A sustainable marketing future
Creating a sustainable future will require a sustained focus with sustainable marketing. Simple. We look at the thought leaders from unusual sources and what this will mean for the marketing trends of the future.
Episode 037 TOPICS:
Why “Great marketing is about influencing behaviour change”
Why brands are going to have to go on record
What we can learn from Notpla - “we make packaging disappear”
Unusual sources of inspiration: Mathieu flamini, Myriam Sidibé, Dr Carmen Hijosa and IKEA
Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed
37. A Sustainable Marketing Future
Last week, we talked about the importance of well-being and how that’s becoming more and more of a priority. Especially in the need to make the return to work and the world of work more accessible, more welcoming, more encouraging and making it a fairer and safer place. It’s not a stretch to say that we’re now more mindful about the personal, economic consumption that we’re doing and the social choices that we make going forward in a post pandemic world. And we’re just more conscious about ensuring our decisions are more sustainable, be it better for our pocket, our self-needs or the families and friends that we have, for the communities that we live in and even for the broader world, we’re so much more connected and Covid has really proven that we are interdependent and interconnected.
As we focus on marketing transformation on this show, I’ll start off with an article, written by Helen Brain, who leads the social change hub at MediaCom which is a media agency and she has a compelling argument. It’s a compelling piece that says, look, our behaviours pre Covid will probably return but the demand for sustainable products and services will noticeably increase. At the time we’re recording this, it does seem a lifetime ago that we were shocked by the bushfires in Australia and devastation on the wildlife and we watched it from afar wondering, ‘how can we impact this?’ How do we do something different in the future? And that was only a few months ago and guess what? Scientists can actually prove with an abundance of data that we can actually impact our environment, we can actually change how things pan out. We’re spending less on clothes and we’re staying in more and we’re just seeing a huge reduction in noise pollution and particle pollution, and we’re seeing patterns and visuals of the world where formerly there was smog, now it’s gone there’s blue skies or where there was pollutions that’s so much clearer.
We appreciate the simpler life more, we’re perhaps more conscious of how much we’d spend and yes, we’re creating more rubbish, or as they’d say in the US more garbage, and in my local neighbourhood seeing that they’re being overwhelmed. We’re creating thirty to forty percent more garbage that they have to pick up, and they’ve had to reduce their recycling collection to keep up with the demand. So, I’m much more conscious of the waste we produce and scrutinising the packaging of everything I consume, looking for the recycle symbol and I’m much more focused on buying refills than individual packs for example.
Essential Sustainability for Surviving Businesses
So, the larger point I’m saying here is that change can actually happen, and there aren’t excuses anymore for not meeting consumer needs. Two things brands need to do right now is they need to increase the clarity and awareness of their current, and their future sustainability efforts. But also secondly, they need to be adapting and creating products and services that can really meet the increased need for sustainability and the demand from the citizens. Does that ring true for you, Chris?
Yeah, it does. I’d add one more in there as well which is all about sustainable marketing efforts, as well. I mean that financially as from an environmental perspective and we’ll talk a bit more about that. And I agree, the current crisis has allowed us to consider our well-being whether that’s financial, physical or environmental. It's allowed us to consider what type of lifestyle, a sustainable lifestyle that we want that a lot of people are aiming towards. And I think there is hope that we will learn from this and there is a fear that we may just return to our old ways, but what is certain is that we will have to adapt.
Increasingly, when we see brands consider what purpose they bring to the world, and when we clearly can see the implication of their actions, it becomes more of a focus for everyone, it’s a real topic of conversation at the moment. The world is considerably a lot cleaner since lockdown, that’s just a fact. We’ve seen it, and we should take that action, we should bank it. When we see a large number of tried and tested marketing techniques become redundant whilst the power of good old fashion ideas and good old fashion community continue, it’s quite something.
So, we are seeing some fundamental shifts in our industry let alone in society. And when we see areas where we have been talking about for some time start to gather attraction, you know we’re onto the cusp of something. And actually, so much of this is about momentum, I think. Some of these trends have been gathering momentum for a while and I think we’re just now starting to see them play out which, I think, is really exciting, Sam.
Yeah, absolutely, Chris. When you teed that up it just made me think of plastic waste being a very specific area, which has been really hot in the last two or three years and I’m floored whenever I see a product or a package that says “not currently recyclable”. I’m probably not alone in the fact of thinking, I’m not going to buy this again and I think a lot of consumers are feeling the same way.
We’ve been hearing more and more about the supply chain and how that’s been changing in the last few weeks or months. But if we look at China, they put some policies in place in 2018 to basically ban twenty four categories of recyclable materials, and those policies and strategies are going to lead to over one hundred million metric tonnes of plastic waste being reduced by 2030, which is a great progress being made there.
