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Sustainability as the Enabler of Technology

Within companies, the sustainability agenda has moved from green marketing to sustainability communications and from simple compliance to a source of innovation.

Companies that have invested in ‘greening’ their internal processes, such as their supply chain, now have a good story to tell and are looking for new and interactive ways to take their consumers on their sustainability journey with them.

Digital sustainability is an innovative concept that allows companies to do just that. By integrating environmental, social and economic sustainability topics into every day conversations online, brands are beginning to make sustainability issues both accessible and normal. They are also demonstrating how sustainability can help people to do good and feel good through interaction with brands, organisations, and each other.

Brands have recognised that there is a tangible commercial opportunity to use digital channels to not only communicate sustainability but to enable positive and collective change. This shift has shed light on the emergence of four mega trends that have resulted from the convergence of sustainability and digital:

Awareness: CSR practitioners have recently woken up to the fact that they can use digital platforms to build awareness and a “fan base” or community around the topics that consumers are most passionate about, in order to push their message further than ever before. One of the most recent examples of this was Greenpeace’s viral video which attacked Nestle’s palm oil sourcing methods. Following an extensive backlash from the digital community that included almost 1.5 million views of their Kit Kat advert, over 200,000 e-mails sent and countless Facebook comments, the multinational company introduced a ‘zero deforestation’ policy.

Personalisation: This incredible power given to individual consumers through the brand in its digital form has also led to the growing individualisation of information, interaction and engagement. Companies are using this shift from mass information to value and relevancy as a way of communicating with their customers and reacting to their needs. Brands such as DoGood Headquarters have developed a browser plug-in for end consumers to download, which gives them the choice “to see green, charitable, and health and wellness advertising… and donates 50% of the earned profits from said advertising back to green initiative and charities.”

Traceability: Pioneering brands are using digital traceability to enhance transparency. Dole’s organic labelling scheme allows customers to track each piece of fruit through a unique code, from the farm it was grown on to the journey it took. This cradle to table view emphasises the importance of Dole’s accountability throughout the supply and transportation chain. This emphasis on accountability will become essential with the advances in digital allowing for more detail and connection with the journey of the brand.

The new role of the consumer: Integrated throughout these trends is the new role of consumers, who have been imbued with the power to move beyond boycotts and protests, to begin shaping and defining how brands behave. Companies such as Pepsi and Pampers have used the power of crowd-sourcing to unleash the creative potential of their audiences, enabling them to fulfil their ambitions either for a cause or for personal empowerment. These engagement platforms have facilitated genuine two-way dialogue, which we predict will sit at the heart of all future development within the leading brands of tomorrow.

In our increasingly fragmented world, sustainability is set to play a crucial role in allowing consumers to engage in meaningful and lasting relationships with those around them as they seek to live better, more connected lives. As marketers, our job is to give them the tools so that together we can build this brighter future.

Diana Verde-Nieto is CEO of sustainability communications agency Clownfish.

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