The Biggest Benefit of Telling Your Sustainability Story – the Flywheel Effect

The Biggest Benefit of Telling Your Sustainability Story – the Flywheel Effect

At Shelton Group, we’ve written a lot about why you should tell your company’s sustainability story. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve said in the past:

  • B-to-B customers expect it. According to our 2016 B2B Pulse study, the importance placed on a company’s environmental performance or sustainability record in product selection increased significantly over last year (77% vs. 67%). Fifty-seven percent of our respondents (all business decision makers) said they include sustainability-related questions in their RFPs for purchasing. And the number with sustainability scorecards has increased steadily over the last three years.
  • Your sustainability story is a reason for consumers to love – or hate – your brand. The vast majority of Americans now say they’re searching for greener products, and two of the top five ways in which they determine if a product is green relate to the company or brand’s environmental story. One-third claim to be able to think of a time when they’ve started or stopped purchasing a product because of the company’s environmental record (and two-thirds of those could name the brand). And when we asked people in our 2015 Eco Pulse study to name a brand they love and why and a brand they hate and why, environmental and social reasons made both lists, alongside typical brand attributes like efficacy, quality, style, value, etc.

Supporting brand affinity and sales are terrific reasons to tell your sustainability story. But there’s also another, perhaps even more important reason to tell your story that I haven’t written about before but have experienced first-hand many times: the impact it makes inside an organization.

At Shelton Group, we’ve worked with several companies to package their sustainability story and then incorporate that story into several public-facing vehicles (websites, trade shows, packaging, ads). This is a more difficult process than you might imagine. Our experience is not that companies don’t have much to say about sustainability, but that they have a lot to say, they’re trying to say it all … and so it doesn’t make much of an impact. By focusing the sustainability story so it’s clear, pithy, meaningful AND aligns with the brand story, what the market cares about and what the internal culture will embrace, it becomes memorable and usable.

And when it becomes memorable and usable, people inside the company start to hear it and pay attention to it. The very process of working to gain buy-in on the story from the marketing team and the product teams opens their eyes and hearts to the possibility that they work for a company who does the right thing by people and the planet. Once that notion really sinks in, those product and marketing folks begin to find ways here and there to include the sustainability story in some of the internally facing and externally facing efforts they’re involved in.

And when that happens, the folks in product development and innovation begin to think, “Well, I’ve had an idea for a product innovation that’s really better for the environment … maybe it’s worth it to bring that forward now … maybe we can actually get this done.” So innovations begin to happen with sustainability at their core, which then gives the product and marketing folks more to talk about related to sustainability. While that snowball is growing, NGOs and potential partners outside the company begin to take notice, and they proactively reach out to bring to the table new ways that your brand or company could get involved in environmental and social problem-solving. And, of course, that then gives the marketing and PR folks more to talk about.

And then, if they haven’t already, the C-suite begins to take notice. They like the attention, they like the differentiated innovations, and they begin to get more supportive of sustainability efforts – and free up more budget for marketing, partnerships, projects, etc., related to sustainability.

Truly. I’ve seen this exact scenario play out with several of our clients. It all starts by spending the time to get your sustainability story right – aligned with the brand story, with what the market cares about and with what will resonate with people internally. Get the story right, and you’ll create a powerful flywheel effect.


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Posted on

July 28, 2016

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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