How being green can give your business a competitive advantage
Delivering green initiatives drives consumer sales and builds a positive reputation
With COP26 taking place in Glasgow this November, the climate emergency is the core issue of our time. There is now an acute awareness and appreciation of the environment, its fragility, and knowledge of our impact and what we need to do to keep temperature increases to 1.5 degrees (IPCC) to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Why is the environment important to my business?
As a result of this increased awareness of the environment, customers are more clued in to their impact and can make more informed decisions in their choices. Many consumers will now only engage positively with a company if their ethical and environmental values align with their own. Why would they buy products from an organisation with a huge carbon footprint and wasteful practices when they could buy from a company with carbon-neutral status, transparent working practices and supply chain, and utilises recyclable materials?
Conscious consumption is a social movement that is based around increased awareness of the impact of purchasing decisions on the environment (Swapomatic). Customers are making more sustainable product choices because they want to feel like they are doing their bit to protect the environment. The notion that we live by the products we buy, means customers are putting more thought into their choices to make sure they are contributing to our sustainable future.
The impact of societal changes
Particularly since 2019, environmental issues have been very much in the foreground with Greta Thunberg, #waronplastics, being carbon-neutral, the rise of veganism, electric cars, sustainable tourism, and Extinction Rebellion’s visible protest marches, to name but a few. These trends and activities show that it is crucial for any organisation, whether you are a product or service-based company, to realise that the interconnection between nature and society is fundamental and increasingly visual.
Societal changes are now calling the shots for the future of our planet, and organisations need to respond to this with appropriate and authentic marketing strategies to show customers that sustainability and green causes are core to their business ethos. Addressing these issues and making crucial business changes will create a positive competitive advantage compared to other companies that are not listening to public sentiment and current trends.
So how can marketing meet and address these important societal and environmental concerns and bring them together in an authentic, caring way, and create real positive change?
Three visible actions to make your marketing green:
1: UN Sustainable Development Goals: These were developed in 2015 and consist of 17 goals to transform our world. They are a to-do list for people and planet, to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. The goals address the needs of people in both developed and developing countries, emphasising that no one should be left behind. These goals were originally intended for governments to act, but can be applied to individual organisations too. To simplify this for businesses, I recommend looking at the Good Life Goals that break down each UN goal into what they mean and creates actions from them. For example, you could select №2 Zero Hunger Goal, and Good Life Goals breaks this down into five actionable points such as action point №2 ‘enjoy more fruits and vegetables’. Jeans manufacturer Levi’s got behind Goal №6 Clean Water and Sanitation and focused on Action point №4 ‘Save water when cleaning’ with their “don’t wash your jeans” campaign. Select one or two goals and actions points that you think you can realistically implement and get behind in your organisation. Make your goal part of your long term strategy and avoid short-termism as this is the enemy of sustainability.
2: The Green Recovery after COVID19. 2020 saw a number of very exciting projects arise such as Global Centre for Green Finance and also the EarthShot Prize conceived by David Attenborough and Prince William to encourage people to provide solutions to the world’s environmental problems by 2030. How can your company support initiatives like this, or can you group together with like-minded organisations and create your own green forum or action group?
3: BOGOF Reinvented: This is the ‘pay it forward’ concept where you think about your product and who would benefit from it but can’t afford it. How can you set up a programme to provide access to your products? Think about TOMS shoes, Mindful Chef or Hey Girls for inspiration.
Simple actions to take to embed green initiatives into your business
It would help if you also started making changes internally to ensure that sustainability is core to your future growth plans:
- Conduct a sustainability audit of your business and identify and prioritise opportunities and challenges.
- Embed the UN Sustainability Goals into your purpose and operations and align your consumer benefits with these goals so they can directly see the benefit they are making.
- Plan out short and long term initiatives to show the direction of travel for your company. This indicates to consumers your action plan and goals and shows that you know there is a lot of work to do, but you know what you are trying to achieve.
- Connect with other opinion leaders to learn more, stimulate conversation, and instigate change in your sector.
- Ensure that internal staff and partners know the changes you are making and act as advocates and understand why you are doing them.
Benefits of Green Marketing for your business
Being green and sustainable has multiple benefits for your business, both internally and externally with customers and within your sector:
- Employees are attracted to organisations with a higher purpose, something they can get behind and advocate.
- Having a cause and purpose behind your business gives you authentic and compelling stories to share with customers to gain their trust and support.
- Keep in mind the three P’s: Pro-people, Pro-planet and Pro-profit. There needs to be a transparent balance between your business morals and financial needs. You need to communicate and demonstrate clear, tangible goals for society and the environment and show your responsibility for this. As the saying goes “It’s hard to be green when you are in the red”. So you must strike a balance between having a viable business model and keeping to your environmental commitments.
- Beware of ‘greenwashing’. Don’t say you are doing more than you are, or give lip service to causes you don’t truly or actively support. Your cause must be engrained into the fabric of your business, it sets you apart from others and is an idea that people internally and externally can buy into. You need to LIVE it and uphold your brand’s reputation.
- The rise of the conscious consumer rose dramatically during 2021. The massive power shift has put the reins into the hands of the consumer, who now have the strongest voice in the conversation. Engagement with consumers and causes is the most important thing you can do. Your moral purpose will set you apart and will draw conflicted consumers to your product as opposed to others.
- Embed relevant UN Sustainability goals into your business purpose and actions.
- Establish your role in addressing the climate emergency and how it fits into your processes and products.
- Environmental concerns are here to stay with the under 35s acting as the driving force and also becoming an increasing concern for older age groups.
- Consumers are proactively looking to support eco-minded companies and want to see the positive impact of their purchases.
- By including sustainability in your business goals and activities you will be creating a competitive advantage over competitors as you will be meeting customer’s needs.