Marketing Strategy for 2016: Focus on Sustainability?

Seventeen numbered boxes featuring sustainable development goals.
Sustainable Development Goals created by former UN Deputy Secretary and Unilever’s current CEO. Source: United Nations.

The World Economic Forum, an International Organization committed to improving the state of the world for public and private cooperation, assisted in the launch of a sustainable development initiative worldwide. These sustainable development goals, formulated by the former U.N. Deputy Secretary General and Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman, were created to better articulate and quantify a compelling economic case for businesses to engage in achieving sustainable development. After a year, a prize will be awarded to a business that presents a comprehensive report, which outlines new business and financial models and market opportunities for companies who are invested in sustainable business approaches.

As the world continues to shift towards a more environmentally consciousness, brands promoting sustainability, corporate shared responsibility, and shared value are realizing the long-term benefits that come with sustainability. Hilton Worldwide, four years ago, launched its own corporate responsibility strategy titled “Travel with Purpose.” This strategy was designed to examine global issues in which Hilton can make an impact in while simultaneously contributing to its future success. Hilton believes that its investments in global partnerships and sustainability programs are not only driving positive social impact but also support long-term business success. Not only has the Travel with Purpose strategy helped Hilton to become a more sustainable business but also saved Hilton over $550 million since 2009.

A picture of a city scape.
Hilton’s Global Activation on Sustainability has Saved it $550M since 2009. Source: Hilton Worldwide.

Although sustainability is a hot topic, and at the forefront of many company operations, the concept of business sustainability is still viewed as a grey area in which people have difficulty in defining. However, among the many ways to define sustainability, people have come to understand that being sustainable focuses on business practices lasting or continuing for a long period of time. Sustainability, specifically corporate sustainability, means being profitable over a long term, driven by employees and focusing on working with a community that the business operates within.

The driving force behind sustainability and accountability today are millenials. As millenials are the current largest living generation in the United States, millenials are now demanding companies to have corporate responsibility initiatives and responsibilities within companies. Millenials seek more from a business than might have been the case twenty, ten, or even five years ago. Instead, Millenials are looking to work for companies that create an environment where people and businesses are a force for positive change.

Businesses are seen as drivers of change in today’s society. A single company cannot solve any global issue on its own but must work within a network to be successful for all stakeholders involved. Although consumers today are more conscious about the environment and pay more attention to businesses promoting sustainability efforts, a disconnect is still present. It is difficult to get consumers to act on their good intentions and beliefs. Consumers still see a gap in accepting the value-add of corporate social responsibility or environmentally conscious businesses. However, by showing consumers what sustainability can do for them (rather than what they can do for sustainability), marketers can close this prominent value- add gap.

From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you think companies need to promote and follow sustainable business practices?
  • Research companies that promote their brand as sustainable. How do they define sustainability?
  • Why do you think Millenials are concerned with sustainability and corporate social responsibility?