Our planet is in crisis. Everyone is talking about sustainability. People are looking to buy from brands who can demonstrate that they have the future of the planet at the heart of their organisation.
Have you addressed sustainability in your business?
#1 The time is now
Every day the environment is in the news: from fires in the Brazilian Rain Forest to Greta Thunberg's campaigning across the world. We have just had Zero Waste Week encouraging individuals and businesses to reduce the waste they produce. People all over the world are concerned about the plastic in our oceans and the affect we are seeing on sealife. Nobody would say they are not interested in reducing our reliance on single-use plastic.
The sale of electric cars is rising dramatically and more consumers are looking at a plant-based diet and embracing an organic lifestyle. We are all experiencing the effects extreme weather conditions and increasing temperatures.
Every business, whatever they do, should be considering sustainability and the impact they have on the environment and the health of all of us on this earth.
#2 Consumers want to buy from brands they trust
Numerous studies have shown that consumer confidence is at an all-time low. The most recent Trust Barometer from Edelman showed that in two-thirds of countries surveyed less than 50% of the public had trust in major institutions.
This offers great opportunities to brands who want to be ethical and authentic. However, transparency is key. You must put your ethical values at the heart of your business and include ethical goals in your marketing plan, which should be central to all your marketing and communication activity. Greenwashing will be found out and could damage your brand instantly. It's no good to offer plastic-free packaging for example but then be including ingredients which are having a detrimental effect on the environment, contributing to deforestation for example.
Customers are also interested in social issues and the way you work with your suppliers and partners. A spirit of collaboration and respect should be the norm. There is a lot of hype about sustainability but transparency about your supply chains and workers' rights should also be shared.
In short, you should be confident about every aspect of your business and if you haven't got everything right yet, be honest and explain why and what you are working towards to make it right. People just want the truth. If there are certain things you can't do, tell them. The type of packaging you want may not be in production yet, so explain that.
#3 It doesn't have to be costly
Often businesses shy away from new initiatives initially because they think they are going to be beyond their budgets. When it comes to sustainability, you have the opportunity to make savings and also to be a pioneer in your industry sector by setting clear objectives which are accessible to all. Making simple changes in managing your waste, for example, could actually save you money. Encouraging staff to bring in their own reusable cup rather than providing plastic cups for water is a good example. Or encouraging cycle to work schemes or producing a product which your customers can refill when it's finished are all cost-saving exercises which benefit you as a business and the recipient.
Word of mouth and peer recommendations ate valuable communication tools and if you are doing the right thing, people will share.
#4 Your competitors will be thinking about it
As I 've already mentioned, sustainability is a buzz word and so the chances are your competitors will be thinking about how they can capitalize on it. So make sure you don't just do a bit of greenwashing yourself. Make sure that when you dig down under the sustainability veneer that you have thought through every aspect of your business - your products or services, your people and your operations, even who you advertise with. Have policies and objectives in place which you openly publish and are prepared to be measured against.
#5 Online communities and journalists are fully engaged
As I've said the future of our planet hangs in the balance and everyone is naturally concerned, particularly the young. They are talking about it online and social media has strong ethical communities who are keen to support and engage with the brands who are doing the right thing. Journalists too are always looking for a new angle in any industry - even in national media, sustainability is always on the agenda.
Make sure that for your industry you are the go-to brand when it comes to protecting the environment for future generations and treating all your stakeholders with fairness and respect.
#6 Give yourself the competitive edge
As I've said already, your competitors will consider using sustainability in their marketing but many will see it as an add-on (a bit like CSR) rather than a fundamental and essential part of their business. But you must truly believe that embracing sustainability is the right thing to do - if you don't then it won't work - you will be exposed. However, I think you will easily be able to bring your staff, your suppliers and customers with you on your journey if you commit to it 100%.
The choice is yours to make.
#7 There is no alternative
To me personally, there is no other way. We must act now if we are to save the planet for people like my children and Greta. Sustainability should be at the top of the agenda in every walk of life. I have faith in the resourcefulness of people and I am excited by the prospect of being part of creating a better, fairer world. I really believe we can do it and the lives we create will actually be more fulfilling and meaningful.
Are you with me?