Bridging the say/do gap in sustainability

On the 25th March, our industry partner Ipsos MORI released their second #Ipsosinsights webinar of the year. They explored the discrepancies between what people say they are willing to do to fight climate change versus what they actually do, the role of the industry, and how to be a more sustainable company.

Ipsos MORI is a global market research company which conducts research in more than 140 markets in order to help companies gain an understanding of societies, markets and people in order to navigate the complex and emerging concept of sustainability.

The days when sustainable company practices were considered a nice-to-have add-on are long past. Consumer concern for sustainability is at an all-time high, higher than in 2019 before the pandemic. People are starting to make the links between climate change, coronavirus and the world around them. Globally, 71% feel climate change is as serious and long-term an issue as Covid-19. Moreover, younger people are more likely to demand systemic change from industries and governments. Their actions are in the form of boycotting brands or attending protests.   

It is now clear that sustainability is a business imperative which must be structurally implemented across the entire value chain, in a way that pursues environmental, social and governance issues simultaneously – because these issues, like the pandemic, are interlinked and do not occur in silos.

If a company gets it wrong, it runs the reputational risk of greenwashing accusations. But doing nothing will lead to other competitors taking over, all things being equal. According to Jessica Long, Head of Sustainability at Ipsos Mori UK, there are 4 elements to focus on in the journey to implementing a more sustainable business model:

  1. Address your current environmental impact first before making sustainability innovations
  2. Know and understand your consumer mindset
  3. Sustainability as a business value must be executed across the whole board, at the corporate level as well as just at the brand level
  4. Consider your ability to actually deliver sustainable changes

Long also employed the ‘shields and swords’ metaphor to illustrate the need for fulfilling basic consumer expectations around sustainability (the idea of defense) whilst simultaneously maintaining a unique selling point to get ahead of competitors (the idea of attack). For example, every company is now setting ‘net-zero-by-2050’ goals, therefore this is now a defensive play (shield) rather than an innovation (sword) as it allows your company to keep on top of the sustainable table stakes. Moreover, cutting down or offsetting carbon emissions is increasingly becoming a business hygiene factor (a company policy that helps prevent employee dissatisfaction). Sustainability innovations (swords) are necessary if you want to be considered a leader in this space, as Long explains: “What’s your unique selling point and what are you doing uniquely to drive the sustainability conversation and to drive the impact forward?”

Pursuing shields without swords, aka doing what all other companies are currently doing, yet not innovating in order to maintain your company’s unique selling point, can lead to your company becoming a laggard in this space and getting overtaken by competitors. But on the other hand, pursuing shields without swords – i.e., not keeping on top of the table stakes and not fulfilling basic sustainability expectations first – could lead to greenwashing risks and accusations.

It’s not a simple topic and measurement and reporting is still under development. Many are starting with the shield approach discussed but want to advance to the sword.

At Fly Green Alliance, our FGA Travel Smart™ program can help your company reach its carbon neutral targets and keep on top of the table stakes by measuring and offsetting carbon while also working with you on an innovative green travel programme. We’re also beginning to work with our clients on the innovation work through workshopping and partnership development which is why we continually look for new approaches, ideas and partners so we can offer informed advice and sound ‘sword’ solutions.

Contact sarah@flygreenalliance.org for more information.

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