From protecting bees to saving the planet, cause marketing is ubiquitous these days. But a great social media campaign doesn’t equal sustainability

Burt’s Bees has championed bees since the company’s inception in 1984, when a bearded, back-to-the-woods guy named Burt Shavitz and his partner Roxanne Quimby went from selling honey and candles at farmers markets to perfecting a recipe for beeswax-based lip balm.

Shavitz and Quimby never dreamed the lip balm would gain a global following for their company, which is now owned by the US cleaning products giant Clorox. Nor could they imagine that the bees that produced the balm’s raw ingredient would have their existence threatened by colony collapse disorder (CCD).

But when beekeepers began reporting mysterious losses of 30% to 90% of their hives after the 2007 season, the company made the bees’ plight its logical cause and put its energy into what is known as cause marketing: a for-profit company that enhances its reputation by supporting a social cause.

Bees produce the main ingredient in Burt’s Bees’ products

Cause marketing debuted 40 years ago, when American Express launched a campaign in 1983 to restore the Statue of Liberty. After raising more than $2m for the restoration, Amex trademarked the term “cause-related marketing”. 

But the idea has really taken off with the rise...

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