Purpose: Can Purpose save the planet?

Chris Sury, Account Director, Corporate & Business Communications discusses our take on how purpose communications can make a big contribution to saving the planet in a week where Extinction Rebellion sent a strong message to the advertising industry and mounted pressure on businesses to fight climate change.

“Now I am speaking to the whole world.” Words from Greta Thunberg, who appears regal on the cover of TIME. Her environmental activism has inspired, and this Friday school children will strike on behalf of the climate across the world.

Thunberg is prolific, and alongside Extinction Rebellion protesters global warming has been promoted to the top of the political agenda. It’s a cause impacting business too, evident when Sarah Breeden, a senior Bank of England official told banks earlier this year that climate change must be made central to their operations.

This week, the Extinction Rebellion sent a message to the advertising industry:

“As mediators between the public and brands, the advertising industry is uniquely capable of driving rapid behaviour change across society, around the world and should take the lead rather than be driven.”

The message back is that both agencies and clients have the appetite to create campaigns with societal purpose. The marketing and media industries are changing to reflect this with more trophies being awarded to companies tackling societal issues and The Guardian openly shifting the language it uses when talking about climate to reflect greater urgency.

Activism has meant that ‘Purpose’ is being discussed with greater energy in boardrooms today. This is because a brand with a successful social purpose will be instigating change in a way that is good for the planet as well as its own business.

For this reason, Patagonia is the stand-out case when thinking about corporate achievements linked to environmental action. Their engagement with the issue goes beyond tax donations, ads and communication, so that environmental do-gooding is engrained in their business model and consideration runs through its supply chain. The brand’s values align with its target demographic, and through a greater business purpose it is able to talk to consumers authentically about how it does more than generate a profit.

But there’s room for brands to do more and the reasons to do so convincing. Firstly Thunberg isn’t alone, she is one of 1.8 billion young people aged 10 – 24. These are tomorrow’s customers, employees and leaders and they care about society, the environment and their future.

report published by Drapers found three quarters of Generation Z said that sustainability was important to them, with nearly half abandoning a brand because it didn’t fit with their values. Opportunity is not solely on the consumer side, as investors are increasingly interested in ‘sustainable businesses’ too. For example, in May Nomura launched its Global Sustainable Equitable Fund, connecting investors with companies looking to make a positive impact on the environment.

Start-ups are taking good advantage of these insights. One that comes to mind is the extremely successful food start-up allplants. The firm delivers vegan meals across London, encouraging busy millennials to try veganism because it’s one of the most impactful ways to reduce their environmental footprints. They also secured the UK’s largest Series A round for a vegan firm in September last year.

Furthermore, many companies are adapting their business models with the environment in mind. IKEA, the flatpack furniture store that has traditionally designed homeware for short-term living arrangements, is re-thinking how its model can work more sustainably. In February, IKEA announced that it would trial the leasing of furniture in offices as part of its efforts to promote the longevity of its products, reduce waste and do more recycling.

The point with these examples is that advertising is a part of something much bigger. To make demonstrable societal impact, and ultimately drive further sales, brands must think about making commitments beyond feel-good marketing campaigns.

As Alex Weller, EMEA Marketing at Patagonia said: “The role of marketing is to authentically elevate that mission and purpose and engage people in it, but the purpose needs to be the business.”

Would Iceland’s Christmas rang tan advert have been so successful if it had not also pledged to stop manufacturing its brand-owned products with palm oil? The answer is no.

If more brands think in this way, purpose can truly become a driver in saving our planet.

Get in touch or find out more about our purpose communications team here.

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