PRHK Viewpoints: Making sustainability meaningful for corporate brands

In the age of consumer activism, there’s no doubt corporate actions with regards to social movements can make or break a brand. One of the topics we see continuing to gain acceleration is sustainability, and it shows no signs of slowing.

According to the Top Ten Global Consumer Trends 2021 published by Euromonitor, one of the major shifts in the last 12 months is consumers’ expectations towards brands on sustainability and brand purpose issues. Consumers today demand that brands care beyond revenue and would support companies that protect the health and interest of the society and the planet.

This has and will continue to reshape relationships between brands and consumers, companies and its employees. As future-focused pledges and goals are questioned and consumers demand transparency and action, here are three key ways brands can respond.

YOUR PEOPLE: Start with your workforce; inspire, ignite and engage

Data from the Euromonitor report shows that 74% of respondents find it important for brands to communicate sustainability initiatives with employees and invest in sustainability initiatives to improve brand reputation. More than half believe that sustainability helps to attract and retain staff.

This is in line with the HP Workforce survey in 2019 where nearly 60% of respondents said “ignoring sustainability in the workplace is as bad as ignoring diversity and inclusion.” 40% said that they would look for new jobs if their current employers did not engage in sustainable business practices. We see that the correlation between employees’ recruitment and retention and corporate sustainability practice will only grow stronger as awareness towards brand purpose and ESG continues to soar.

Opportunities for brands: As part of the brand’s ESG effort, other than consumer-facing initiatives, forming an internal task force to organise employee engagement activities to communicate green messages and instill a sense of purpose among employees would be helpful in fostering a more sustainable working environment. It’d also be a vital step to attract and retain talent, and to ensure the brand is living and breathing its ESG vision inside out.

CONSUMERS: Help consumers out on an every-day level

A study conducted by global market research firm GlobeScan in 2020 interviewed 27,000 participants from 27 countries around the world, explored areas related to consumer mindsets on sustainable behaviour and the enabling factors that would help them make healthier and more sustainable lifestyle choices.

The survey results revealed that there is strong willingness to make healthy and sustainable changes, especially in Asia, where nearly 75% of Asian consumers are motivated to significantly lessen their environmental footprint. Yet the biggest barriers to turn motivation into action is the perceived difficulty in changing their lifestyle and the affordability of eco-friendly products.

Opportunities for brands: A lot of multinational brands have already got their 2030 sustainability roadmap in place, yet consumers are also looking at immediate, convenient and affordable solutions that they can easily take part in. Small steps such as launching a recycling programme at point-of-sale, exploring eco-packaging options or transforming promotional materials to digital formats are some of the immediate steps that brands can consider in moving the brand forward.

THE BUSINESS: Hardwire efforts into operations and keep evolving with new tech solutions

Brands from different industries and sectors have been actively finding ways to contribute and invest in relevant innovations. Fresh from the virtual South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) that took place in March this year, the “Future of Climate Innovation” panel discussion explored the growing interest in sustainability-related technology. Examples include the rise of climate analytics: companies are aiming to use more comprehensive, real-time data tools to analyse carbon footprint and identify ways to improve their supply chain.

Nestlé has pledged to invest a total of US$3.59 billion over the next five years to focus on regenerative agriculture and plant-based innovation; L’Oréal has committed to use a “Green Sciences” approach to ensure that by 2030, 95% of its ingredients will be derived from renewable plant sources, minerals, or circular processes; and these investments and innovations are not only seen among multinational brands, but also local brands. The R Collective has been using upcycling technology to turn pre-owned textiles into new fashion items.

Opportunities for brands: Technology and investments related to sustainability innovation across all industries will continue to earn the attention of media and consumers. It’s time for brands to revisit their supply chain or manufacturing processes and to consider collaborating with tech start-ups, incubators or explore zero-carbon alternatives that could facilitate a more efficient circular economy.

This piece was written by Carol Yeung, Vice President at Golin, a member agency of PRHK. PRHK Viewpoints is an article series contributed by members of PRHK, Hong Kong’s PR & communications association.


Related articles

L’Oréal launches recycling programme across 13 brands in Hong Kong

Why sustainability issues are not just another trend for you to ride on

How Hong Kong's F&B scene is branding itself for a greener future