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The Sustainability Debate - Protect the Turtles or the Profit?

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

The sustainability debate has officially peaked with Budweisers Brewed by Wind spot during this years Superbowl. For those brands who are still tip-toeing around the idea of the role their brand can play in sustaining our planet for the next generation, surely this is enough evidence to drive you to take action. If not, here are three more killer facts and examples for you (although I could fill a folder!)

In 2017, AC Nielsen released a study that showed the substantial impact that a sustainability claim has on sales growth in the USA. To enjoy a growth rate of +7% would be an absolute pleasure for most CPG or FMCG brands at the moment.

2. SodaStream has used sustainability as a clear point of difference and preference vs. the large carbonated beverage brands which they kick-started with their viral Shame campaign in 2016 and have continued with similar anti-plastic messaging since. Their business results (revenue +31% for the qtr ending June 2018) and recent sale price of $3.2B to PepsiCo speak for themselves.

3. A brand that is built entirely from plastic, Lego, has recently launched a new range of recyclable plant-shaped bricks manufactured from sugarcane plastic with a plan to roll out the bricks across most products by 2030.

Consumers, nutritionists, and activists now have a voice and the ability to scale their cause quickly. As a brand owner, you need to be able to identify when an issue is peaking at a rate that you need to take action, rather than hoping it will eventually go away.

As a marketer, I lived through the removal of the 282 preservatives in bread, of artificial colours in snacks and the introduction of sustainable palm oil into chocolate and I can assure you it is much better (and cheaper in the long term) to be proactive rather than reactive.

To have the first mover advantage in your category will not only build your goodwill and loyalty with consumers. To be able to properly develop and test any product, packaging or process changes with consumers and work through the implications on your supply chain will save the pain and financial costs of rushing it through quickly because you have to.

Significant changes take time to embed both with consumers and within your organisation. And not everyone is going to like the changes. Just ask the team who worked on the single-use plastic bag changes at Coles and Woolworths. Or the short-term impact many popular snacks felt when the colour intensity of long-standing brands faded with the removal of artificial colours.

But consumers eventually adapt to the new normal, and the brands that make a stand will recover bigger and stronger than they were before because they meet the new consumer needs and demands of today.

From an organisational perspective, if you do decide to take action and build plans to make your products, packaging and manufacturing processes more sustainable, you must ensure that action is authentic and credible. We have all seen the fallout from corporations who are making vague promises from the C-Suite or a token effort on one brand while another adds to toxic waste. Sustainability needs to be an enterprise-wide commitment from the entire organisation if you hope to make any commercial and goodwill gain from it.

The credibility of a significant C-Suite announcement about an intention to replace current packaging with more sustainable options was completely destroyed with this quote "The global head of operations, says that the company is still trying to figure out the impact of the new packaging. It could possibly reduce their products’ shelf life and increase manufacturing costs, but they don’t know for sure". Really? Wouldn't you have sorted that out before you announced?

And finally, if you want to scare yourself or need to scare others (i.e., the board) into action, then read this:

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