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How CEOs and CMOs Can Leverage Sustainability More Effectively
April 18, 2017
Sustainability is a popular buzzword in the business community and many companies are beginning to understand the benefits of the triple bottom line. Although, CEOs and CMOs are familiar with the concept, most brands have yet to put theory to practice. In fact, a recent study shows that just 38 percent of corporations have a clear sustainability plan. Interestingly, the same report found that 83 percent of marketers believe brands should have a moral imperative to address environmental issues.
While these findings touch upon differences of opinion between marketers and CEOs about what it means to run an environmentally and socially responsible business, they also reflect a key consideration that many CEOs and CMOs overlook. That is, sustainability initiatives coupled with effective communications strategies drive profitable growth.
Here are the numbers to back it up. A recent Gallup poll shows that 66 percent of Americans say they’ve purchased an item because “it’s better for the environment.” What’s more, as the 2015 Nielson Global Sustainability Report illustrates, companies that display a dedication to sustainability increased profits by an average of 4 percent from 2014 to 2015, whereas companies practicing business as usual grew an average of just 1 percent during that same period. Further, Unilever recently reported that its brands that embody environmental and social imperatives – like Dove and Ben & Jerry’s – outperformed those that don’t by 30 percent and are leading the conglomerate’s growth.
It boils down to the notion that consumers want a better world, not just better widgets and they are willing to pay for it. This is especially true for millennials. As the Nielsen study shows, 73 percent would pay more for sustainable offerings and nearly two thirds of consumers say sustainability efforts increase their trust in a brand.
Although consumers are eager to support sustainable businesses, without effective communications strategies, sustainability initiatives can go unnoticed and often fail to provide a return on investment.
Ultimately, consumers expect companies to be responsible stewards of the environment and will reward brands for sustainability efforts with goodwill, loyalty and purchases. Further, sustainability is critical to gaining consumer trust and a reputation as a responsible brand. However, it’s imperative to note that for CSR to build both a better world and bigger profits you must use storytelling to communicate your environmentally conscious work to consumers.
Here are five ways to incorporate sustainability into your business:
1) Dedicate Personnel: Sustainability is more than a feel-good idea to talk about in marketing strategies. To truly run an environmentally responsible business you must transform your supply chains, distribution channels, packaging materials, and water and power sources so they run on renewable energy and avoid toxic chemicals. While sustainability can help scale profits and social impact it takes consistent commitment over time and if sustainability is left to employees tasked with maintaining their regular workload, it can easily fall to the wayside. Therefore, it’s critical to have a dedicated person or department that initiates, overseas, monitors and improves sustainability initiatives.
2) Create a Sustainability Action Plan: Just as business plans are essential to expanding into new markets, Sustainability Action Plans are crucial to greening any company. Setting goals, establishing benchmarks and measuring progress is essential to meeting your sustainability targets. Ultimately, sustainability action plans help establish accountability, transparency and a successful eco-business. If you’re looking for inspiration, this online tool can help you get started.
3) Join Industry Coalitions: While internally spearheading sustainability initiatives is an amazing way to distinguish your brand as an environmental leader, gain earned media and serve a higher purpose, joining coalitions can offer valuable insights and amplify progress. The DRIVE sustainability initiative, Sustainable Apparel coalition, and the Sustainable Energy Coalition are excellent examples of corporate partnerships advancing sustainable growth.
4) Track Progress: After you’ve established a path forward, dedicated staff to promoting sustainability initiatives and shared insights with others in your industry it’s important to keep the ball rolling by measuring progress, learning from mistakes and making improvements whenever possible. This is also an excellent way to attract environmentally minded investors and carve out a competitive advantage. To learn more, see this post on rating systems and reporting frameworks.
5) Share Your Story: To maximize both profitable and purposeful returns from your sustainability initiatives it’s vital to share your work with consumers in a captivating and emotionally touching fashion. While it’s important to avoid greenwashing, proper communications strategies are essential to ensuring stakeholders are aware of the steps you are taking to build a better world. An excellent way to tap into the storytelling potential of your eco-conscious actions is to create films about how you source and manufacture your environmentally friendly products, offer rewards for consumers who help you reduce your footprint by returning reusable packaging, and write about lessons learned on your own blog or relevant publication. Here are some examples of sustainability campaigns that can give you more ideas about how to share your brand’s sustainability story.
Sustainability is more than table stakes; corporate eco-leaders are outperforming the competition while simultaneously strengthening consumer trust, goodwill and advocacy. What’s more, consumers — especially Generation Z and Millennials — want to buy from brands committed to the environment and are willing to pay more for sustainable products. When it comes to sustainability, many CEOs and CMOs overlook the financial benefits that can from coupling sustainability and marketing. Ultimately, investing in sustainability can not only strengthen brand image, open up new marketing strategies and untapped markets, but also improve the bottom line. To stay ahead of curve you must weave sustainability throughout your business and share your journey with consumers in an engaging fashion.