Executive Boards are laser focussed on the sustainability agenda across many organisations, with future funding streams aligned to sustainability planning, and B2B and B2C purchasing decisions based on net zero efforts. The marketing and communications function plays a definitive role in supporting this agenda, and a recent regional community meeting, led by the University of Birmingham, highlighted how this core function can support the sustainability agenda appropriately.
Chaired by Helen Toft, Head of Projects and Communications for Business Engagement at the University of Birmingham, panellists included:
- Dr Caroline Moraes, Head of the Marketing Department at the Birmingham Business School
- Eleanor Fox, Head of Marketing and Communications for the UK at Ramboll
- Pam Sheemar, Director of Commercial Banking at NatWest
- Will Hargreaves, Policy Advisor for Environmental Sustainability at the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce
Driving communications from core business values
Marcomms ability to create positive change and lead to changes in behaviours across business and consumer areas is great, but this also comes with responsibilities, such as ensuring that the messages conveyed are based on provable facts and on a company’s core strategic direction.
Greenwashing, where marketing and communications functions enhance or build out sustainability credentials and capabilities that are not evidenced in their business, was discussed as an area that has driven scepticism in the market, weakening the impact of the marketing and communications impact. The language marketers use, and the messages that are delivered to consumers are crucial when discussing sustainability in marketing, and they have to reflect the business strategy and direction. Will Hargreaves welcomed marketers to be honest, "there is always work to be done. Marketers have the power to create a sustainability journey, to inspire the conversation, to evolve."
The discussion also covered how the boundaries a business uses to look at its sustainability progress is critical to improving sustainability outcomes. Many professional services companies can reinforce or enhance positive behaviours through changes in the way they insure, or make financing decisions, in both consumer and business markets. It involves consideration of the whole life cycle and supply chain of a product, rather than just its use phase.
It's not good enough to just do good, we have to avoid doing harm.Dr Caroline Moraes, Head of Department (Marketing), University of Birmingham
Supporting SME's Sustainability Journey
The panellists universally echoed the necessity for sustainability practices in general. While this imperative for net-zero can be daunting, especially for SMEs with limited resources compared to big corporate entities, it is important that companies start the process, even if initial steps are small.
Highlighting that journey reflects credibility, Pam Sheemar shared how the NatWest Group is encouraging new businesses to include sustainability targets in their strategic vision to be eligible for funding. Interestingly, 90% of NatWest's clients are SMEs and 70% of those are already taking actionable steps towards becoming net-zero.
Ever changing landscape for delivering marketing and communications campaigns
The discussion also focused on the constantly changing environment and how marketing and communications need to respond and evolve. Hot-button issues such as the cost-of-living were discussed, with the panel emphasising that a tighter squeeze on consumers’ pockets can make sustainable choices harder to opt for. In addition, Eleanor Fox highlighted that businesses always need to look ahead to what will be next for their sustainability agenda, for example, a focus on nature and biodiversity targets. However unprecedented the context, marketers can help their businesses adapt and thrive.
Future meet ups
It was great to see so much engagement with the panel on this topic and we look forward to the next Regional Community meeting, taking place in June. If you would like to suggest a future theme, join the community or suggest a panellist for a future event, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.