How to get buy-in for sustainability projects
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How to get buy-in for sustainability projects

How can you get non-senior stakeholders to commit to your sustainability initiatives?

For a growing number of marketers, sustainability has become a key way to differentiate otherwise homogenous offerings and achieve stand out in a world where push marketing is in decline, and fresh competition emerges with every day that passes.

But while for some marketers the importance of sustainability may be self-evident, other colleagues can be hard to persuade. Short of time and facing relentless target pressures, these colleagues often prefer us to focus on more traditional marketing activities. They want to hear about the new ad campaign, not a sustainability initiative.

As a result, knowing how to get buy-in for sustainability projects is becoming an increasingly prized and sought-after skill among marketers. In many cases it is no longer a good addition to a CV, it is the central theme of a successful career.

Give people a stake

When Nigel Gilbert took the reins as CMO of TSB he faced challenges – to balance the bank’s 4% market share with the 6% of infrastructure it owned, he would need a 50% growth in market share – but he also saw opportunities. He set out to create a new type of bank, one that rejected the short-termism of international expansion and risky investment banking and looked back instead to the founding purpose of banks, which was to help communities thrive.

His proposition was ‘Local Banking for Britain’ and the headline product was the Plus Account, a current account that rewards long-term customers with high rates. Crucially, he made all employees shareholding partners with a vested interest in the success of the project. This achieved the crucial step of moving employment at TSB from a job to a mission, and helped him achieve organisation-wide buy-in.

Inspiring vision

That sort of wholesale business re-engineering and financial reward may not be an option for every marketer, but that need not make us despair. Chris Gorell Barnes, founder of content agency Adjust Your Set and co-founder of marine sustainability initiative The Blue Marine Foundation, believes that colleagues are often more ready to embrace sustainability than we think. "When it comes to sustainability, we’re at a tipping point,” he says. “Sustainability has finally become fashionable. This, mercifully, makes it a little easier to get buy-in.”

He continues: “Unilever and M&S are the oft-cited examples of businesses that have cracked organisation-wide buy-in, and with good reason. From the shop floor right up to the board, these companies are the masters of getting their staff to embrace the company’s sustainability initiatives. How? By focusing on the initiative’s positive outcomes and making staff feel like they have collectively made a difference.”

Indeed, he argues that knowing – and then communicating the initiative’s outcomes – is the key to achieving buy-in. “These outcomes should be based on the benefits generated by the initiative across three key areas: supply chain, society and planet,” he explains. “Once identified, it becomes easier to make the initiative part of the company’s DNA. Then, engaging internal comms can be used to make sure everyone understands what this core value stands for and to ensure staff feel like they have an integral role. The key is to stay focused on positive outcomes, rather than preaching.”

Adding to this, Paul Twivy, founding partner at sustainability consultancy Core Purpose, argues that practical tools are as helpful as inspirational vision. He says: “Internally, people can’t always get their heads around purpose and how to implement it. In many companies, it's not been part of the culture historically. It needs a process, a set of professional tools and a culture of learn and re-apply. It’s time to professionalise how we approach purpose.”

Alex Blyth Freelance Journalist CPL
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