Cost of Living Crisis & Sustainability in Marketing // Climbing Trees

Impact of the Cost of Living Crisis on Sustainability in Marketing

Published on September 18, 2023 by Frankie Brookton

In recent years, sustainability has become a significant concern across various industries, including the ever-changing world of marketing. However, we’ve noticed a shift in priorities, with sustainability falling down the list for many agencies.

In our latest Brands with Purpose Report 2023, we surveyed 231 marketers from agencies and brands to gain insights into the current state of sustainability and ethical marketing. The report revealed a significant shift in priorities, with sustainability dropping from its 3rd place ranking in 2021 to 4th place this year. Surprisingly, “growing the existing client base” emerged as the primary focus for agencies in the upcoming 12 months.

While it is encouraging that 29% of clients exclusively collaborate with agencies with strong sustainable credentials, it is evident that the importance of clients’ sustainable agenda has decreased from the agencies’ perspective. This figure has reduced from 35% two years ago, which could be attributed to the cost of living crisis, forcing agencies to prioritise cost efficiency over sustainability.

The declining significance of sustainability in the minds of both agencies and clients raises the question: Why is this happening? It is important to delve deeper into the underlying factors driving this shift in priorities to better understand the challenges faced by agencies and clients in maintaining a sustainable focus.

The changing landscape

To understand the reasons behind this shift, we need to consider the impact of the cost of living crisis. Just like individuals, agencies have been hit hard by the rising cost of living, which has significantly affected their development. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics reveal that approximately 4 in 10 businesses have reported a rise in the prices of goods and services they purchase.

For 19% of businesses, energy prices have emerged as the main concern, followed by inflation of goods and services prices (16%), and falling demand for goods and services (13%). Rising energy costs, increased costs of goods and services, and decreased demand have forced businesses to reassess their priorities and strategies. 

Agencies and their clients may be reallocating their marketing budgets and cutting spending to ensure the sustainability of their businesses. In such challenging times, the primary concern for clients is getting the most value for their money and agencies, keeping their brands afloat.

Sustainability matters 

While the shifting priorities may be understandable given the current economic circumstances, however, it’s crucial to emphasise that sustainability remains relevant and crucial for everyone.

Our research also highlights several points that demonstrate the continued importance of sustainability in the industry.


of clients build sustainability/ethics into all their agency briefs


of agencies reported that over 3/4 of their new business have requested ethical and sustainable policies 


of clients do not consider sustainability a priority for their agency partners.

Our data also reveals a positive trend in agency investment toward sustainability. This year, only 8% of agencies are not investing in any sustainability initiatives, a significant decrease compared to the 37% reported two years ago.

It’s also worth noting that 91% of agency leaders believe that agencies have a role to play in creating a sustainable future, with the largest group of these leaders believing that agencies should lead the way in the industry. 

In the midst of the ever-changing landscape influenced by the cost of living crisis, it is crucial not to let sustainability fade into the background. It’s essential for agencies to recognise that striking a harmonious balance between cost-effectiveness and sustainability can propel them to new heights of success.

Brands With Purpose Report // Climbing Trees

Building Brands With Purpose Report

Discover tips on becoming a more sustainable business and stay updated on the latest trends among marketers in Brands with Purpose Report.