Connecting brand and sustainability

Words by Ruby Gurdon and Selabe Kute
Date 2023-08-07

With business leaders facing increasingly differentiated expectations from their audiences and stakeholders, the pressure mounts on the private sector to lead the way in sustainability. Yet, while companies are investing heavily, there is still a disconnect between their sustainability performance and public perception, meaning brands aren’t gaining rightful attribution for their actions. To address this issue, Design Bridge and Partners recently hosted a panel discussion with business leaders, led by Cristina Tazza (Group EVP, Strategy), to share their advice on building brand equity and credibility through sustainability to drive impact at scale.

Align marketing and sustainability strategies

Businesses are actively implementing sustainability initiatives in various areas, but the siloed nature of marketing and sustainability practitioners within organisation means these two critical functions are often missing the opportunity to learn from one another.

“Sustainability is a newer discipline compared to marketing and it’s developed its own approaches and its own objectives, particularly in the face of a very dynamic regulatory environment, whereas marketing is an established discipline.”

To overcome this challenge, collaboration and mutual understanding between sustainability strategists and marketeers is essential. Aligning the underlying organisational structures and governance between marketing and sustainability is an important first step.

Tap into cultural conversations

Understanding the cultural context you are operating in is key. Cost and convenience-conscious consumers are often struggling with conflicting priorities, relegating sustainability to a ‘nice-to-have’. Panellists emphasised the importance of tackling this uncomfortable tension by finding more compelling expressions of value for sustainable products and services.

“I think sometimes we must be brave as marketers, maybe not tell the story we want to tell, not shout about our sustainability credentials, but instead meet consumers where they’re at, connect with the stories that matter to them, connect with the problems that matter to them.”

By engaging with consumers as collaborators and co-creators, brands can more effectively integrate sustainability aspects into their products and services, using it as a lens for innovation to address consumers’ pain points.

Show up with humility and humanity

The opportunity exists for both marketing and sustainability practitioners to reframe their relationship with each other, using creativity and more humble, human and relevant storytelling to address consumer confusion and anxiety around sustainability. By understanding consumers’ values, addressing their needs, and inspiring them to be part of a broader sustainable movement, brands can enhance the impact of their sustainability initiatives.

“Engage them in what’s relevant to them. What do they need to know, what do they want to know, how deep the layer of communication is contingent on those factors.”

Brands and marketers should take a comprehensive approach to sustainability, considering both upstream and downstream implications. Collaboration with stakeholders is vital in driving meaningful, behaviour-changing communications.