Last week I had the privilege of speaking at Sustainable Brands Istanbul, and I wanted to share some of the insights from the event. We heard several fascinating presentations from speakers such as Marc Mathieu at Unilever (lower image) and Christiaan Maats, the founder of OATS shoes that both highlighted how sustainability has become a way of being rather than doing business. Among the discussions several key issues stood out:
1. What is Sustainability? As the conversation around the role of sustainability in business matures at different paces around the world, the definition of sustainability invariably becomes an issue. For many companies its starts off being understood as merely the green initiatives of a company. Over time, it expands to approach a comprehensive program of environmental responsibility that extend from the production of raw materials, to the supply chain to distribution and marketing. Ultimately, however, sustainability needs to be understood as even broader than the environment. Businesses cannot survive in societies that fail and our planet need greater social responsibility from business, and so I believe we must so we must work towards a sustainable practice of capitalism that is economically, socially, ethically and morally, as well as environmentally, responsible.
2. Is bigger better? The was much discussion around the contrast between sustainability efforts by national brands and efforts made of offices of multinational corporations. In a sense being a multinational is a double-edged sword for many multi-nationals are now readily embracing sustainability which is being driven by corporate communications in the head office. While such efforts are to be applauded, it often means that regional offices are left without sufficient sustainability support because the presumption is that this has already been handled by HQ. In contrast, these regional offices need the direct support of their headquarters both in terms of translating the company’s sustainability vision consistently around the world but also in terms of bringing that vision to life specific to the region, its industries and audiences.
3. Who’s in Charge? There was a lot of fascinating discussion around whether Corporate Communications, often responsible for the thought leadership of a company, or Marketing, was ultimately in charge of sustainability efforts. To my mind it is a false separation for when sustainability is an extension of the mission of a company and the core values of a brand, it should be a seamless and shared responsibility between leadership and employees in all departments. I suspect the issue arises because in many cases sustainability is still misperceived as a separate initiative within a company rather than a fundamental part of doing business. Once that is accepted, such confusion quickly dissipates.
Seen togther these issues paint an encouraging portrait of a business sector that is increasingly engaged and committed to the issue of sustainability. No longer dismissed as mere good intentions, sustainability is now rightly recognized as a key business and profit driver, as well as a way to inspire greater employee, shareholder and customer loyalty. (For a great example of the bottom line benefits of sustainability see Unilver’s 2nd Sustainable Living Progress Report here.) Even more encouraging is the fact that the pace of technology is propelling this discussion around the world ever faster, and sufficiently rewarded by customers, business can one day play a powerful role in the transformation of our planet and the lives of millions of people around the world.
Are there any other major issues around sustainability that are impacting your company? What major internal roadblocks do you see sustainability efforts facing?
Today is LIVESTRONG Day and the anniversary of the launch of their now iconic LIVESTRONG wristband. Since 2004, the Foundation has recognized one day each year as LIVESTRONG Day to honor the 28 million people living with cancer. Yet this year marks a special opportunity: to drive the conversation past the Lance Armstrong controversy and shine a refocused light on the incredible ways the organization impacts thousands of lives every day. Many people will probably find the actual breadth of contribution by LIVESTRONG both surprising and inspiring.
While most people are aware of the foundation, they may not have been able to articulate precisely what LIVESTRONG does. They know it’s something to do with cancer and helping those affected, but just how the organization helps may have been unclear. As well, some people were questioning whether LIVESTRONG could continue without Lance. But today LIVESTRONG is asking its passionate community to help share exactly how their free services have helped over 2.5 million people over the last 16 years, and how they are Still Strong and committed to helping millions more.
For example, did you know:
- 82 cents of every dollar donated goes to supporting LIVESTRONG’s programs.
- LIVESTRONG provides free emotional support to anyone affected by cancer- that means not only those fighting it but also caregivers, friends, and family.
- LIVESTRONG can help navigate insurance and financial concerns and coordinates fertility service discounts to help survivors still have families after cancer.
You can learn more at LIVESTRONGDay.org where they have made it easy to share these important facts.
LIVESTRONG has so many powerful stories to share, about survivors, families, and the heroic members of its own staff. As LIVESTRONG Foundation CEO and three time cancer survivor Doug Ulman says:
“We at the LIVESTRONG Foundation will always be listening to and communicating with survivors. We have a lot of work to do. And we cannot do it alone. Fighting cancer requires collective action from everyone.”
Support LIVESTRONG and cancer fighters and survivors by re-tweeting their messages today to raise awareness and support for those that need it and to empower LIVESTRONG to continue to provide such invaluable free services.
Last month, the United Nations marked 1000 days until the 2015 deadline of the “Millennium Development Goals,” a program started in 2000 with the goal of eliminating the worst impacts of human poverty within 15 years. This countdown was, in part, a response to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that countries are giving less and less to international development. In the steepest reduction in 15 years, aid was down 4% last year and 2% percent in 2011. Unfortunately, many of the programs designed to help developing nations reach the Millennium goals are not backed by NGOs, but by shrinking government aid budgets.
With a persistent European economic crisis and philanthropies facing continued funding challenges since 2008, it’s time for the private sector to step up and become a third pillar of social change. Business is slowly emerging as such an entity, and those leading the charge are driving successful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and embracing models of “contributory consumption” (putting a small portion of the proceeds of every sale towards a cause) and the “one-for-one model” pioneered by TOMS. But really impacting the world’s most serious humanitarian problems requires scale and speed that only a collaborative Global Brand Initiative (GBI) can deliver.
Utilizing its vast resources, expertise, management, and distribution networks, a unified and well-organized Global Brand Initiative has the power to tackle the world’s most serious humanitarian crises: poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, ignorance and illiteracy, and joblessness. In order into move the needle, there are two elements that business must embrace to become a coalition of purpose-driven brands that build their bottom line and a better world:
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Last week we kicked off our We First training series with a webinar called, 8 Steps to Becoming a Contagious Social Brand. By looking at strategies employed by some of the most successful companies like Nike, Coke, IBM, and Patagonia, we outlined some clear ways for your organization to combine storytelling and social technologies to build your reputation, community and social impact.Read more
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Simon Mainwaring is founder of We First, a social branding consulting firm that helps companies, non-profits and individuals use social media to build communities, profits and positive impact.