Sustainability: a social solution?

Ben & Jerry's Fair TradeOn Tuesday, I listened to Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed, speak at the ISBA Annual Lunch, with a focus on sustainability.

Weed described business as being at a crossroads. He said that we need to promote growth, but this needs to be growth not just for this generation, but for the generations to come.

Too many businesses are asking themselves what the business case is for ‘doing’ sustainability. As Weed pointed out, we instead should be asking ourselves what the business case is for NOT doing it.

It sound obvious, but if there’s no planet, there’s no point in chasing profits. According to the WWF, we’re currently using the resources of 1.5 planets – you don’t need to be a genius to realise that something needs to be done about it.

Brands can play a huge role in saving the planet. Cynics may call it “greenwashing” but actually what sustainability champions like Weed are looking to do is align business targets with long-term environmentally global targets.

Weed gave some examples of brands that have had a positive role in promoting sustainability – Ben & Jerry’s within fair trade (pictured) and Persil’s commitment to child development to name two. Here, there is a purpose beyond the product.

What was particularly interesting to me was Weed’s opinion than social media has made businesses accountable to a scale we’ve never seen before. He continually referred to the power of social media and how it could unite people and brands to hit sustainability goals for Unilever and the planet.

My slight worry, is that without social media being managed effectively on a global basis by brands (and their agencies), I’m not sure how this will be possible. Even market leaders like Unilever haven’t totally cracked how this works yet, despite headliners like Dove innovating in the space.

The key message to take away from Weed’s talk was that there is a lot we can do together to secure the future of the planet for future generations. We’re just not doing it yet. Hopefully, brands across the world will take a leaf from Unilever’s book and start thinking about how to build a sustainable future.

Tom Ollerton is marketing director at We Are Social.