Creating a Sustainability Initiative That Resonates With Your Target Audience

Across the corporate world, “sustainability” is about as popular a buzzword as we have in 2009-”and for good reason. Corporations are now coming to terms with the financial and environmental costs associated with traditional business practices, and are creating ways to lessen their environmental impact.

The reasons for enacting corporate sustainability initiatives, though, go far beyond the trend-of-the-moment. Consumers are clamoring for products that are environmentally friendly without skimping on quality. Furthermore, research has shown that 65 percent of businesses have corporate sustainability programs, so it’s imperative for companies to have a program that can help customers reach their own sustainability goals.

Making the Case
In order to get a sustainability initiative off the ground, it’s important to present the business case. Consumers are looking for their favorite companies to provide them with a way to “go green,” that both makes a difference and makes sense to their business practice.

The most successful sustainability initiatives are those that are in line with a brand’s mission, make a concrete and measurable difference, and make a long-term commitment to the future of their program. The first step in creating a strong sustainability initiative is to invest time and research at the outset of a program to ensure that it truly resonates with the target audience. Having your customers on board from the get-go will make sure that it maximizes business value.

Remembering the Audience
The best sustainability initiatives will do two key things. First, they should have a foundation in science and truly make a difference to the environment and society. Second, they will clearly map back to your customers and their needs. Companies that are able to marry sustainable business practices that are scientifically proven with policies and programs that make a difference to their customers have the best chance at succeeding.

As an example, in my work with Mars Drinks, we determined that an estimated 29 percent of the carbon footprint of each of our FLAVIA drinks comes from energy needed to heat the water to make the beverage. We know that our customers-”corporations throughout the U.S.-”hear regularly that their employees are looking to see more sustainable, greener office systems. As a solution, we launched our latest brewer, the FLAVIA C400, with energy saving features such as a power saving mode and a hot water system that only heats the amount of water needed to make a few drinks at a time. This has allowed us to reduce energy use by 62 percent versus our old brewer and 40 percent versus other single serve competitor machines.

Leveraging the Brand
Mars Drinks’ investment in energy-saving brewers makes sense for us, and for our customers-”and what’s more, it maps back to our brand. Sustainability programs that don’t clearly map back to the brand risk confusing customers or seeming disingenuous. The strongest sustainability programs begin with a discussion of what the brand is, what it provides customers, and what customers expect from it.

It’s also important to screen prospective initiatives with customers before they are launched. Customers should be presented with a wide range of ideas and asked directly what they’d like to see-¦even questions or concerns they might have themselves about the environmental impact of the products and services they use. This kind of feedback will be key in ensuring that sustainability initiatives truly resonate with the customers you are trying to reach.

Tide’s Coldwater Initiative is a great example of a brand-appropriate sustainability initiative. Tide is now selling a detergent that works just as well in cold water as their normal detergent does in warm water. This initiative is effective because scientifically, the biggest environmental impact when washing clothes comes from heating the water for washing, so switching to cold water has a strong environmental benefit. With the Coldwater Initiative, Tide enables its customers to save money and energy-”a solution that makes sense to the consumer and is perfectly aligned with the brand.

Bang for Your Sustainability Buck
When a sustainability initiative is well thought out from the beginning, it will engage and make a real difference to key consumers-”and in doing so, will bring true return on the investment required to make it happen. Spending the time to make sure that the program you develop reinforces the brand while still creating strong environmental and social change will ensure that it has a lasting impact to both the environment and your organization.

Daniel Vennard is the corporate affairs and sustainability director for Mars Drinks, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc. Before joining Mars Drinks, he worked at Procter & Gamble, where he was involved in high profile sustainability campaigns such as Ariel Cool Clean, PUR Purifier of Water, and Future Friendly, a multi-brand program that helps consumers make environmentally friendly purchasing decisions. He can be reached at [email protected].