By: Laura Sutphen, Executive Director, Global Head of Social Purpose
A few months ago, I attended a leading sustainability conference where I got an early look into the themes and issues that are on the minds of environmental leaders around the world. As part of my job leading Golin’s global Social Purpose specialty, I’m on the hook to translate complex terms into practical language, with sound strategies and a fresh approach to help our clients develop and shape environmental and social good programming. It was a dizzying few days with terms such as systems regeneration, chemical recycling and circularity swirling about, but one theme jumped out at me that could be a key to unlocking a fresh approach:
It’s a philosophy, a ranking system, a subjective word that turns one person’s trash into another person’s treasure. But when applied to mounting global environmental crises, it becomes both an imperative and a North Star for how we can find our way out of the current sustainability mess we’re living in.
Here are five ways to restore value in your sustainability strategy:
Take it out of the context of business. We often hear about the ‘hard’ value (i.e., the business value) investors, shareholders and other stakeholders look for. But the answer may be different if we lift the idea of value out of the context of the business and look at the simple question: What do you value? This is the definition of social impact to keep in mind: The balance of value that is not just for the sake of the business, but also for the planet. Take your team on a field trip away from the office – to the forest, for a beach walk – and ask them to consider the idea of value outside the walls of the office, and see what ideas arise.
Add the “s.” If your sustainability strategy does not also embody the values you hold as a company, it’s time to reassess your commitments and how you will walk your talk. As a yoga teacher in my off-time, I tell my students that the goal of yoga is to help you match your insides with your outsides. This is a lesson that spans how a brand marries its values with its greater mission as a sustainable leader. Brands such as Patagonia, and client Clif Bar & Company, can be guiding lights in how to marry values and value.
What is the Cultural Value and does it resonate today? An effective sustainability commitment is only as valuable as how it applies to the challenges of the world today. If your sustainability goals only target 2020, or are focused on topics that are irrelevant to current cultural tensions, it’s time to reevaluate and build a set of science-based goals that work toward 2030, and will make an impact in the future.
Follow the chain. Brand sustainability commitments often focus on what is easily controllable (e.g., operational and building energy efficiency or plastic waste reduction within its immediate business) but there are many opportunities that live in your supply chain. Ask suppliers to uphold your same commitments to efficiency, CO2 reductions, or plastic waste management. Our client Walmart is notable – and essentially wrote the book – on its history of encouraging its suppliers to align to their rigorous standards for. And Everlane’s recent creative approach called “Renew” shows a ‘no holds barred’ approach to going above and beyond to remove all plastic waste from every part of its business.
Don’t forget your greatest value – your people. According to Sustainable Brands, 60% of Millennials say it’s critical to work somewhere that aligns with their purpose/values. And research from Charlton College of Business finds working for an environmentally-friendly company is more important to employees than working for a financially successful one. Your brand has an opportunity to leverage one of your most powerful assets: your employees. They can be the best ambassadors to your sustainability strategy and take the idea of value to a whole new level.
Many believe that Earth Day is an observance that has jumped the shark in terms of its relevance. But with more than 1 billion people and 192 countries who still honor it around the world, instead of looking at it as a day for action, consider it as an opportunity to reassess the value your company can deliver and find new ways to deliver business and societal value in equal measure.