Why marketers need to own sustainability

Why marketers need to own sustainability

Who should take ownership of sustainability? Marketers are uniquely placed to coordinate efforts and make a real difference.

If a tree falls in the forest but no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If someone plants a tree in the forest but nobody else sees it, will anyone think ‘Gosh! What a great thing to do. Hey, let’s all plant trees!’?

Welcome to the sustainability conundrum. It takes a whole variety of logistical and strategic smarts to execute a sustainability strategy but, without a communications and engagement machine to support it, these efforts may never gather the public momentum they need to reach critical mass.

Cue marketing.

The problem, of course, is that corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often viewed as an afterthought at best and, at worst, as a marketing gimmick or PR stunt.

None of the above is particularly fair. Worthwhile and well-pitched sustainability initiatives get right to the core of what makes humans tick: hugging the good part of our psyche, tapping into our innate altruism, embodying the kind of brand values that make us enjoy parting with our money, and motivating us to choose one brand over another.

In an age of transparency and connection afforded by the internet, consumers are looking under all the stones and into all the nooks and crannies to check that the brands they believe in are living and breathing the values they personally hold dear. When the values match is good, consumers will shout about a brand from the rooftops.

A study by Cone Communications in 2013 found that 88% of consumers feel compelled to purchase products that they believe are socially and environmentally responsible. Even more impressive, 91% of consumers will reportedly switch brands at the drop of a hat if the new brand rubs shoulders with a good cause (as long as the price and quality is comparable).

Sustainability has a direct impact on business metrics on top of the power to make the world we live in a genuinely better place, so it’s a shame to squander their potential by failing to spread the word.

Marketers are uniquely placed to drum up the support needed to gather pace, coordinate efforts, leverage network effects, find an audience to help carry and further the cause, and make a real difference. The catch-22? It all sounds suspiciously like the calling card of a classic gimmick. There’s a tainted and out-of-date reputation of CSR to shake loose.

The answer is to zone in on sustainability initiatives that align with your core business, rather than tacking something on by way of necessity. So you’re a producer of vegetarian food? Invest in expanding your vegan range alongside your vegetarian range, and put the call out for fans to request new products via social channels. Don’t invest in building wind farms (well, do, obviously, but don’t expect to see as much marketing benefit).

Humans thrive on stories. We’re all the hero in our own daily story – and we seek out stories happening in the world around us to support us in our perceived role. It’s the job of brands to offer these supporting stories.

Who better to connect the dots and tell this combined story than marketers? Let’s make sustainability initiatives work hard, both at the point of impact and in the ripple of shockwaves.

So, back to the trees – let’s plant them. Let’s talk about it. Let’s tell the story.

Corissa Nunn Freelance Journalist CPL
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