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STAY RELEVANT: BUILDING SUSTAINABILITY INTO YOUR BRAND

Originally published in Conscious Company Magazine, August 3, 2020.

Employees and customers are your most ardent brand ambassadors. Stay relevant by providing your stakeholders with opportunities to fight climate change.

We’re in a climate bind. Global warming is causing major havoc around the world. Almost every day we face news of floods, droughts, water shortages, and wildfires. These events cause real economic disruption, job productivity loss, health concerns, and threats to human life.

People are not just concerned; they are in despair at the pace of the impacts of climate change on their communities. A majority of Americans see climate change as a huge problem in need of solutions. Simultaneously, most believe “there is little they can do on a personal level to mitigate climate change” themselves. Yet, Millennials are the swelling outliers. A recent Yale report showed that 20- to 30-year-olds prioritize action around global warming. They feel empowered to take action but need the tools to be effective in their sustainability efforts.

And guess what: those millennials are your employees and customers. In sustainability speak, they are your key stakeholders; in marketing speak, they are your most valuable and ardent brand ambassadors. It would serve every organization well to acknowledge their concerns, prioritize them and enable action through educational tool-building. If dismissed, their climate concerns fester, eroding trust and confidence in the companies they work for and purchase from, leading to both short- and long-term reputational repercussions.

Everyone can Mitigate Climate Change

Here’s the good news. Everyone has the power to make changes that support climate change mitigation in meaningful, measurable, and actionable ways. Sustainably committed companies and consciously aware individuals both know that sustainability is not merely about making better consumer choices; it’s about fundamentally reducing our carbon footprint across the breadth of our “span of control.”

What individuals need—and what companies can provide through educational workshops—is a framework for laying out an approach to enacting sustainable measures in their personal and professional lives. From that framework, individuals can build a custom checklist of sustainable strategies. This becomes a daily “to-do” list, whether it is tracked mentally or physically stuck to a refrigerator to chart the progress made and goals completed. Individuals start by understanding the “levers” they can pull and the scale and level of change they are willing to support and acknowledging the drivers that commit them to action.

Calling all sustainably-minded companies! Follow the decision framework below to support your stakeholders—your brand ambassadors—in building their personal sustainability muscle.

Know the Impacts

First, KNOW the impact areas where individuals have significant control over sustainable decision-making.

  • Home dwelling: Size of structure; heating and cooling systems; roofing and insulation choices; and renovation and deconstruction considerations.
  • Private property: Use of land, lawn, and permeable surfaces.
  • Food consumption: Purchase of local and organic non-GMO produce free of antibiotics and steroids; reduction of animal protein.
  • Material consumption: Sustainable and recycled material in clothing, footwear, furniture, and houseware; hard durables and shopping frequency.
  • Energy use: Efficiency and utilization of appliances and personal devices, alternative lighting, and renewable energy sources.
  • Water use: Efficiency and reuse, water-wise planting, and xeriscaping.
  • Trash/waste: Repair, reuse, recycle, and compost.
  • Travel: Mode of transportation and/or vehicle type.
  • Local biodiversity: Native plantings, chemical use avoidance, and supporting community supported agriculture (CSA).

Understand Motivating Drivers

Second, UNDERSTAND what motivates individuals to build sustainability measures in their lives to:

  • Save money.
  • Live a healthier lifestyle.
  • Better care for the environment.
  • Support a vibrant community/local economy.

Once individuals identify their primary driver(s), sustainability measures can be aggregated and pursued. For example, if saving money is a primary driver of sustainable action, the subset of measures to pursue could include:

  • Replacing all light bulbs in their home with LED lighting.
  • Installing high-efficiency appliances to manage water and energy reductions.
  • Utilizing a heat pump to heat and cool their home.
  • Leasing or purchasing an electric vehicle (EV).

A similar set of sustainability measures can be compiled if individuals find that their primary driver is supporting a healthy environment. Consider the following:

  • Composting all food waste.
  • Using only natural pesticides and fertilizers for lawn and houseplants.
  • Purchasing only man-made and/or recycled textiles.
  • Growing a garden to cut grocery bill expenses; selling excess produce at farmers market.

Decide Commitment Level

Third, help individuals DECIDE the level of commitment they are ready to make that supports climate change mitigation. Commitments can be smallmedium or large or anything within that range. Small measures have less of an impact on reducing carbon emissions than large ones, but both have beneficial effects. Driving a hybrid (small commitment) versus an EV (medium commitment) has less of an impact on carbon emission reductions, but both are more beneficial than blind loyalty to driving a combustion-engine vehicle. The same goes for skipping meat in a meal once a week (small) versus eating no meat (large); both are beneficial, but the latter is has a greater impact on reducing carbon emissions throughout the entire food chain.

Each scale of action requires a change in how individuals approach their daily activities as well as a financial investment in how they source and use resources.

Commit to Change

Fourth, reinforce the message that individuals must COMMIT to necessary changes in how they operate their lives. Measures that support personal resiliency to climate change require individuals to rethink and re-prioritize:

  • Habits: How one unconsciously gets tasks done (e.g., 3-minute vs. 15-minute shower).
  • Processes: The approach for completing necessary life tasks on a daily, weekly and monthly basis (e.g., commuting by public transportation or by bike).
  • Financial commitments: Investment in technological innovations (e.g., LED bulbs, EV batteries, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels) that afford individuals the ability to do more with less, use alternative non-polluting energies, or reduce resource waste.

Sustainable Muscle Built to Last

Climate change mitigation requires individuals to understand all their options, determine personal incentives, identify resources, and map a plan that is clear, actionable and measurable. The framework above helps individuals codify a new system of operating that supports a sustainable way of living that is both unconscious and natural.

Companies that prioritize their stakeholders’ concerns see the results of those efforts. For organizations, this translates into a more committed, engaged, productive, and satisfied workforce that seeks to promote a company brand and its products. Today’s economic environment increasingly emphasizes a social and environmental imperative for brands, no matter what industry they serve. For individuals, sustainable knowledge builds confidence in their ability to take action and get results from the sustainability tools employed across the spectrum of their lives. Investing in your employees’ sustainability journey sends a strong signal to stakeholders that committing to a purpose and living purposefully are one and the same.

Kate Gaertner

Kate Gaertner is the founder & CEO of TripleWin Advisory, a corporate consultancy dedicated to helping companies pursue circular operations and net-neutral carbon goals across their business value chain. She marries her 20 years of experience working in and consulting to Fortune 500 companies with her entrepreneurial acumen running an apparel manufacturing company, to her corporate sustainability work supporting stakeholder engagement, strategic business case development and business transformation initiatives.

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