Special Issue "Social Marketing Approaches to the Wicked Problem of Sustainability"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 January 2022.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Ann-Marie Kennedy
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand
Interests: social marketing; macro-social marketing; marketing ethics
Dr. Christine Domegan
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Marketing Discipline, J.E Cairnes School of Business and Economics, National University of Ireland, Galway H91 CF50, Ireland
Interests: social marketing; marketing systems; marketing theory

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Social marketing is the application of marketing tools and strategies to achieve positive social, economic, and environmental change for the public good. It has become increasingly focused on issues of sustainability at scales ranging from the individual to the broader macro-marketing systems of consumption. However, such issues are multifaceted and systemic wicked problems, which are so complex that they are hard to define, let alone solve (Rittel and Weber, 1973). As such, it has been advocated that a multilevel, systemic, and holistic approach be taken to drive behavioral change in the area (Kennedy, 2016). One approach to defining sustainability issues comes in the form of the UN Sustainable Development goals, which groups them into 12 areas/goals. They state that transformation can be achieved through multiple levers, including governance, economy and finance, individual and collective action, and science and technology (United Nations, 2019). This can practically occur through the application and implementation of social marketing interventions at the macro, meso, and micro levels focusing on upstream, midstream, or downstream change. Social marketing (also known as marketing for behavior change—not to be confused with digital marketing or social media marketing), has been used to increase individuals’ pro-sustainability and environmental behaviors, including recycling (Gregory-Smith et al., 2015; Haghighatjoo et al., 2020), greater use of active transport (Pang et al., 2017), and local purchasing, along with encouraging organizational adoption of sustainability initiatives at the meso level (May and Previte, 2016). At the macro level, policy creation and policy lobbying have focused on issues such as behavioral change initiatives with respect to global climate change (Kapitan, 2020), and literature in the area has focused on a range of issues, including aspects of fast fashion (Kennedy, 2016), marine ecosystems (Domegan et al., 2016), and the socio-technical aspects of sustainability transitions. Attempts to combine these aspects into coherent and coordinated long-term, multilevel transformation projects for systemic sustainable change can be termed macro-social marketing (Kennedy and Parsons, 2012). However, systemic change is slow to unfold, and the nature of wicked problems, such as sustainability, means that any changes that are made inevitably create unexpected rebound effects and consequences. Nevertheless, the continued interest in social marketing for sustainability reflects the importance attached to the potential contribution of marketing approaches and methods to the sustainable transformation of consumer, organizational, and system behavior.

This Special Issue, therefore, seeks to explore how social marketing can be used at the micro, meso, and/or macro levels to transform and drive change towards sustainable business and consumption practices. As such, articles focusing on any or all levels of change are sought that aim at transforming consumers, business practices, policy, or other systemic levers through social marketing interventions. Innovative approaches to achieving the UNSDGs, evaluating previous interventions, or methodologies for intervention creation are welcomed. Submissions based on environmental aspects of sustainability and submissions based on social aspects of sustainability are equally welcome. Both theoretical contributions and practical implications for social marketers and policy are sought. Contributions may be in the form of qualitative, quantitative, or conceptual pieces of writing. Specific areas that may be considered include but are not limited to the following:

  • Social marketing and sustainability at the micro, meso or/and macro levels, individually or together;
  • Social marketing and behavioral interventions for sustainable consumer behavior;
  • Social marketing and waste reduction;
  • Social marketing and changing social practices for sustainability;
  • Social marketing and the SDGs;
  • Marketing for sustainable behavior;
  • Corporate social marketing for sustainability;
  • Upstream social marketing with respect to system change and transition;
  • Relocalizing consumption;
  • Community-based social marketing and sustainability initiatives;
  • Macro-social marketing for sustainable behaviors;
  • Systems social marketing for sustainable behaviors;
  • Inter- and intra-organizational social marketing for sustainability;
  • Dealing with the consequences of social marketing for sustainability.


Domegan, C., McHugh, P., Devaney, M., Duane, S., Hogan, M., Broome, B. J., Layton, R.A., Joyce, J. Mazzonetto, M. & Piwowarczyk, J. Systems-thinking social marketing: conceptual extensions and empirical investigations. Journal of Marketing Management2016, 32(11-12), 1123-1144.

Gregory-Smith, D., Wells, V. K., Manika, D., & Graham, S. An environmental social marketing intervention among employees: assessing attitude and behaviour change. Journal of Marketing Management2015, 31(3-4), 336-377.

Haghighatjoo, S., Tahmasebi, R., & Noroozi, A. Application of Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) to Increase Recycling Behavior (RB) in Primary Schools. Social Marketing Quarterly, 2020, forthcoming, https://doi.org/10.1177/1524500420962789.

Kapitan, S. Macro-Social Marketing as a Tool to Increase the Share of Renewable Energy in Developing Island Nations. In Macro-Social Marketing Insights: Systems Thinking for Wicked Problems, Kennedy, A., Ed.; Routledge: New York, 2019.

Kennedy, A. Macro-social Marketing. Journal of Macromarketing, 2016, 36(3), 354-365.

May, C., & Previte, J. Understanding the midstream environment within a social change systems continuum. Journal of Social Marketing, 2016, 6(3), 258-276.

Pang, B., Rundle-Thiele, S.R. and Kubacki, K. An empirical examination of the Ecological and Cognitive Active Commuting framework: A social marketing formative research study. Health Education, 2017, 117(6), 581-598.

Dr. Ann-Marie Kennedy
Prof. Dr. Colin Michael Hall
Dr. Christine Domegan
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • behavioral intervention
  • social marketing
  • macro-social marketing
  • systems social marketing
  • sustainable consumption
  • sustainable marketing
  • nudging
  • degrowth
  • alternative hedonism
  • sustainable behaviour
  • sustainable consumerism

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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