How ‘Sussed’ is your brand?

2012-05-07 09:29

Is ‘Sustainability’ just another trend, or does it hold the key to unlock innovation and more efficient way of doing business?

Once upon a time being ‘green’ meant you were a remnant of the flower-power generation, or were an environmental activist in love with trees and bunnies and had no real understanding of what really mattered in the world – a robust economy and booming businesses.

Reality check – the growth trajectory is no longer set for ‘up and up’ because the resources required to deliver and maintain this growth are profoundly stressed. This fact can translate into a crisis; or an opportunity and the invitation to all the economic sectors operating in South Africa is to revisit the impacts of their business on the collective resources; human and environmental, in order to redress the imbalance. But it’s not only the environment that is acting as a call to action, customer perception and the growing awareness about the product’s they engage with is on the rise and, with it, the collective choice that they can exercise about whether or not a brand or product is acceptable because of its ethics.

Ogilvyearth conducted an online survey last year, over a period of seven months and respondents were asked to answer over 40 questions relating to their perceptions and actions around sustainable issues. The survey reached a broad demographic of consumers across South Africa and the responses were thought provoking.

The top level insights show:

- Less than 20% of the respondents trust ‘green’ credentials and more people tend to consider ‘green’ claims as money-spinners.

- Generally, people strongly agree or agree that they will buy a product because of the corporate social responsibility initiatives that the brand or company is involved in.

- Above 90 % agree that big brands should tell us what they are doing to make positive changes relating to environmental and social challenges.

- Fairly large shares of respondents would boycott a company or brand that was suspected of acting in a damaging way, either towards its workers, a community, or the environment.

- Corporate Social Responsibility is generally perceived (81%) as contributions to the environment, society, and economy and everyone in the society should do what they can to address these problems.

- Only 10 % say that companies and brands should have no investment in development projects to help communities fight poverty.

The Harvard Business Review calls it the Age of Transparency; Time Magazine says “We are seeing the rise of the citizen consumer, and the beginnings of a responsibility revolution.”

I have just been introduced to a magazine that is seriously taking the big multi-national brands to task about their impacts on environment, animals, people and politics. I am one of the converted in terms of my shopping habits but will err on the side of caution if convenience drives it – or go without if not.

My prediction is that those consumers with the big spending power will start to seriously address which products they choose because to not do so will show how uninformed they are.

There is a gap between intention and action that is still being addressed but don’t think that a quick ‘green-wash’ campaign about how green your product is will work if you have not seriously evaluated all aspects of its supply chain. Just ask Nestle’ who had to manage Greenpeaces’ expose’ about their palm oil sourcing, or Mattel about where the bulk of the raw material for their packaging came from.

Whether you believe in climate change or not – the fact is there is one planet and a limited amount of resources to support all its life forms. It makes good business sense to redress the imbalances to improve efficiencies and ensure that a new customer support base can grow out of the challenging economic times ahead. Moving towards a truly sustainable business future has to consider environmental, social and economic factors.

In South Africa over R 5 billion is spent on corporate CSR projects per annum. These ‘feel good’ projects have very real contributions to make to raising awareness and developing strategies that are geared towards long term, sustainable change. The opportunities that CSR projects give to a brand or company enables great communications to be leveraged but there is a BUT.

The stories that are told have to be true, change has to be systemic and measurable and brands and companies can’t just jump on the ‘green’ bandwagon without having any idea what that means regarding creating a sustainable future that we are all part of.

Having a billboard powered by solar power does not make a company ‘green’. Even planting lots of trees does not make a company ‘green’. And in the quest for brand dominance it seems a lot of players are adopting the ‘green’ approach without really understanding that this needs to be a thorough engagement at all levels and one which involves their employees at the outset.

Social media campaigns will bust corporate green washers and big brash PR and AD campaigns with clever pay off lines about how ‘green’ they may be won’t cut it with consumers who are waking up to the evidence that things really do have to change, and fast. Brands who champion the cause of sustainability in all areas - social, environmental and economic - will lead the way.

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