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Elusive Dream Team
The marketing-sustainability disconnect and what it means for businesses.
"The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.”
― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
At the Crown Tavern in Farringdon, in April this year - I was attending a talk on the increasingly bleak outlook for planet Earth, when a penny dropped. The talk was run by Purpose Disruptors, a network of advertising insiders attempting to reshape the industry in order to tackle climate change, and one of the attendees shared the thought that really landed with me.
After years of working in a sustainability-focused start-up with expertise in technical solutions ‘without the blah blah’ (their words, not mine), they’d come to appreciate something that many in the creative industries know - change cannot happen through facts alone. The right story around innovative solutions, they realised, helped to build momentum, attract the right people and change behaviours.
When sustainability and marketing teams cross paths, 48% admit to be very engaged with each other (Edie 2022). The problem is that at the same time on an almost daily basis we find managers from corporate responsibility, corporate comms, and marketing departments coming to us, unable to find common ground, reach clarity and unite stakeholders.
This disconnect is standing in the way of the important work that needs to be done, and it’s occurred to us that their challenges usually fall into four areas: speaking different languages, lacking clarity on the path ahead, and fear of greenwashing.
Both sustainability and marketing are jargon-heavy fields. There is ESG to consider, SDGs to achieve, and of course you cannot have your carbon targets without the SBTi. Whereas marketing people will throw at you their ATL, PPC, CTRs, and whatnot. The simplest way to avoid confusion is to always choose simple over the complex: avoiding abbreviations, talking human over professional and maybe even thinking - how would I explain this to a five-year-old?
Lack of clear vision.
The biggest challenges for sustainable business are investment and costs (29%) which often leads to choosing short-term cost-efficient wins over longer-term innovative positive changes (Edie 2022). Even with a decent sustainability strategy in place, the marketing team can end up with a generic ‘Net Zero by…’ claim, lacking differentiating and authentic details to share. This is where collaboration becomes crucial between the internal technical and storytelling experts, to collectively uncover the unique point of view of the brand. Get together and honestly ask each other - what are the reasons behind our decisions, what are the stories of our stakeholders that influence us, and what is the future world we all want to live in?
With a rapid growth in marketing for sustainable products, there has also been a rapid growth in greenwashing abuse, with the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) becoming more stringent with its green claims code. This can paralyse the marketing team, making them risk-averse to act. The important role of the sustainability team is to give the confidence in what the business does, backing it up with credible reasoning, with a pinch of transparency around what the business does not do yet and why?
To rectify the world, we need to see more sustainability and marketing dream teams working in unison and pulling in the same direction. Otherwise, businesses will miss out on the meaningful opportunity to boost positive sustainable change with powerful stories - the path of true sustainability leadership. The answer? Start with encouraging cross-departmental continuous knowledge exchange, open and vulnerable conversations, and establish full clarity on priorities.
At Fox + Hare, we specialise in bridging this gap through facilitating internal stakeholder engagement, leading strategic and creative collaborative sessions and immersive conversations. Get in touch to find out more.