On 27 and 28 of November, London hosted the Sustainable Brands Conference. As the name suggests, brand and sustainability professionals were gathered in the Mermaid Theatre to discuss how brands can change the future towards a more sustainable one. The response? Through unified vision, collaboration and simplicity.
It's long gone the time when companies had a sustainability strategy in parallel to a business strategy. In the eyes of businesses such as Unilever, Sainsbury's, Nestlé, Kingfisher, M&S and others, a company should consider its citizenship "duties" from the start and have it embedded in its business strategy. Similarly, for consumer facing businesses, one cannot isolate the importance of the corporate and product brands, as each play an essential role: a corporate brand engages with employees, experts, policy makers, supply chain, competitors and, in times of social media, consumers; the product brand unlocks behavioural change. "This is the power of ‘AND,'’’ says Lori Zoppel, Global Director of Marketing, Unilever.
Modern companies recognise the interdependencies of the world in which they operate, such as the need for natural or human resources to develop their products and services, and an empowered and healthy community to consume them. For that, they assume the responsibility for helping to solve some of the world's most serious problems. Not only because they are sensitive to those issues and want some easy PR, but because they understand that if they don't do it, there won't be a market for them anymore. Without water, Nestlé cannot produce food – hence water is ones the pillars of its shared value vision. Without consumers educated on principles of health and hygiene, Unilever cannot sell their soaps – hence campaigns such as "Global hand washing day" that have been engaging employees and communities around the world for 5 years.
Collaboration and sharing
Words such as collaboration, sharing, community and together were almost overused by the speakers. All of them defended the idea that designing and making a more sustainable future cannot be done by a single constituency. Governments, companies, charities and communities should work together. "We need to move from isolated business approaches to systems; from individualism to communities," said one of the event organisers.
Dialogue should be transparent; ideas and solutions shared; successful examples expanded into new industries and geographies: "many sustainability leaders don't speak about what they do, claiming humbleness. It's time for organisations to be braver," says Tom Zara, Global Head of Corporate Citizenship at Interbrand.
This thinking has been at the heart of organisations such as Zipcar, a car sharing business, The People Who Share, a movement that is making sharing mainstream and DoNation, an online sponsorship tools in which no money is involved and people donate by doing something good. Traditional businesses are making fundamental cultural and operational changes, such as B&Q, a home improvement retailer that "rent" some tools less frequently used such as carpets & upholstery machines; and M&S, a UK retailer, that pioneered ideas such as "bag for life" and is changing consumer habits.
Here is where marketers and brand professionals can make the biggest difference. We need to eliminate the jargon and be straighter. We also need to stop seeing the consumer as a "foreign entity" and recognise that a consumer is us, our families, our friends and communicate accordingly.
Different segmentations presented during the two days showed that only around 11% of consumers are attracted to propositions linked to sustainability. The vast majority wants high quality products and services, at a fair price. They (or we) are too busy, worried about their own issues, such as mortgages, rising fuel and utilities prices, health and nutrition of their own families. If small steps do matter, we need to remove the burden of saving the world from their shoulders and making their decisions easier for them. Through vision, collaboration and simplicity, we can really help consumers and ourselves to actually change the world.
Paula Oliveira is a Director, Valuation and Analytics, at Interbrand London.