What do Donald Trump, Brexit and drinking straws have in common?
The answer is, of course, that all of these have dominated headlines in 2018. But while Brexit and The Donald were to be expected, the focus on plastic straws is perhaps a little more leftfield.
Such is The David Attenborough Effect with Blue Planet 2 splashing conservation across the news pages and starting a tidal wave of conscientiousness that shows no signs of stopping.
In short, 2018 has been the year when sustainability went truly mainstream.
What does this mean for businesses?
So then sustainability has become something people expect rather than want from businesses. That works on both a proactive level (see Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick) and a reactive level (McDonalds banning plastic straws).
With so much of this dialogue playing out online, as you might expect the conversation is being driven by millennials – a much maligned group which, more than anything, is focussed on making the world a better place.
Just as millennials have been accused of “killing” everything from “breakfast cereal” to “the real estate industry, you might now argue that millennials are killing the “half-hearted attempt at corporate sustainability” by holding to account businesses who fall short.
The result is that many businesses have found themselves caught short and are scrambling to play catch up. Equally, there are businesses out there who’ve taken sustainability seriously for years and who are now, quite rightly, a bit miffed that they’re losing share of voice to businesses for whom sustainability has only been a concern for five minutes.
The business case for sustainability
There is a mounting body of evidence to suggest that businesses which place sustainability at the core of their business models are growing (much) faster than their less conscientious peers.
The challenge is of course that sustainability by definition has to be a long-term strategy. At the moment, most businesses tend to see it at best as a PR exercise and at worst an obstacle to growth and a waste of time.
However slowly but surely things are changing thanks to the push of consumers and the pull of growth. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that sustainable businesses represent the future.
What is “sustainability”, anyway?
Many people equate sustainability with environmentalism, but this is only part of it. For me, sustainability is about a long-term commitment to working toward leaving the world a better place than you found it. That means looking after more than just the environment, but people as well in both social and financial terms.
Once you start to see the world through this lens, the opportunities are extremely exciting. For businesses, sustainability shouldn’t necessarily be about charity, it should be about finding ways that sustainability can lead to growth. For example, an employee profit sharing scheme that improves productivity, or a sourcing model that improves livelihoods through trade not aid.
Three major mistakes businesses make when communicating their commitment to sustainability
How to become known as a sustainable brand – a six step process
While there may not be a one-size-fits all solution, there are ways that any business – whether a sustainability pro or a total novice – can improve its sustainability communications. Here are six steps to consider:
The final word
Sustainability has been a rising tide for some time and now it’s broken through, we should expect it to stay. If you’d like to find out more about how to become known and admired as a sustainable brand, drop me a line on email@example.com