We spoke with Andy Last, CEO of strategic communications agency, MullenLowe salt, about sustainability as a driving force for better business performance and linking sustainable initiatives to the corporate agenda.
Can you tell us about what green initiatives your agency currently has in place?
MullenLowe salt is a B Corp – in fact we were in the first group of UK companies accredited as a B Corp in 2015 – and as such we are regularly assessed not only for how we operate as a business but for how we drive the sustainability agenda and positive change through our work. We have always believed that green initiatives in the office – recycling, reducing waste, mindful travel – are important, but they are simply table stakes for being a good business. As agencies, we can have far greater impact through our work – the advice we give our clients and the change we drive through communications.
How does your approach to each campaign keep sustainability in mind?
As a specialist purpose and sustainability consultancy, sustainability is at the heart of all that we do. Our core principle is that sustainability drives better business performance and the question that informs everything we do is how can we link sustainability and business imperatives? We start every campaign by identifying where increased sustainability focus can grow consumer affinity, drive retailer preference, improve employee engagement or strengthen license to operate.
Is there a framework you follow when tasked with improving a brand’s green messaging and positioning?
One of our favorite models is our Swords & Shields process through which we identify those sustainability programs that go beyond what’s expected, differentiate, and enable a brand to go on the attack in its communication (swords), and those which are more industry standard, are what external audiences would expect of any good business, and which should be defensive positions (shields).
In what ways are you helping your clients navigate sustainability communications?
We help brands develop ‘do’ programs to go alongside their ‘say’; we help them find their core purpose so they can integrate sustainability and commercial objectives; we link sustainability initiatives and reporting to the corporate agenda; and we help clients communicate in a transparent, human and on-brand way.
Transparency regarding a brand’s eco footprint is important, how can you avoid being perceived as purely greenwashing?
By understanding what external stakeholders really expect of your brand, by never allowing what you say to be out of sync with what you do, and by being open about the journey you are on – where you are succeeding and where you have room for improvement. Audiences will forgive you not being 100% perfect if you’re transparent about it and show a genuine commitment to improve.
How do you see the advertising industry improving communications around sustainability in the future to develop a more streamlined green approach to campaigns?
The industry will be forced to build sustainability into communications, while making sure brand communication doesn’t become worthy or dull. That is the creative challenge. Investor pressure on brand owners to deliver on the ESG agenda, retailer pressure on brands to help meet their own sustainability commitments, increased regulation around the green economy, as well as changing expectations from Gen Z consumers and employees, make this non-negotiable. The only question is which agencies can combine sustainability and creativity most effectively.