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The Drum survey

The ‘Hard Business Benefits’ of Sustainability

The Drum surveyEmployees feel more strongly about environmental sustainability than their employers, according to a survey of more than 200 brands and agencies conducted by marketing website The Drum and marketing agency gyro.

The report, Mind the Gap: How Marketers Feel About Sustainability, find that while the vast majority (83 percent) of marketers feel a moral imperative to incorporate sustainability practices into business, only 38 percent of the companies they work for have a defined sustainability strategy.

For purposes of defining “sustainability,” the report acknowledges that the word has many definitions and methodologies used to measure it. However, it says similar themes can be found in all definitions. These include being environmentally responsible, fostering transparency and strong ethical values, and creating a sustainable future.

The report examines how marketers rate their organization’s approach to sustainability, how they view their role in driving sustainability practices alongside the C-suite, and the barriers they encounter. It finds three main barriers for marketers: an absence of management urgency, cost of initial investments, and a lack of management buy-in. In fact, 52 percent of the marketers surveyed do not believe (or are not sure) that their organization has a sustainability strategy.

The report also highlights several key business benefits to integrating sustainability into business practices. Fifty-two percent of of marketers feel that investing in sustainability will positively influence the perception of their brand. Meanwhile 53 percent of marketers are happy to collaborate with competitors around common sustainability issues and 41 percent agree that sustainability initiatives will be a key source of competitive advantage over the next five years.

“While marketers already understand the soft benefits of sustainability, they are also starting to see the hard returns,” said gyro global chief strategy officer Patrick O’Hara in a statement. “Our survey shows that business people – especially marketers – are increasingly aware that sustainability has hard business benefits including greater brand favorability, operational efficiencies and competitive advantage.”

The findings echo a survey released yesterday by consulting firm Pure Strategies in which respondents reported gaining about $800 million from increased sales and $800 million in manufacturing cost savings from sustainability efforts. They also reported additional earnings in risk reduction, productivity gains, and enhanced growth opportunities adding up to billions in value.

Additionally, consumers are willing to pay more for “sustainable” products and services, according to two other studies published in January. One of these, released by Unilever, found a third of consumers (33 percent) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

Unilever says this represents a potential untapped opportunity of $1,024 billion out of a $2.7 trillion total market for sustainable goods.

The company also has first-hand experience with generating profit from its sustainability credentials: Unilever is one of at least 10 global companies that generate a billion dollars or more in revenue annually from sustainable products or services. It generated sales of $56.5 billion in 2015 and reported 30 percent faster growth for its “Sustainable Living” brands, compared to the rest of its business, with these brand nearly half of the firm’s total growth in 2015.

Unilever defines its Sustainable Living Brands as those that integrate sustainability not only into their marketing platform but also their products.

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