Sustainability – growth driver or simply spin?

At the beginning of the month, our invite-only Oystercatchers Club event saw Richard Bowden, former Global Marketing Director, Unilever; Magnus Djaba, Global President, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Deborah Dolce, SVP, Group Marketing & Corporate Responsibility Director, TJX Europe, join us.

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While G7 leaders gathered in Carbis Bay to discuss pressing global challenges including climate change over a glowing BBQ, the issue of sustainability seemed a timely topic for agencies and marketers at our recent invite-only Oystercatchers Club event.

Suki was joined in wide-ranging discussion by UK leaders, all breaking new ground in sustainability. Richard Bowden, former Global Marketing Director, Unilever; Magnus Djaba, Global President, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Deborah Dolce, SVP, Group Marketing & Corporate Responsibility Director, TJX Europe.

The panel saw renewed momentum behind calls for environmental action given the heavy shift in consumer expectations and priorities during the pandemic. Deborah pointed to the sudden change in attitude to oil companies as part of this new urgency, with Shell being ordered to cut emissions by a court in the Netherlands.

Themes quickly emerged: the argument for aligning profit, people and purpose, the role agencies play in helping clients reach their goals and the need for effective measurement frameworks. Here are a few of the take-outs catching our attention:

Finding focus. “One of things I’ve learnt in the last 15 months is that you can sometimes mistake initiatives for leadership,” said Magnus. “Tackling complexity and finding focus is critical.  During the pandemic, Morrisons, for example, focused on food banks and their impact. Today’s challenges require focus rather than a raft of initiatives.”

Tension between internal and external communications. Are we credible with our messaging inside and outside our organisation? “Our general way is to do lots of things and not talk about them. When we do talk, it’s about well-established and authentic parts of our programme.” Deborah noted that it’s crucial for staff to understand and be able to articulate the plans “before you do external work”. Selfridges and Ikea were held up as champions. “When you have big retailers pivoting – that’s admirable”.

The real task is to convince consumers that credible steps will be taken when pledges and goals are set, and this remains a challenge. Mixed messages have caused confusion – with too much rhetoric. Magnus summed up succinctly when he warned of the dangers of misreading initiatives for leadership saying: “You can end up with lots of initiatives, but you are creating more cost with little or no impact.”

We’re always learning. Poster-child Unilever believes “a sustainable business drives superior business performance” and has put purpose right at the heart of its brand strategy – across philosophy, positioning and ways of working. But even Unilever is on a learning curve accepting there is plenty more work to be done – it has recently renewed its CSR plans with new initiatives, including inviting shareholders to vote on climate targets.

Measurement is a complex conundrum. “If there’s one goal we haven’t cracked, it’s measurement” said the panel. Deborah commented that for many companies the easier wins might have measurable efficiencies (energy consumption, LED lighting and so on) but it is equally important to plan a programme with ‘longer term commitment and a different lens on the ROI’.


Our next invite-only Oystercatchers Club event will take place on Wednesday 8 September where we'll be for a face-to-face event. We will be sending invites out very soon but if you're interested in attending please get in touch here

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers accelerate commercial growth & ROI for all our clients through world class marketing transformation, leading- edge agency models and selection of world-class agency partners.