Yeah, that’s amazing.
Yeah, brands are going to have to go on record in terms of what they actually are doing to reduce packaging waste. Especially in food space, and that’s why I’m rooting for a company called Notpla, which stands for ‘Not Plastic’. Which I love. It was founded by a couple of guys in the UK, Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, they met in 2013, formed a company when they were at Imperial College and the Royal College of Art, and why I’m rooting for them so much is that their company has an irresistibly put tagline, it’s really just ‘we make packaging disappear’. It’s so obvious and their products are made from brown seaweed and plants, and they’re trying to build a brand similar to Lycra or Teflon. And Notpla has a multitude of different product lines, but one of them are Ooho sachets which are for liquid. And they have a seaweed liner for coatings and a separate product are film lids for solids. But the Ooho product is really remarkable because you can apply it to beverages and sauces and it also biodegrades in four to six weeks.
So, imagine the fact you can just eat it, you can use it for on-the-go, and actually did that in 2019 for the London marathon. They were actually giving out capsules to runners, capsules with Lucozade, which is a glucose energy drink. And yes, the volunteers giving this out were wearing disposable gloves to make sure it was sanitary, but the experience of eating it was described like biting into a cherry tomato and the way to serve that out. Imagine the alternative to giving out plastic bottles and plastic cups of drink, it’s just so much better for the environment, but also, an experience for the runner and I just hope more food and drink brands are going to experiment with this.
One that I’m particularly excited about, that I heard about is Glenlivet. They launched a capsule collection, and that’s the whiskey brand, so, I’m hoping I’m going to be able to get a hold of that in the near future. But the interesting thing that that company is finding is that they’re getting some push backs from brands and one of the key barriers is that the beverage companies, especially, are worried that working with a brand that is so vocal about not being plastic might actually highlight the fact of how much plastic they’re using, which just seems odd that they’re scared of the criticism so therefore won’t do anything. So, I’m hoping that’s just a temporary barrier, not a permanent resistance.
Sustainable Role Models
Yeah, you would hope so, wouldn’t you? Yeah. I think the other fascinating thing, listening to that, 2013 it just shows how long these initiatives can take to actually start gathering momentum as well. another one, Mathieu Flamini. Arsenal midfielder, used to run rings around Man United back in the day. I’m sure you’ll remember him. He co-founded a company in 2008 called GF Bio-Chemicals with a business partner Pasquale Granata and their company uses Levulinic Acid, which is a substitute for oil and it’s created from a higher mass of grass and sugar cane and wood chips, which are turned into these chemicals or materials, and that’s then used in plastic solvents fuels and pharmaceuticals.
When he was talking about it, he was saying that it cost millions to develop and years of testing and research to get to that point, and now that market is estimated and potentially worth twenty billion pounds and I think they get the lion’s share of that. But, you know, it wasn’t a commerce driven reason to get into this, as with a lot of entrepreneurs they create massive change that purpose comes from the heart, as well. So, they spend a lot of time hiking, have a unique relationship with nature and a belief that we should be in harmony with it and really focused on that and he always believed that there should be the need to reduce plastic and gasolines and he saw a good investment opportunity in it, when he met an Italian engineer.
But the fascinating thing for me, back to some of the conversations we had around leadership and entrepreneurship, Flameni never spoke publicly about his investment until about 2015, and the reason he said was, like every start-up, there’s always a risk of failure. I see the experience as a challenge and I’m a competitor both on and off the field. In the world of business, like a sport, you have to be consistent, accept pressure and find your place in a group. And I thought that was a fascinating insight there, because sometimes we look at the footballers as rich and privileged, but he’s certainly one who’s made a greater impact off the field than he has on the field, in a way. He talks about the fact that he was teased at times, when he arrived at training in a suit because he had an important meeting prior to or after training, but the bit that I find really fascinating is the growth mindset that he operates.
The realisation that you can’t do this on your own. In 2016 he launched a project called The Bio Journal, a magazine to raise awareness of public renewable energies, and he’s also working with a number of European universities to create a first masters program in bio economy. Which again, just demonstrates I think, that these things take quite a long time to sort of come true or even through and gather momentum and you just need all those things we’ve just talked about around entrepreneurship to make that happen.
