emissions across their operations and value chain by 2030, supported by an ambitious clean energy goal to operate their data centres and office campuses on 24/7 carbon-free energy.
Again, for me, being ethical means taking a stance, and standing up and being counted. It also means walking the walk as well as talking the talk. You have to have the courage of your convictions, and actions speak louder than words. A cliché I know, but it’s true. Like, I deleted both my personal and business Twitter and Facebook accounts, and I won’t work on those platforms, even though that means missing out on paid social media assignments. Yes, I lose out on revenue, but my conscience is clear.
Why is sustainability within marketing important?
Marketing has a bad reputation, it’s true. It’s often seen as sleazy and pushy. And consumers these days are pretty wise to underhand sales tactics. They even get turned off by them.
Consumers, citizens and activists have turned ethical business and sustainability into a mainstream concept that is able to ruin a company’s reputation and profits if concerns about business ethics and behaviour are not addressed.
Patagonia is the leader in sustainable marketing, even encouraging their audience to not buy its products on Black Friday, and “do more with what we already have”. On the Worn Wear page of the Patagonia website, they say “It’s time to make things last longer and ditch growth for growth’s sake.”
Reduce, reuse / repair and recycle are the new watch words, and Patagonia say:
One of the best things we can do for the planet is to keep stuff in use longer and reduce our overall consumption. That means buying less, repairing more and trading in gear when you no longer need it.
They state that “Everything we make has an impact on the planet” and have even come out and said that they as a business are not sustainable!
Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder:
We can’t delude ourselves into thinking that anything we or any other business does is “sustainable”. The best we can do is minimize the harm we do to the planet. We’ll do what we can to clean up our own house and convince other businesses and suppliers to use cleaner energy and more responsible materials, but it’s a never-ending summit. The work is never done.
Again, moving beyond the question of sustainability into the ethical marketing realm, brands such as Lush and HebTroCo have boycotted social media platforms as part of their ethical marketing stance and policies. This is laudable and to be applauded.
What initially sparked your interest in sustainable digital marketing?
Again, ethical marketing and then sustainability, to be exact. Getting into one leads to the other.
I remember hearing about the Good Business Charter (GBC) via The Federation of Small Businesses and becoming GBC Accredited.
I also came across – and then took – the Ethical Move’s Ethical Marketing Pledge.
I remember looking at the website of an ethical marketing agency and reading their ethical policy. I decided that I needed one of them too, so I wrote and added my ethical policy to my website and incorporated my pledge.
After doing my ethical policy I moved onto my sustainability policy.
One thing very much led on to the other. It all just struck a real chord with me and resonated.
Do you have any tips for our audience on what steps to take towards marketing more sustainably?
And more ethically, of course.
- Have a larger purpose
- Place value ahead of profit
- Be consumer-oriented
- Reflect sustainability in every aspect of your brand
I’d add to that look at what Patagonia, Lush and HebTroCo etc. are doing, but you have to be authentic and true to yourself at the end of the day. Don’t just copy others for the sake of it, because that’s bandwagon jumping. Do what feels right for you.
You’re gonna have to take a step back and take a hard look at yourself and your business, asking what you believe in and what your values, principles, morals and ethics all are… What your business stands for – what its purpose is, above and beyond simply making money… Although we all need money to live on, of course. If any of the marketing channels you’re active on don’t align with that then you might well have to come off them, as I did. And if any of your clients or businesses within your supply chain don’t align either then you’ll have to sever your working relationship with them or risk getting found out and suffering reputational damage.
Sometimes you have to make tough choices, but that’s all part of being ethical and ‘walking the walk’.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to give a shout-out to the previously mentioned GBC (the Good Business Charter) and especially the amazing Sam Agnew (from the GBC and Everyday People).
I’d like to point people in the direction of the Ethical Move, and the Ethical Marketing Pledge.
Both the Ethical Move and the GBC were key players in my own journey towards becoming an ethical and more sustainable marketer.
Were it not for seeing the messages that Vineeta and Tom Greenwood from Wholegrain Digital were putting out on LinkedIn then I would never have gotten into the whole website carbon footprint and digital footprint arena, and gone on to join the Association of Sustainability Practitioners, so a shout out to them too. I reduced my own website’s carbon footprint and now I offer website carbon audits to other people.
Dan Sherrard-Smith at Mother Tree is also doing really good work to spread awareness of the power that your finances have to reduce your carbon footprint and do good, through ethical banking and pension fund investment. Because of him, I switched my pension to an ethical and sustainable fund.
Laura Ockenden and Chris Naylor are each doing good things in their respective fields, and so are well worth following on LinkedIn.
To learn more about Giles Metcalf, visit his website:
Head over to the Hey Me blog library for more articles.
The post An Introduction to Sustainable Digital Marketing – Hey Me Q&A first appeared on Hey Me.