Why talk about sustainability?
You're probably fed up with the terms "millennial" and "Generation Y," but they're still helpful when describing that particular group of consumers.
For example, one trend that keeps popping up is their desire to buy from brands brave enough to set standards of behavior and live by a set of principles.
Related: 5 content tactics to ignite brand engagement with millennials
I'm a millennial, and for the first time this year, I was able to go to my local zero-waste store and buy travel toiletries for my summer vacation. I even paid a lot more for the privilege and left the store with a fuzzy feeling and a huge smile. Does this sound unusual? Trust me—I'm not the only one in my peer group who looks for opportunities like this.
If you're looking for more reasons to build your brand around sustainability—and examples of brands that are doing just that—read on.
Boosting that bottom line
If you want to show the market that your company is in it for the long haul, having a sustainability strategy is a case of when, not if.
We know that 75% of millennials say sustainability is a shopping priority, more than any other group.  Yes, we came of age during the Great Recession and aren't the richest generation (hello Boomers), but we are getting wealthier. And, importantly, we are willing to pay more for things that matter.
The problem with sustainable business practices is the misconception that being good equals less revenue.
Even Forbes agrees that you can earn better returns from investing in good companies. If you're not positioning your company to look after the planet and its people, you're already behind. The time is now.
Leading from the front
Do you want your brand to be on the cutting edge, forming relationships with international audiences? Or do you want to be trying to figure out why your quirky social media campaigns aren't getting the engagement they used to?
The United Nations are fully focused on achieving their Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and your brand can be part of that through the work of the Global Compact division.
Of course, this is step one in the process. Your brand won't survive on goodwill alone. It has to produce a steady profit to grow and spread your positive message further.
Step two is telling your story, integrating sustainability into your brand and making sure the entire company is on board and proud of the work you're all doing.
Telling your "triple bottom line" story
If you're not familiar with the triple bottom line, it's the idea that your business should be measuring and reporting not just a financial bottom line, but social and environmental bottom lines, too.
This is how you truly integrate your business with sustainability. There are several ways to get started on this, but some useful resources are:
- B-Corporation. This is a framework any business can pick up and follow. It guides you on best practices for triple-bottom-line business plans, and you get a certification at the end.
- Global Reporting Initiative. The GRI is the go-to resource for sustainability reporting. Using GRI, you can easily figure out what you can report and how to report it.
- Integrated Reporting Council. Integrated reports are becoming increasingly necessary, bringing together financial and non-financial data in one place. It helps your stakeholders get a fuller picture of your company's performance.
You can use these frameworks that are already created and layer them throughout your business. It's a time-consuming process to get all of the data in place, but once you have it set up, it's well-worth the effort.
What's important to you?
The next part is understanding which issues are important to you and your audience. For smaller brands, your audience will include customers, employees and management teams. For bigger brands, that list might also include governments, local residents and other organizations.
A great place to start with your sustainability efforts is to pick an issue that you all feel strongly about. This will get everyone excited to transition, and while we all know that change can be difficult, successfully launching one project makes it easier to do more.
If you're thinking of starting a business or just launched one recently, this can still apply to you. Think about your processes as you build them, and ask the question: "Can I repeat this action for the next five years and feel good about it?" If the answer is no, then you have an opportunity to future-proof.
Now that you have an amazing project going on—whether you're off-setting your carbon output, adding mental health support to your team's healthcare packages, or engaging your local community in a social development project—it's time to tell the world.
Using social media
We're past the point of debating whether social media is relevant. It is. It's also a fantastic place to tell your brand story in an authentic and engaging way.
The number-one rule here is not to just throw out a few posts about sustainability and expect them to get the engagement they should. Create a new marketing plan with your project at the heart of it, and find ways to tie more of your posts back to sustainability.