Yeah, that sounds like something he really committed to and had a lot of heart for and it reminds me also of a story of Myriam Sidibe, she’s definitely another role model for us to learn from. She's the founder of a company called Brands On a Mission. She has written a book called Achieving Social Impact and Business Growth Through Purpose, it’s a book and also an article published in Harvard business review that was an article specifically called Marketing Meets Mission, which came out in April 2020. And her background, if I just set the scene for you and the audience, she’s the daughter of an economist and a health official from the United Nations, and she grew up in Mali and lived in over twenty different countries and mostly lived in emerging nations. And so, without background, she then went on to obtain a doctorate from the National School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine but was always curious about the ways that business could help global health. And she found marketing, when you infuse it with the right mission can have a powerful, positive impact - a powerful effect.
Ultimately, great marketing is about influencing behaviour change, and that’s what marketers are supposed to do best, and that’s what drove her into that marketing field as a discipline and started to work with marketers. And as a marketer, she joined Unilever really to help them shape their public life goals, and Lifebuoy was an example of a brand that she worked on and I’ve talked about that soap brand a few times. But here I’ll just say one of the things from the story and her life story was the fact that she was able to be part of randomized control studies and some work they did in India actually showed demonstrable impact, demonstrable data which said that hand washing reduced diarrhoea by twenty five percent. That using soap and hand washing reduced respiratory infections by fifteen percent and reduced eye infections by forty six percent. And so, now, we’re more focused on data and statistics and living our lives, but those are great points of the impact that it had, and it’s ironic that a lot of the work that she was doing was perhaps in developing nations yet the behaviours and needs are just as valid, perhaps even more valuable in developed nations.
These sustainable models, this social good is not just do-goody stuff doing stuff for charity in far away places, it’s actually the power of marketing. The power of behaviour change applied in society can apply to all societies and all communities and not just far away places and do-goody charity work.
Yeah. And I think the other aspect of this which I think is important when we consider a sustainable marketing future, is looking at people, companies or individuals that see the light and want to give back as well. There’s a doctor, Carmen Hijosa, who developed a material called Pinatex an alternative to leather and made using pineapple leaves of all things. And Dr Carmen worked in the leathered goods design and manufacturing and she saw how bad that mass production of leather and synthetic alternatives were and the whole impact on the environment and wanted to do something about it. It’s a natural, agricultural waste product that also provides an opportunity for farmers to make more money. Just feels like a no brainer, doesn’t it?
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Ikea, the worldwide brand valued at around twenty billion dollars in 2020 yet it consumes one percent of the world’s wood supply, which I just think is staggering. You know, one company consuming one percent of all the wood. And, of course, they source one hundred percent from FSC certified or recycled materials and a decade ago they launched a better cotton initiative for the fabric as well, as you would imagine. They plan, in 2020, to produce as much renewable energy as they use, which I think is a very, very worthwhile target. And they’ve invested one point seven billion euros in renewable energy since 2009, with offsite wind turbines and seven hundred and fifty thousand solar panels. So, I do appreciate organisations that actually understand the impact that they’re having as well and try to be creative to deal with it.
How Many Companies are Actually Making a Difference?
Great build there, Chris, in terms of organisations that have made some great efforts to move things forward, an innovation that’s been brought to market. They’re building trust in the system and we’ve talked previously about the lack of trust that marketers and advertisers have undergone, really. And I feel that we should have confidence to find positive answers if we asked the questions, who’s actually walking the sustainable and social responsibility walk? Who’s actually doing great work in that space? And the good news is, there is a resource that we can look at, it’s called act-responsible.org, and that act responsible organisation is an industry organisation with the mission to inspire, promote and unite the advertising creative industries on social and environmental responsibility, because they want to create a better world.
There’s over eighteen thousand, or more, of these social and environmental campaigns created by over three thousand creative industries for four and a half thousand NGOs associations and corporations from over a hundred and ten countries. So, for me, it’s clearly a global opportunity and you can be inspired by how many people are taking part and supporting this from around the world. It gets very, very granular, and so, when we talk about sustainability, it can be a bit confusing or just a bit of a blanket header, but you can actually, to prevent yourself being limited when you look at this resource because you can go and explore a multitude of categories.
So, when you think about taking care of the planet, there are specific areas like, preserving natural and food producing areas, there’s educating and encouraging respectful behaviour, encouraging renewable energies, energy savings, encouraging sustainable waste management and recycling. They have a section called taking care of others which has another pleather of different categories, including solidarity, brotherhood and equality. And then, another category called taking care of yourself. Again, another bunch of different examples, improving health, well-being and reducing dependence is one of them, and another one, educating and encouraging respectful behaviour. A great resource. Definitely go and check it out, I think you’ll be inspired, and you’ll definitely find a bunch of best practices and case studies that we can use to celebrate the best of marketing and advertising, and again, that’s act-responsible.org.
