Why do we really exist? Nowadays, this issue is as important for businesses as it is for philosophers. We all want to feel that there is a ...

Sustainability is the future for companies

Why do we really exist? Nowadays, this issue is as important for businesses as it is for philosophers. We all want to feel that there is a meaning to what we do.

Many businesses have entered themselves into the current social debate. Right now, for example, we see how Swedish retail giant Åhléns are challenging age discrimination, Swedish-Finnish business TeliaSonera are tackling online abuse and Norwegian food chain Kiwi are highlighting the importance of diet on children’s school results.

Yet don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is an advertising trend. It isn’t, and for two reasons.

Sustainability is on the rise 
Firstly, it is about a radical social change that we may not yet fully understand the extent of. A number of surveys show that people are becoming more interested in social issues and sustainable solutions. And more and more are thinking about sustainability when they purchase goods.

In the recently presented Sustainable Brand Index survey, 72 per cent of Swedes and 67 per cent of Finns responded that they often discuss sustainability. The proportion is slightly lower in Denmark and Norway, but even here the trend points steeply upward. Above all, it is the broad consumer groups that have started thinking in a different way. Sustainability is the new obvious starting point.

Sustainability is good for employee morale 
This naturally also applies to employees. A number of studies show that people become happier and more effective if they work at jobs that account for a higher value. This emerged from a review carried out by EY Beacon Institute.

According to their studies, over 80 per cent of CEOs believe that ‘purpose’ is important for their companies to be financially successful and attractive for both customers and employees. However, most know that their own businesses are not good enough in this area. Therefore we should expect that the quest for meaning will become an increasingly important communication issue.

Then we arrive at the second reason why this is not a communication trend like others. Sustainability and meaning are the new starting points for long-term advertising strategies, where content marketing and storytelling are important parts.

Here are five tips for success:

1. Choose.
Companies that report sustainability know that it has become increasingly central to a material analysis, focusing on the most important aspects. This of course applies to all kinds of sustainability communication. Choose what is your most important question.

2. Dare to stand out!
Right now we see many examples of companies that choose to cross what were formerly seen as social boundaries. Åhléns uses people like transgender model Lea T, and the world’s fastest 70-year-old Barbro Bobäck in their campaigns.

3. Be helpful.
When consumers want to change behaviour and adopt more sustainable habits, it is important to help them do it. It should of course be easy to find organic products, to compare different products’ climate impact and to trace the ingredients in something – there is still much to do.

Also, don’t forget that companies that are generous with tips, tutorials and recipes tend to be richly rewarded. Research on nudging also shows how important it is to present things correctly. For example, try to introduce a vegetarian meal as the norm and the meat option as the ‘alternative’ choice. (Almost one in four Swedes want to reduce their meat-eating).

4. Tell a story.
A strong narrative that explains and engages is the key to all change. Therefore, the strategy behind the storytelling and content marketing is also the basis for the success of sustainability communication. It’s very hard to do something that you can’t talk about.

5. Continue.
Credibility is all about standing by your word. Therefore it’s so important to have a long-term strategy when communicating about sustainability. Swedish food chain ICA’s long-running advertising soap opera is now a classic example of this.

One of the show’s stars is ICA Jerry, played by Mats Melin, who was important in increasing understanding for people with Down’s syndrome. Now, the same format is being used to address the issue of integration of newly arrived refugees.

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