Making sustainability more strategically central to business growth can promote brand loyalty and drive sales.
The question is how to do this without harming the integrity of sustainability programs or inviting accusations that your company is cynically over-playing its good work.
You need a goal, a process, ideas and execution.
Here’s where you can start thinking about how your organisation might achieve that.
Everyone wants to maximise the value generated by any corporate spend on sustainability (and marketing, for that matter). The goal is to maximise social value, corporate reputation, brand loyalty, revenue and stakeholder engagement.
Not all projects are going to manage all of these points but aim high and you’ll be heading in the right direction.
How do you create a project that does the right thing while simultaneously building brand loyalty and driving revenue?
Step 1: ask that question in the first place.
Many organisations don’t seem to. All too many companies treat sustainability as something separate, to be set up, run and PR-ed and I am yet to come across a company that always avoids this pitfall.
Could you do something that bolsters your brand and bottom line?
Step 2: align internal stakeholders from all divisions to this aim.
All too often teams beaver away without any creative or strategic input from anyone else. Co-creation accelerates innovation and gets everyone on board, leading to…
Step 3: co-create ideas that can be executed to drive sales and increase engagement with your brand while saving the world.
There are a number of techniques you might use to generate, test and launch these kinds of ideas. The main thing to remember is the resulting process/product/campaign could look nothing like your usual forms of execution. However, results can be, pound-for-pound, measurably more effective. Be brave.
Exactly what will work for you will vary according to your brand, of course. However, you can identify high-potential projects to test and execute from a fairly short list of indicators.
BtB is an organisation that empowers young people to take a stake in society as active citizens, including by signing them up to vote. As part of its drive for the 2015 election, BtB wanted to run events to get young people talking about politics.
Starbucks hosted a series of the events and engaging in the project enabled the brand to boost its own CSR credentials.
The project also drove footfall, reached out to new grass roots brand ambassadors and was on message. It helped further position Starbucks as a place where people meet and as a community hub.
How might you apply such indicators to run more brand-boosting projects?
Not every brand is as close to consumers as Starbucks.
But that's no reason not to get creative. Consider how you might assist NGOs in their day-to-day activities using employees’ existing expertise, for example. That way even non-consumer-facing staff and companies can help. Many NGOs need business plans, financial planning, compliance reviews and financially astute trustees.
If it seems too big a culture-shift, try one project at a time – slowly turning the tanker. It’s actually not all that hard.
An approach incorporating co-creation can do good, drive internal engagement and promote culture change. And you’ll get more effective marketing than business-as-usual too.