One giant leap?
If you were asked to think of examples of businesses who ‘do’ social responsibility, who would first spring into your mind? As I’m writing this blog I’m thinking of who I would say if someone asked me that question. TOMS would be up there in terms of the human side, Bulb Energy and Ecosia for the environmental credentials, Stella McCartney and MUD Jeans within the fashion industry and Futerra for communicating and embedding sustainability through brands and business.
However, when I sat thinking about these examples, my mind kept going to startups. Startups all around the world are coming up with revolutionary solutions and businesses that have sustainability in the core of what they do. For a startup who’s sole purpose is to solve a sustainability or social problem, it’s easy to embed this in their values and culture. But what of the businesses that are already established? The SME’s or the big giants.
For the latter - the Coca Cola’s, the P&G’s or the H&M’s, the shift to being a socially responsible or sustainable isn’t going to be simple or quick. Processes, supply chains and stakeholders aren’t going to make it easy. You may have seen the latest Coca Cola advertising which uses the Coca Cola ribbon to point at bins with the instruction to recycle. The campaign is happening in Central and Eastern Europe but not in the UK. Procter & Gamble are part of Terracycle’s Loop project which is a circular, ‘closed loop’ approach to reusing bottles and packaging. And H&M have a Conscious Clothing range for men and women and recycling stations for your clothes in their stores. These businesses can then begin to communicate this through their marketing with big budgets and large creative agencies.
All steps in the right direction. But is it enough?
Then there’s the more agile businesses - the SME’s who don’t have the giant cogs to oil or change. These are the businesses that can be more proactive as well as being more reactive. These are the businesses who can stick their stake in the ground and make the decision to build real, well rounded sustainability values into their business. And it doesn’t have to be done with huge budgets. Two business that spring to mind are Property Factors who I have had the pleasure of being introduced to via my client, CPL Software. Both Newton Property Management and Redpath Bruce have made bold steps forward to deliver sustainability within their organisations. Newton are a 'Climate for Change' partner and have introduced their 2020 Green Vision which includes paperless billing and installing car charging points at their properties. At Redpath Bruce, their Better Lives Programme aims to make a local and a global impact. Amongst other initiatives, they are involved with the B1G1 (Buy 1 Give 1), Business for Good organisation. "The Board of B1G1 Giving, selects, monitors and works with high-impact, close-to-the-ground projects at no cost to those projects. Started in 2007, B1G1 is now working with more than 2,000 businesses from all industries creating more than 160 million giving impacts."
These are the businesses that have the potential to grow by communicating what they’re about. It could be as simple as making a commitment that all of their staff have a reusable coffee cup - and telling people about it through the website and social media. It could be that the business sets targets to reduce plastic waste, to take part in litterpicks, to switch to renewable energy suppliers or to change all their browsers to Ecosia. And to communicate it to the world.
The change makers
The startups are the real change makers but their voice is often quiet in a sea of noise. They don’t get the coverage they deserve. however these are the ones who are the big thinkers, the change makers, who have people and planet in their soul. But they don’t have the budgets for brand strategists and fancy creative agencies that would allow them to tell their story. And boy do these startups have a story to tell. The struggles, the ups and the downs, the breakthroughs but with the ending still undecided. To be continued. These are the businesses that should have the loudest voice. Yet they’re the ones who struggle the most.
Without the big marketing and budgets of the Coca Cola’s and P&G’s these startups risk disappearing.
What if, big businesses stepped in and helped out? What if creative agencies with a heart were to give some of their time to help build up these startups? Perhaps it would help the entrepreneurial ecosystem to thrive and survive. Knowledge transfer, money in the future bank. Relationship building for a brighter tomorrow.