“Tell me something positive,” a friend urged after an hour of discussing the world’s many problems. It was easy for me to oblige, after having spent four days at Sustainable Brands 2015 learning what some of the mightiest brands and the smartest minds are up to.
From numerous sessions and conversations, six trends emerged that point to a positive future and a real chance for change.
1. Young people are driving the demand for change.
Research surveys from multiple organizations and agencies consistently point to this trend: younger audiences (Gen Y and Gen Z) want businesses to address today’s social issues and want to work for organizations that are benefiting society. Brands that don’t align with these expectations will struggle to retain young customers and talent. Meanwhile, young people are moving to organizations that are more aligned with their values, or are creating organizations to fulfil their vision.
2. The Sharing Economy is evolving, fast!
When blended with the Circular Economy, peer-to-peer platforms can change our relationship with products. For example, Stuffstr is an app that makes it easier for people to give their stuff a second life.
Anyone can launch peer-to-peer marketplaces to share products, with the help of technologies like Near Me (Digital marketers, think of it as Shopify for the Sharing Economy). More niche market places = potential for more sharing. See StokeShare.
The B2B sector could benefit from sharing marketplaces too. For instance, imagine a B2B marketplace to exchange hazardous waste with chemical companies. Hard to imagine for us communications professionals perhaps, but an obvious solution for a fellow audience member at SB15 who manages waste products.
3. Businesses are (starting to) recycle everything.
Businesses are striving to source their raw materials from better alternatives to reduce their energy and carbon footprints. For aluminium producer Novelis, this means sourcing their aluminium from recycle plants rather than the earth. For Virgin Atlantic, this means sourcing carbon for its jet fuel from industrial waste gases rather than fossil fuel. For others, it might mean sourcing recycled plastic from The Plastic Bank.
4. Sustainability experts are figuring out the right language.
“Sustainability” is not exciting. “Climate Change” is political. The key, sustainability experts share, is to inspire people around values that are relevant to both people and your brand. For instance, GM engages people around “Clean Energy.” The North Face encourages people to spend time outdoors. Starbucks uses sustainability as a tactic to meet business goals. Heineken uses storytelling to make sustainability exciting.
5. Revenues are pouring in.
It takes a combination of effort, strong leadership, investment and a stiff backbone… when done right, sustainability can lead to significant business wins.
– In 2014, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands grew twice as fast and contributed to 50% of the company’s overall growth.
– Following their decision to take a stand against Tobacco, CVS Health saw a 13.6% percent increase in earnings.
6. Leaders are announcing public commitments…
…to achieve sustainability goals, despite not having clear roadmaps to achieve them. It’s daring to come out and acknowledge their brands are not perfect and they’re not sure how to get there yet.
Why do they it? It’s their ambition, vision and rallying cry that will attract the talent, investment and solutions they need for the journey.
Nidhi is a digital planner with an interest in how people use digital and mobile technologies. At MSLGROUP, she studies people’s behavior and reactions to emerging platforms and branded programs, and packages these as People’s Insights reports and magazines. Previously, Nidhi has helped leading Indian brands design engagement strategies, build online communities, and execute award-winning digital campaigns. Follow her on Twitter: @NidhiChimnani