Environmental Sustainability: A Better Business & Planet
Vice Presidents, Client Consulting & Services
- Jan 30, 2023
As California dries out after being battered by the most significant rainfall in more than 150 years, and ski hills in Switzerland are forced to shut down mid-winter due to having no snow, we are once again faced with the harsh realities of climate change. Brands have an obligation to consider their impact on the planet and leverage their role in the global community, the strength of their voice, and the power of their influence. But this obligation is also an immense opportunity for brands to connect with audiences on a shared value that is intensifying.
We're two colleagues bonded by our passion for environmental sustainability. It all started by identifying the disconnect between what we love to do - deliver world-class brand experiences - and the negative impact these short-term moments in time can have on our planet. Ultimately, we continue to question what we can do to help transform the industry, but it often feels like an overwhelming problem to solve.
How did we get started?
We started by talking about the issues and disconnects we were seeing, educating ourselves, and building a community both within the walls of our agency and with a network of organizations, consultants, and experts who can help guide us on our journey. We have a long way to go, but even small changes start a ripple effect, and every day the conversation gets louder.
What have we learned? Sustainability is Holistic
Environmental, social, and economic sustainability must all thrive together, as none can thrive independently. Our planet is so interconnected that a war in one country means increased fossil fuel production in others, massive food insecurity in the poorest nations, and exacerbating a global economic crisis.
For the purpose of this post, we focused primarily on environmental sustainability, but welcome any conversations/comments about the other two pillars as GMR has robust DEI and in-market staffing programs and are happy to help navigate those spaces.
The truth is that most people are not experts in environmental sustainability, and that is ok. This is a rapidly evolving field, and the work can be complex and scientific. What matters is stepping up to the plate. Finding an angle that authentically aligns with brand values, products, and services or that impacts the value chain. Maybe it is access to clean water, creating a circular production model, or innovating new packaging or delivery mechanisms. Every brand has a part to play.
By tapping into expertise, being authentic in communications, transparent in results, and thoughtful and diligent in decisions on which partners, events, and vendors to support and why, brands can avoid negative backlash.
The next critical step is action.
Audiences and consumers are discerning and now look to brands as trusted entities, above government and NGOs, according to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer.
While many nations are setting aggressive climate targets, a significant number are not on track to meet them. COP27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, concluded with a disappointing tone as the headline achievement was creating a loss and damage fund to benefit low- and middle-income countries that are impacted by climate-change damages, rather than agreeing to any concrete preventative action for the future.
In the US, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes $375 billion to support climate incentives such as tax credits and grants to reduce the cost of adopting renewable energy, but many say this is insufficient or are skeptical that the stated targets are achievable.
This creates a moment for brands to connect more deeply with audiences, through compassion and empathy. The state of our world is scary these days, and brands can rise to the forefront by tapping into this need and showing a commitment to action.
It’s Good Business
According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, 76% of people globally are worried about climate change, and expectations are high for businesses. People trust that businesses can make a difference, but they aren’t doing enough.
Some figures estimate that 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy, but that often doesn’t permeate into marketing and activation. Inaction will become increasingly costly and bad for business as younger generations shape consumer expectations and a majority plan to express their opinions with dollars.
One major misconception: sustainable solutions are always more expensive. FALSE. In fact, the opposite is true when you consider sustainability as the forcing function to reduce waste, becoming more efficient or using recycled materials, which also benefit the bottom line and offer long-term benefits.
We need to approach things in new and innovative ways, rather than just compromising on what we have traditionally done. At GMR, we are partnering with organizations to recycle materials post-activation, measure carbon impact and the consequences of planning decisions, and rethinking traditional norms to modernize program and activation inclusions. We have a network of vendors who are providing innovative, alternative solutions, have recommended and signed sustainability-focused partnerships, and can help weed through the noise and determine authentic values alignment of a potential partnership before deals are signed, mitigating risk. This isn't about doing the right thing. This is good business. And there's no time to waste.