3 Essential Concepts to Master in Sustainability Communications in 2023
Whether you’re in the nonprofit, corporate, or government sector, there’s an undeniable emphasis on sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR).
According to Geneva-based independent academic institution IMD, more businesses worldwide are taking steps to eliminate their carbon footprint, contribute to more sustainable supply chains, and build sustainable corporate cultures for better productivity.
The bad apples of greenwashing aside, it’s important that actually sustainable organizations and programs are able to connect with the right audiences and are rewarded for being a part of the change we want to see.
Here, we identify three essential concepts in sustainability, how they’re being incorporated by organizations into their business and branding strategies, and what we’ve done as a sustainable marketing agency in Bangkok.
Carbon-neutral or carbon-negative marketing
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Climate change has led to a seismic shift in corporate governance, with more organizations working to decarbonize their operations, products, and services.
Carbon neutral products and services have been provided in such a way that has been balanced by an equivalent amount of carbon emissions being removed, achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Some emissions are unavoidable, so the organization (including yours truly) can invest in carbon offset programs or purchase carbon credits to make up the difference.
While some corporations are able to manage their own carbon offset program, others will rely on third-party markets such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Carbon Offset Platform or ClimatePartner. Both provide certified carbon offset programs that reduce, prevent, or remove greenhouse gas emissions, but there are plenty of other platforms available. Given the fact that 15% of the world’s tropical forests are in Southeast Asia, the region stands to reap 10 billion dollars in carbon offsets.
More and more organizations are going a step further and becoming carbon negative, or offsetting more carbon emissions than they produce. Products & services that can claim to be carbon negative have a distinct advantage in the market, both among younger consumers and corporate clients seeking to eliminate their carbon footprint from upstream suppliers.
Circular or zero-waste marketing
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Another important concept to CSR programs and sustainability-minded organizations is the circular economy. Circular products and services manage all waste streams and minimize waste through some or all of the following ways:
- Efficient resource utilization that reduces the need for raw materials and upstream production
- Recycling or refurbishment programs that extend product lifetimes and prevent waste
- Renewable or biodegradable materials that do not impact future resource availability and can be sustainably integrated into existing waste management systems
More and more consumers are mindful of the impact of disposable products including single-use plastics, which has led to the rise of the zero-waste movement. More organizations and enterprises like Zero Waste Thailand and Refill Station are considering how their products and services can cater to the zero-waste lifestyle.
The growth of capsule coffee machines has courted controversy as contributing to a wasteful lifestyle and has since taken steps to address the issue with capsule collection & recycling programs to mixed results.
Some subscription-based or product-as-a-service (PaaS) business models also advertise as zero waste, such as Philips’ Lumea Select Try & Buy. Instead of transferring ownership to the consumer where the onus is on the consumer to responsibly dispose of the products, the consumer instead pays for access to the product and the onus remains with the producer to refurbish or recycle the product.
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Purpose-driven marketing refers to marketing that reinforces the why of a business over the how or the what. This is your organization’s mission—the reason it exists. Purpose-driven marketing is also understood as the Golden Circle model, conceived by American author Simon Sinek.
According to Sinek’s now-famous TED Talk, establishing your purpose (why) and connecting it to the way your organization operates (how) and its products and services (what) helps your organization to stand out in the market and strengthens brand recognition and brand loyalty.
Purpose-driven marketing is successful when an organization’s mission, vision, and values connect with their target audience, resonating with their values, their beliefs, and their culture.
But if you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk. Go beyond the “About Us” page of your corporate website and integrate your mission into how the products are made, how services are provided, and who you work with.
For instance, Bangkok-based silver jeweler Stories of Silver exists to empower the ethnic Karen hill-tribe of Phra Bat Huai Tom village in northern Thailand. By partnering with their traditional silversmiths and reflecting their values of mindfulness in how the jewelry is designed, Stories of Silver is able to embody their purpose in their choice of product, how they’re made, and who they work with.
Bringing it all together
There are many ways to frame the conversation about sustainability, such as the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), which have helped stakeholders across different sectors use the same language and get on the same page. Here at PAPER & PAGE, we kept it simple: get certified.
Our purpose is to harness our passion for marketing to support impact-driven organizations and programs. To ensure that our why is reflected in how we operate, we’ve gone to great lengths to become a Certified B Corporation™, which is synonymous with high standards for social and environmental performance.
As part of our certification, we had to invest in carbon offsets to become carbon neutral, minimize wasteful resource consumption in our supply chain, and establish practical key performance indicators for social & environmental impact.
It doesn’t stop there: we’ve partnered with B Market Builder Southeast Asia to bring a megaphone to the B Corp Movement here in the region and build a business-led transformation of the Southeast Asian economy. As a B Corp, PAPER & PAGE has been able to meaningfully integrate sustainability mission into its business strategy.
Businesses are racing to be the most eco-friendly sustainable versions of themselves, as the needle moves from “business as usual” and “do no harm” to “climate positive” and “regenerative economy.”
While there are some key demographics in green consumer behavior such as income or gender, all audiences across the board continue to grow more socially and environmentally conscious. Their standards for sustainability are getting higher, and their patience for half-hearted CSR is wearing thin.
Whether it’s carbon neutral, circular, purpose-driven, or some combination of all three, the success of a long-term sustainability marketing campaign will ultimately depend on how well an organization is able to integrate sustainability into every facet of their business strategy.