Why sustainability makes good business sense – and how content can help

Why sustainability makes good business sense - and how content can help

A few weeks ago, we explored the challenge of communicating climate change. As we discussed, the paradox of climate change is that although it affects everyone – all of humanity has a stake in the Earth’s survival – the complexity of the problem means that it is hard to identify and target one ‘audience’ to communicate to. Another problem is that the leading voices in communicating about climate change have difficulty breaking out of their own echo chambers, and are often preaching to the choir.

We love a good communications challenge, and so we got to thinking about how we might go about addressing this particular one from a different angle. Where is the gap in the narrative? Is there opportunity for a fresh angle?

As this article from Vox suggests, climate scientists and activists have the ‘doom and danger’ messaging covered. Government agencies and NGOs leading the charge for more a proactive response to climate change tend to employ a pragmatic tone, like the example below.

While both of these narratives are important, we believe that they won’t change perceptions for those members of the public who aren’t already worried and moved to action. There appears to be a dearth of inspirational or empowering stories, which could offer an opportunity to shift the conversation.

Sustainable business is the new frontier

In the past few decades, a growing class of forward-thinking businesses have championed a more sustainable approach to business. One of the biggest names in the movement is Unilever, which has positioned itself as a leader ever since launching its Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, with an aim to double the size of the business whilst halving its environmental footprint by 2020.

In a 2015 interview with Fast Company, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed explained the reasoning behind their business shift: “We noticed that people were moving from thinking in terms of ‘my world’ [personal] to ‘our world’ [local] to ‘the world’ [global],” he says, citing the Internet and the increasing frequency of climate-related events as drivers of this trend. “Increasingly people are realising they can do something. People will look to brands and companies and say: ‘What are you doing, why didn’t you do something earlier?’”

A growing body of research supports Unilever’s finding. A recent survey of Millennials by Deloitte showed that almost 40% of respondents stated that the goal of business should be to ‘improve society’ (second only to ‘generate jobs’ in terms of priorities). And an earlier study by the Intelligence Group found that 64% of Millennials stated it was a priority for them to make the world a better place.

Sustainability makes good business sense

There is a strong ethics case for businesses to incorporate more sustainable practices, and this shift in behaviour is particularly valued by a growing portion of their consumer base. For companies like Unilever, the shift to ‘doing good’ is paying off – literally: The Drum reported earlier this year that Unilever’s sustainable brands have grown 46% faster than others in its portfolio over the past twelve months.

Many other companies are incorporating sustainability into their business practices. This January, The Climate Group published a status update on their RE100 initiative, which brings together 122 leading companies – brands like Marks & Spencer, Sky and Coca-Cola among them – who have committed to transitioning to using 100% renewable electricity. According to the report, 88% of respondents cited the compelling economic case for renewable electricity as a major driver – with 30 out of 74 reporting that renewable electricity was either cost competitive or delivered significant savings on energy bills.

As the statistics show, when applied correctly, and especially collectively, sustainability makes good business sense – a message that would surely appeal to even the most hardened climate change denier.

Content can help!

Communicating the consequences of climate change is a complex challenge, and content cannot solve it completely – but better communications can go a long way to bridging the gap of understanding.

We specialise in branded content that changes perceptions, so we know what works. In our series on behavioural science, we explored the research that content that provokes an emotional response can compel people to take action. Our annual sector-wide benchmark survey on use of content found that 74% of respondents see a high return on investment when using video over other formats. And 95% said that they see video content playing more of a role in their organisations in the coming year.

Here’s our challenge to the sustainable business community: don’t be afraid to shout your achievements from the rooftops – we need more campaigns that will communicate this to the masses! Be the positive change, and the welcome break from the frightening voice of climate scientists that, albeit necessary, can leave us all feeling more helpless than empowered. As we’ve explored above, this is not only the right thing to do – it also make good business sense.

There is a real opportunity to shape and amplify the message of positive, inspiring action to mitigate the effects of climate change. If leading businesses can hone their communications through content, and inspire others to act, we all stand to win.

Author: Fiona Koch, Account Planner / Director at Raw London. Follow Fiona on Twitter @fijinsky 

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