Corporate sustainability has come a long way in the last decade.
In a nutshell
- Companies throughout New Zealand are increasingly adopting sustainability strategies driven largely by a groundswell of consumer expectations.
- People are becoming increasingly concerned with supply chains, a company’s organisational values, its charitable contributions, and how much an organisation gives back to the community. These changes reflect the society we now live in – more connected, more discerning and more exposed to options and choice.
- Many companies are now looking at how authenticity can help drive even greater consumer and employee engagement with their sustainability initiatives.
- Sustainability and commercial goals cannot be two separate things. The true value lies in linking the two and focusing on a common commercial outcome. This means sustainability must be seamlessly integrated into business planning, across teams, people, departments and countries.
Many of the most successful businesses, both large and small, have implemented sustainability strategies.
These strategies have evolved beyond environmental initiatives such as recycling and planting trees, and are starting to stretch more broadly into how business has the potential to positively impact people, communities, and the local and global economy.
These strategies reflect the expanded landscape of people’s interests, which have come a long way from the early fringe culture of the green movement. Culture is not a ‘thing’ – it is a moving and evolving thought process, like a river carving its way through the landscape changing shape, speed, and colour and spinning off eddies and sometimes creating lakes that get cut off from the main flow. Marketing has to match this fluidity, and the good companies operate downstream at the forefront of the evolving cultural movement. Companies stuck thinking of the sustainability movement as ‘fringe’, or just for those who can afford to buy organic produce as a social badge, risk being left behind by this growing cultural force.
Growing up – a mature approach to sustainability
Companies throughout New Zealand are increasingly adopting sustainability strategies driven by a groundswell of consumer expectations and we’ve seen recently that many New Zealand businesses have moved from being reactionary to acting proactively in this field. No longer is there the sense that businesses are simply complying with the sustainability movement out of fear of being ‘found out’ for not doing their part. A newfound focus on the greater good is clearly evident.
New Zealand Post is one of these organisations. Building on their tremendous success in waste and emissions reductions, in 2012 New Zealand Post expanded their sustainability programme to support growing social enterprise in New Zealand.
Air New Zealand is another key kiwi organisation with a comprehensive sustainability strategy – “Supercharging New Zealand’s success socially, environmentally and economically”. Core to the strategy is the recognition that New Zealand’s success as a country is intrinsically linked to the success of Air New Zealand as a business. As one of the country’s largest employers, engaging with their staff was a way of getting valuable ideas and input as well as a commitment from a large group of people to support and contribute to the programme. Yes, some of the ideas suggested were not necessarily mainstream, (though great seeds of inspiration for future innovation), but overall what they saw was employees’ common passions and what they cared about, enabling Air New Zealand to design a programme that was relevant and would gain traction.
Sustainability is part of our culture
Shifting consumer behaviour and desires have heavily influenced business’ newfound mature approach to sustainability. If we consider for a moment the meaning of sustainability in a business context, the word has broken free from the previous generation of buzzwords: think ‘green’, ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘recyclable goods’. It now encompasses a more holistic meaning, taking into account all elements of the world in which businesses operate – social and economic, as well as the environment.
Although sustainability is a global movement, every country has a unique context which influences the way this movement evolves. For example, New Zealanders have traditionally had a high regard for the natural resources of their country, we love to fish and we have long-standing fishing quotas, and we have a high percentage of reusable energy. These things influence how the global cultural trend of sustainable thinking has developed in New Zealand versus how it might develop in a different nation. National influence also extends to sustainable activity that impacts all facets of the lives of New Zealanders and the things they treasure – clean water, national parks but also a fair society and economic success to future-proof the economy and punch above our weight in the world.
As an insights agency we speak to thousands of people each year, and we consistently hear and feel a sense of ‘things can’t go on the same way or our kids won’t have what we have’. We hear it when we work in markets where you might expect to, such as utilities, but we also hear it across all markets and sectors from FMCG to tourism, from business services to retail. Listening to people’s interpretation of the cultural current allows us to apply a relevant New Zealand approach to sustainability strategies.
People are becoming increasingly concerned with supply chains, a company’s organisational values, its charitable contributions, and how much an organisation gives back to the community. As a prime example we’ve seen the recent success of brands with sustainable stories ingrained into the makeup of the organisation – think Eat My Lunch, All Birds shoes, Snowberry skincare, Eco Store cleaning products, Ten Tree clothing and TOMS shoes. These brands are amplifying people’s interest in sustainability and raising their expectations of other businesses, taking the view that “if they can do it and be successful, why can’t all businesses do it?”