Deepening Company Engagement on Sustainability

This article on sustainability is an abbreviated version of a research report prepared for a Kindred member by Kindred Concierge. Concierge is our on-demand research and insights team that helps our members get the data and information they need to navigate complex decision-making within their organizations. To learn more about the Kindred experience and member benefits, apply here. For existing members, log in to the member portal and maximize your Kindred experience through Concierge today.

According to IBM Research Insights, sustainability, environmental, and/or personal wellness attributes are significant considerations when selecting brands for consumers across generations. Nearly 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada prefer companies that emphasize preserving the environment and following ethical practices. And, 57% are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce negative environmental impact.

Consumers may be setting the corporate agenda, but companies are also feeling internal pressure from boards and investors to invest in sustainable efforts. As a result, sustainability has unsurprisingly become the norm for companies looking to reach conscious consumers and survive in the long term. 

Increasingly, companies are committing to taking climate action seriously through coalition-building and collaboration. For instance, the We Mean Business Coalition, a global nonprofit coalition working with businesses to address climate change, is made up of over 2,000 companies that hold $28.4 trillion in market cap, collectively. Additionally, companies such as Adobe Systems, 3M, Adidas, and IKEA Foundation catalyze business action to lower emissions and drive policy toward a zero-carbon economy. 

As companies recognize the urgent need to work toward a sustainable future, leaders must keep in mind that sustainability efforts will not be successful without careful stakeholder consideration in decision making. 

Intersectional Environmentalism and Climate Justice

A company’s sustainability initiatives may address such diverse topics as food, energy, finance, and climate. Regardless of the area of focus, leaders must understand the full scope of the topics the company addresses. Companies should also pay attention to how climate and environmental justice come into play as they outline their focus on sustainable practices. These movements advocate for the fair treatment of people as it relates to environmental laws and policies. 

Intersectional environmentalism, coined by Leah Thomas, also considers the need for climate justice for marginalized communities affected by environmental racism, segregation and redlining, and injustice. Climate justice recognizes that historically marginalized groups, including lower socio-economic communities, people with disabilities, seniors, and BIPOC communities, are often disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. Take, for instance, this study which found a pattern of locating hazardous waste facilities in close proximity to minority and low-income neighborhoods. The study analyzed 30 years of data about placement of hazardous waste facilities in the U.S. This focus necessitates that companies ensure that the technical solutions they develop or propose as part of their sustainability initiatives are not problematic for marginalized people.

Deepening engagement in the fight against climate change requires leaders to go beyond awareness to advocacy and activism. At a Kindred panel discussion earlier this year, environmental activist Céline Cousteau emphasized the connection between climate and environmental justice and social justice. According to Cousteau, it is important to take a holistic approach and consider all the levels at which sustainability and climate change are affecting different groups within societies. Human society exists within an interconnected ecosystem, which requires a balance for harmony and sustainability.

To determine the environmental impact of the business on marginalized communities, JUST Capital recommends companies conduct a social impact assessment of their environmental impact. 

Marketing Sustainability Effectively and Inclusively

When it comes to marketing sustainability, leaders must adopt a human-centered approach to inclusive marketing. Before focusing on external messaging, companies must align sustainability efforts with their values and how their executive on internal diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts.  It is also helpful for marketing and communications disciplines to develop a deeper understanding of intersectionality

B Lab’s Climate Justice Playbook for Business provides suggestions for creating fundamental shifts toward equitable business practices, including:

  • Centering diverse, experienced voices in advancing climate justice at the start of any effort
  • Finding time for leaders to connect with and center diverse voices with the understanding that equitable action steps should take longer
  • Making the effort to avoid colonialist and paternalistic traps and patterns
  • Expecting the climate justice journey to be non-linear.

To market sustainability efforts effectively and inclusively, some action steps to keep in mind include:

  • Listen to diverse demographics that brand messaging might impact and proactively learn about existing environmental issues marginalized communities might face.
  • Create inclusive, sustainable campaigns and collaborate with diverse organizations or people actively working on the issues your company hopes to address
  • Implement internal organizational values, accountability, and inclusivity in your external sustainable marketing strategy.

Studies show that 45% of consumers pay attention to the environmental footprint of a company in their purchasing decisions. With consumers, boards, and investors aligned on how businesses can help drive change, companies need to rethink how their sustainability efforts affect more than their bottom line. Considering intersectional environmentalism and climate justice in marketing and general business practices will lead to better outcomes for the company, brand, and the community it serves. 

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Published on August 27, 2021