The power of Instagram and live-streaming
For Instagram, consider using longer captions. If you have a good reason for a long post, then don't be afraid. Yes, social media is often about standing out, but that in itself is not a sustainable business practice. If you're just using pictures of puppies because research shows that puppies get the most likes, then you've missed the point of marketing.
Make your social media pages (especially Instagram) reflect your authentic self. Check out @ErinOutdoors or @SophieHellyer, who've both attracted loyal communities with their authenticity. Let it showcase the values of your brand so you can attract an audience who cares about those same things.
A post shared by Erin Sullivan (@erinoutdoors) on Oct 12, 2018 at 8:00pm PDT
If you have someone who's particularly good on camera, give them a platform to talk about your project in a live stream. Most social platforms now have a solid live-streaming option. Take advantage and give your audience access to backstage conversations about your brand. Be brave and be there for your community.
Building a community
Having worked in marketing for a long time now, the most common thing I see is a fear to stand up for something important because it might upset some of your customers. You could sell anything to anyone, but that's not building a brand legacy—that's trying to make a quick buck.
If you consider community-building to be part of your marketing strategy, then you need to have a positive message. Brands that build positive messaging in their content and communication are the ones that stand out against the negative cycle of mainstream news.
Examples of great sustainable storytelling
There's nothing like seeing examples that work, so we've curated a few samples of brands we absolutely love.
TRIBE — Sports nutrition with a conscience
At Conscious Creatives, we try to encourage physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle, getting our team healthy through running, cycling, surfing and more. One of our biggest forms of inspiration in this respect is Tribe—a brand dedicated to making sports nutrition products with natural ingredients.
What we love about Tribe is that their marketing plans are based on creating a community. They're a collection of people who love being outdoors, brought together by sporting events all over the world and a combined effort to rid the world of human trafficking.
A post shared by TRIBE (@the_tribe_way) on Oct 15, 2018 at 12:46pm PDT
Tribe is a community of nutrition experts who care about the world. It just so happens that they also sell nutrition products.
Lewis Pugh — Swimming to save the seas
An example of someone who definitely fits the definition of inspirational is Lewis Pugh: swimmer, speaker and general mind-boggling human being.
He's just completed The Long Swim, a 560-kilometer effort spanning the length of the English Channel.
Why would a person attempt such a thing? To raise awareness of the sorry state of our oceans. Lewis's feat is the start of a worldwide campaign that aims to fully protect 30% of our oceans by 2030.
A real-life hero and conservationist, Lewis defies all logic and pushes himself to the limits to earn media coverage of the cause. See this photo of his encounter with a plastic bag during his long swim. He used a powerful image, a long caption and specific instructions to make our oceans cleaner.
A post shared by Lewis Pugh (@lewis.pugh) on Aug 22, 2018 at 7:19am PDT
That is how sustainable marketing will change the world.
rCUP — Recycling reusable cups
I am proud to share a hometown with these folks. They discovered that only 0.4% of recyclable coffee cups were actually being recycled. So, they set about designing a product made from precisely those cups.
The rCUP is a reusable coffee cup that is affordable, looks great and has some wonderful little design elements that make it really easy to use.
A post shared by rCUP (@rcuponeplanet) on Jul 21, 2018 at 11:32am PDT
Sustainable marketing is so much easier when you've got products that make a real difference.
How to get started
If you're reading this and are equal parts excited and confused, you are not alone. I suggest finding a community of like-minded business folks who are also looking to make more money by doing the right thing.
LinkedIn is a great resource for finding sustainability professionals, and our community is strong in voice. We're all so proud of the work our peers are doing and the causes that we stand for.
Look into your industry to see which organizations support sustainability. You'll be surprised to discover wonderful groups ready and willing to help, no matter what stage you're at. For example, if you work in fashion, the Ethical Fashion Initiative is a wonderful example.
The key, though, is to start.
Don't be afraid to try. Know you aren't going to do it perfectly, but also know that simply trying is a great thing. Watch as your community grows and rallies around your brand for years to come.