No, that sounds good, I will. And again, Sam, do you know what strikes me about these? They’re good stories and that brings us back to the marketing question. If you get it right, it starts to sell itself and as we talked about, in terms of trying to create a sustainable marketing future as well, I think we will see marketing will have to adapt.
What Can Brands Do Differently?
My stake in the ground on that, I think, it will have to be sustainable. Any mission statement positioning a measurement will have a sustainable well-being message. It might be personal, or it might be global, but it will be there. I don’t think we’ll be able to merely pay lip service, I’d abolish any title called Corporate Social Responsibility for instance, as it can’t be a small team in a department that’s nodded at and brought in for AGMs and the like, it needs to start with the CEO and continue right down every rung, as well. I think to attract investment from consumers or investors, you will have to prove your long-term viability, it’s not just about the business model that is. Also, about the value that you provide back, as well.
Move away from the convenience sector, unless they’re sustainable. That’s certainly one area that Ikea has focused on, in terms of it’s come under the spotlight just as fast fashion came under the spotlight there’s also fast furniture and how they recognised that they need to make moves to create more sustainable pieces of furniture rather than increasing their sale at all time. I move away, I think, also from sort of global trade and more inspire a localism movement. I focus on the hyperlocal community, we’ve learned to embrace our local community again, during the Covid lockdown of initiatives that have been there. I think it will also cover SME businesses and kitchen table businesses as well, I think that community focus will rise to the fore and we will see more about that. So, it’s not an exhausted list but I think they’re certainly things that we need to be aware of, Sam.
Yeah, that’s a great checklist and great inspiration list of things that we could put into practice. So, I’m going to build on that to say what could brands do differently to embrace the future in this space?
Well, the very vessels and carriers for products that we consume have huge potential for innovation. I won’t take credit for the example I’m about to share, that actually comes from Tom Tapper, he’s CEO of NiceAndSerious, an ethically driven creative agency in the UK, and he came up with some very practical, some even wacky ideas.
Firstly, bottles as objects of desire, this is the thought that brands that have developed distinctive, beautiful, durable bottles, think, the classic glass coke bottle. Also, I’d apply things like the soap and detergent brand, personal care brand and cleaning products brand where you can actually use and reuse those containers, and you actually display them in a public place.
On a wacky side, maybe, you’d have an idea which he says is hermit crab branding where basically, companies and brands will offer sticker packs to make it easy for you to customise and perhaps add graffiti and logos to make it more engaging to engage with their brands. Dispenser wars, which is the third idea, which I think is a pretty good idea, in terms of a battleground for the point of purchase for product dispensers and the opportunity to create memorable refilling experiences and perhaps, use branding, sonic branding and sound design to actually make that more exciting, more engaging, more memorable, maybe even gamify it.
And then, I think, the biggest idea of all he calls refill truck revolution. Now, we’re so used to food trucks, how about brands having fleets of electric trucks or robots going around roaming the streets offering a premium refill experience? Replacing damaged bottles with the latest designs and pushing new product offerings. You can think about this from tea or cleaning products and other categories. I’ve seen it done with milk, for example. So, these perhaps seen as niche opportunities could be great distribution, great engagement and also, a sustainable way to actually distribute your brands and get to communities which perhaps can't travel, for example if they’re in a lockdown environment.
Yeah, I love those ideas, Sam. And what I love about them is you can see the creativity there, but you can also see the practical nature of them as well, so, best of both worlds.
Today’s Three Key Takeaways
Great. Yeah, the three takeouts, I’ll keep it quite simple.
Consumer’s needs, and expectations have shifted as much as their behaviours done in the short term.
Don’t think of sustainability as a charity thing, think of it as actually applicable to your current environment, your current community and current consumers.
You’ve heard a number of stories that this is not always an immediate payoff. Often there’s a longer-term investment, a longer-term play to make consumers aware, and really show the value of this new technology, this new proposition or these new materials, because consumers will buy into them eventually.
Yeah, that’s right. I think consumers will vote with their feet, most certainly, and I think they’re not the only ones who will vote for their feet. I think investors will vote with their feet as well, and of course we’ve always got two pay masters in the marketing department, the consumers and the investors as well. So, we’re going to spend a bit of time in the next episode looking at ethical investments. Foundations, how you can get that support and people that are doing well, Gates for instance. Capital, how financial organisations are changing their philosophy, how that affects different company strategies from large enterprises like the Unilever’s of this world, to the entrepreneurial organisations, there’s a great case study on Olio, which is a food sharing app, which we’ll come back to. So, lots to cover in the next episode, Sam.