Creating a positive impact: how can companies deliver to protect their future?

By Ann Viaene, Founder & senior advisor at Sparkz. And valued community member at nexxworks :)

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May 4, 2023
SDG & Sustainability

As nexxworks Founder, author and keynote speaker Peter Hinssen puts it, we live in the “Never Normal” world. The tectonic plates of needs and expectations (climate change and cost-of-living crises to name just two) are shifting, so companies and brands need to find a new balance. A balance between doing good for the company, its customers, and employees, but also the wider society and the environment.

Why? Because not only will businesses be under threat in the long run, they risk losing their seat at the client table in the short term.

We all know this, right? But on the other hand, most of us are also still wondering “how can we accomplish this”? And how can experts like marketers play a role in this? That is what I and Klaus Lommatzsch tried to find out in our report "Turning your growth ambition into a sustainable reality: how?”.

We are in unchartered waters and to really make an impact, we need action from all stakeholders,  like companies (with new technologies for instance) academia and governments. But our own individual behaviour is also a very important factor here. Changing behaviour, from consumerism to conscious consumption, is not easy of course. Especially when faced with the complexity of making sustainable choices (for companies and individuals alike), and other pressing challenges like the cost-of-living crises. Trying to decide which products are the better choices in the supermarket, trying to remember to refill packaging, charging the battery of your electric car, or motivating family members to eat less meat and use more public transport … is causing us many headaches. And that’s just for the people already open to making these changes, which is frankly not the big majority so far.

This is where marketing can really play to its strengths. Strangely enough though, a global CMO survey in November 2022 showed that sustainability is way down on the priority list in marketing teams. Fortunately, more and more marketers and creatives are throwing themselves into this unknown territory as they are educating themselves and supporting themselves in communities like the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership or the BAM sustainability group.

So, what can marketers learn from the many people in the middle of this transition?

Gather information

First, they must bridge a clear intention-action gap. A gap that is found both amongst companies and consumers. 42% of CXOs in a recent Deloitte study ranked climate change as a top priority, up there with the economic outlook.

Many ambitious goals are set but turning them into concrete plans and realities is challenging. So, for companies, it’s crucial to identify the key elements which will have the most impact on the wellbeing of all stakeholders. A double materiality matrix could be a big help here, as you can see from the Vandemoortele example below:

From the interviews we did for our report, it’s clear that no company is alike: B2B moves differently than B2C, existing companies face different challenges than ESG-oriented start-ups. The same intention-action gap exists on an individual level.  So, stating the obvious, it’s key to understand our consumer’s specific attitudes towards sustainability, and how they relate to more primary drivers (like price and experience). For many, sustainability may not be a primary decision driver, but it could be a strong driver for loyalty. For marketers, sustainability should be part of their strategy and not a stand-alone campaign.

The team at Aliaxis for example (a leader in advanced piping systems for building infrastructure, industrial and agricultural applications) has a clear view on their different customer types and their expectations towards sustainability. So, they tailor their solutions and messages accordingly seeing that building owners obviously behave differently than wholesalers and construction companies.

So: being well INFORMED can help us make better strategic decisions around a sustainable future.

Integrate the entire system

Another important step is to integrate the whole organization into the sustainability transition, as sustainability should be part of the corporate strategy, with involvement of the whole company and its most important partners, as the sustainable ripple model below illustrates:

Forget the early siloed thinking of assigning sustainability to a separate part of the organisation. As we are in unchartered waters, we need all the available talent throughout the company. From people who can deliver technological solutions for reducing a company’s footprint, to delivering better products and services, and inspiring behavioural change.  Marketers for instance, should challenge themselves to have a positive impact on people’s “brain print” (which is like a unique fingerprint, but for the brain). They can affect what people value as an individual and as a society, or what lifestyle is aspirational for them. Also: internal teams can’t do it alone. Best practise shows that collaboration pays off, not just internally but also externally.

Companies like Colruyt and Telenet for example stress the importance of marketers being part of the solution. They view sustainability not as a one-off campaign but as a strategic driver that they need to understand and deliver on.

So, INTEGRATE the whole ecosystem into the sustainability transition and have a lighthouse vision that will guide them.

Inspire to create impact

To create impact, marketers must also inspire people to choose more sustainable solutions. They need to fill people with optimism, with wanting to be part of the solution, and not further stimulate the existing eco-anxiety. Tony’s Chocolonely is a great example of a brand combining the joy of chocolate with the promise of slave-free practices, delivering on that promise in a positive and appealing way.

Marketers also clearly need to help each other to avoid the issue of greenwashing. They need to avoid highlighting only a part of the story (not omitting the other issues they may have) and avoid not giving the facts behind claims. Sharing truthful and transparent progress helps drive optimism and change.

So, marketers can create IMPACT by inspiring people to change habits and behaviours.

So, this is a call to action to be bold, and go beyond ticking the ESG risk report. It’s an appeal to collaborate and inspire better solutions and true behavioural change amongst customers and consumers. Protect a future seat-at-the table and take following key steps as part of a sustainability value circle:

  • be informed about your stakeholders’ view on sustainability,
  • specifically for your sector and company,
  • integrate all available talent internally and externally,
  • innovate better solutions,
  • and inspire internally and externally to deliver true impact.

Are you interested in learning more about the business opportunities of the transition towards a sustainable future?

Why not join nexxworks during the Sustainable Impact Tour in October?

Ann Viane
Ann Viane
Inspiring value creation is a constant goal of mine. A goal which I believe marketeers can deliver through a combination of authentic consumer insights, creativity in superior brand solutions and a passionate team delivering on this. Especially needed as we look for "better world" solutions in a VUCA world.
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May 4, 2023
SDG & Sustainability