Connecting inspiration to a business case

Connecting inspiration to a business case

While showcasing examples of good works around the globe, the Sustainable Brands ’13 Conference hinted at the need to make the business case for sustainability.

Inspiring stories abounded at the Sustainable Brands ’13 Conference in San Diego.

From Philips lighting up darkened areas of the world to strengthen communities and improve quality of life, to Coca-Cola’s commitment to provide clean water to African villages and empower 5 million women worldwide by 2020, there were plenty of examples of brands making a difference.

For example, Christine Cea, senior director of Marketing Communications for Unilever, eloquently described Unilever’s strategy for building brand love by making an emotional connection to “unlock the magic.”

She brought the strategy to life by showing an unforgettable Lifebuoy ad. In it, a father walks on his hands across his village – Thesgora, India, known for its high rate of diarrhea – to celebrate the first of his children living to the age of 5, an event made possible by the practice of washing hands with soap.

Likewise, author/architect/visionary William McDonough, whose latest book is “The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance,” inspired the conference with his vision of eliminating the very concept of waste and designing products for a cradle-to-cradle life cycle, pre-planning for reuse, recycling and re-purposing of all materials.

There was also plenty of talk about sustainability being important to business.

“Our sustainability goals are embedded in our business goals,” said Bea Perez, chief sustainability officer for Coca-Cola.

“We focus on water because it is the lifeblood of communities. We focus on women because they make 70 percent of the purchases of our products. They are the gatekeepers. And women are disproportionally burdened with the challenges of providing water to their homes.”

Rob Zimmerman of Kohler, Inc., when asked why his corporation is committed to sustainability goals, said, “Our markets demand it.”

All great stuff … and at Shelton Group we found ourselves still hungry for more information on how those brands made/are making the business case for sustainability.

How did lighting up a remote village help Philips sell more light bulbs? How many more beverages does Coca-Cola think it might sell by empowering women?

We certainly know a business case exists for sustainability. Our Eco Pulse research reveals that 48 percent of American consumers care about corporations’ environmental reputations and consider them when they make their buying choices.

So building a strong environmental reputation is both an important defensive and offensive marketing strategy in today’s competitive environment and a necessity for success in what most predict to be a resource-strapped tomorrow.

(We think this issue of making the business case for sustainability is so important, in fact, that we’ll be offering a webinar on it next month, free to all Shelton Insights subscribers.)

Bob Willard, author of “The New Sustainability Advantage: Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line,” also addressed the general business case for sustainability in his session.

He actually laid out a handy dashboard for presenting the cost savings and increased revenue that can be realized through sustainability efforts, and he showed how to calculate and present potential savings from energy, water, materials, reduced labor turnover and increased productivity.

“That’s the secret sauce,” Willard said, “increased productivity. You get your employees involved and you’re going to see magic happen.”

Again, all good stuff. So let’s go the next step. To all the brands who will speak at Sustainable Brands next year: Give us specifics. Get naked about how your sustainability efforts – and your marketing of them – is making a difference in purchasing behaviors (or not).

Everyone working in sustainability and sustainability marketing will benefit greatly if we all share specific successes and failures. This truly is a case of “a rising tide lifts all boats.”


Posted on

June 19, 2013

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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