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Corporate Sustainability: the new competitive advantage?

Scientists observe effects like natural disasters and decreasing grain yields caused by unsustainable business practices. According to Maslow, mankind’s basic physiological needs are being threatened – needs that must be satisfied before all else. Businesses actively working against these hazards can help consumers satisfy these threatened needs and, by doing so, create a competitive advantage. This new value stems from sustainable operations, which need to be communicated appropriately.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is an excellent success story. It points out monetary benefits of corporate sustainability, primarily when it comes to avoiding physical, regulatory and reputation risks. The CDP uses a monetary vehicle and communicates it to their corporate audience using buzzwords like “benchmark performance,” “stranded assets,” “fiduciary duties,” and even quoting support from the Bank of England. Why would the same system not work for the consumer goods market?

The answer is simple: the system requires an educated audience and/or superior communications. Sustainable Reporting Guidelines encouraging transparency, accountability, SMART approaches and even the disclosure of any lobbying efforts and publications with related content are merely a means to an end. They expose the truth, but which end can consumers reasonably analyze a 30-page corporate report and understand topics like the different scopes of carbon accounting?

The solution is simple: corporate sustainability and its positive impacts could be communicated through an educational framework. Consumers need to be informed about threats to their basic needs, how they contribute to them, and why choosing goods/services of sustainably managed businesses can potentially avoid threats similar to avoiding an investor’s risks. By enabling consumers to expose negative impacts, businesses will react to level the playing field, meaning that the early adopter catches the worm. Pointing out whitewashing is crucial as well; some sustainability efforts are more effective and relevant than others and this needs to be understood.

The 16 UN Sustainability Goals provide information on relevant areas. They allow managers to identify relevant sustainability focus areas for their industry, and their communications experts can conveniently “borrow” from the site’s professional content and visuals to serve their audience.

Long story short, marketing departments play crucial roles in fostering informed consumers and establishing corporate sustainability as an accepted competitive advantage.