Success, innovation and CR can coexist

Green is driving the ‘S’ out of CSR. Corporate responsibility, as it tends to be known these days, is less and less about serving carefully identified communities or causes meriting philanthropy, and more and more about addressing climate change.

That’s not as negative as it may sound – quite the opposite, in fact. Climate change is affecting not only our environment, but, in a meaningful sense, business culture. It’s bringing focus to CR, elevating its status and, almost as importantly, creating new career opportunities in marcoms. The role of chief environment officer may not yet be a part of the so-called C-suite, but that day cannot be far off.

This underlying momentum is not difficult to understand. Unlike the vagaries of old-style CSR, companies and brands have a present and imperative need to embrace sustainability. To do so effectively means gaining competitive advantage. To fail to do so means falling behind or, worse, becoming an object of public execration.

All the big brands are now taking the issue very seriously. Late last year, for example, ISBA – the voice of UK advertisers – set up an environmental working group whose founding members include the COI, Unilever, British Gas, BP, Marks & Spencer, Diageo, Virgin and Lastminute. Its object is to provide a level of corporate coherence in the identification and implementation of responsible sustainability. ISBA is painfully aware that environmentalism is a double-edged weapon in the marketing armoury. ‘Greenwash’ is creating a tide of public anger, reflected in the growing number of complaints about ads.

Another token of the times has been the swelling importance of the We’re In This Together initiative. Set up about a year ago under the auspices of the independent Climate Group, this now boasts ten major companies (the latest to join being HSBC and National Express). As Richard Brasher, commercial director of Tesco (a founding member) points out, the aim is to short-circuit the vociferous, draconian demands of the green lobby by demonstrating to consumers in small and practical, but progressive steps that greener living can be both easy and cost-effective.

It’s not all about showy gestures, such as reusable bags, either. Tesco has trebled sales of energy-saving lightbulbs over the past year, based on the hard-headed practical premise that they can save the average household over £55 annually. Every little helps, as they say.

Then there’s the corporate dividend. According to Jeremy Darroch, chief executive of Sky, the company’s clear focus on climate change has had a significant positive impact on the brand’s status: “In a ‘most admired companies’ survey last year, we moved up to third place, largely in recognition that we are a company that both innovates and makes an important social and environmental contribution. This (conclusion) has been backed up by our own research… Business success, innovation and environmental action are not at odds.”

The key thing is how you make these three ingredients work harmoniously to achieve the desired result. Our survey, conducted among 1,000 marketers, shows that retailers understand the formula better than most, but Marks & Spencer is streets ahead of everyone else.

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