As sustainability continues to go mainstream, the smartest companies are incorporating sustainability into their business model. It’s profitable, mitigates risk, and fulfills an increasing consumer demand. It’s spreading across functions with executives such as the chief financial officer and chief marketing officer actively thinking about how sustainability impacts their roles and business units.
As Ellen Weinreb wrote in the Guardian earlier this month, sustainability will soon be built into every job description. It will no longer be a niche function or specialty area. Sustainability will be expected in every employee.
What does this mean for sustainability communicators and marketers? If we are moving towards a paradigm in which all companies are pursuing sustainability on some level, then merely having a sustainability strategy will not be enough to win in the marketplace.
1. Innovation is King. Consumers are asking for their products to do more while using fewer resources and/or using those resources more efficiently, from gas mileage to paper towel absorbency. As resource availability continues to change, companies will need to be more and more innovative to create compelling solutions that navigate these challenges. As Ram Nidumolu, C.K. Prahalad, and M.R. Rangaswami wrote in a 2009 Harvard Business Review article, “sustainability is now the key driver in innovation…. The key to progress, particularly in times of economic crisis, is innovation.”
2. Quality Matters. We are quickly moving beyond the days of disposable products. From fashion to diapers, conscientious consumers are asking for products that will stand the test of time and that are responsibly made. They are also forming emotional attachments to these items and will go to great lengths to repair and salvage them. Jonathan Chapman, a sustainable design professor at the University of Brighton, spoke about how to market these items that last in an interview with the Guardian. He said, “The whole marketing approach needs to start with helping people see that we already view material things in this way…. We are capable of forming attachments, repairing things and keeping stuff. We do it every day.”
3. Stories Define. With products being more efficient and lasting longer, their stories will be a key way of differentiating them. Storytelling will be a useful tool to educate consumers about a product’s innovation, and also to increase the emotional bond that a consumer has with a product, by introducing that product’s backstory – who made it, how, and in what type of environment.
A work environment in which all job functions include a sustainability function offers exciting possibilities for marketing and communication professionals. Let me know in the comments or at @Brigid_Milligan if you think this is a trend that we will see realized this year.