Knowledge is power when it comes to sustainability in marketing

Steve Pitts
Global Client Managing Director, Tag

Tag and ISBA bring together leading marketers to discuss the sustainability challenges facing the industry, and how production partners can help marketers reach their targets

Tackling the climate crisis is undoubtedly the greatest challenge facing our generation, if not the greatest single challenge we will ever face as a global community.

Every business and industry, rightly, is being asked to step up and do their bit to reduce their carbon impact. At Tag, we’ve been looking not only at our own sustainability plans, but how we might be able to play a wider industry role.

As a global marketing production company with end-to-end oversight of the marketing process - from content creation to retail activation – we realised we could play an important role as a sustainability partner to brands.

To better understand the anxieties, pressures, and ambitions of marketers when it came to sustainability, we commissioned Karen Fraser (former head of Credos and experienced consultant on trust and reputation) to undertake a research project, interviewing marketing and procurement specialists from top brands like L’Oreal and Carlsberg, to explore this issue in depth. The output of her work, our Know to Grow Greener report, has just been published and highlights the scale of the challenge facing our industry.

This is what we found the landscape of marketing sustainability to be:

  1. External pressures continue to grow. Green taxes are on the horizon as governments get serious on climate change ahead of COP26 and as part of their green recovery push. Consumers are following suit, putting the pressure on brands to help them make green choices.
  2. The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted people to review strategies. The last year has been a time for reflection for marketers and many businesses are taking a more holistic approach that takes into consideration people, plant, and performance in the round.
  3. Businesses have big ambitions, but there are hurdles in the way. Sustainability is recognised as a top priority and brands are keen to make serious progress. But there is a need to balance the constant tension between cost efficiencies and the need for sustainable solutions.

To read our findings head over to the Tag website to access the report

With the report as our starting point, Tag and ISBA convened leading marketers and procurement specialists across two roundtable sessions to explore these challenges further, and where production might play a role in the solution.

You need to get a carbon baseline

One thing that really came through in the sessions was that, as marketers, we need a much better understanding of where we are now, before we can look to the future.

Though all businesses will have their own carbon targets and sustainability goals at an organisational level, how many have set targets for different teams within their businesses? And how many marketers know the specific carbon impact of just their operations?

Though many brands have started that carbon baselining process, there was definitely an information gap in the room. Knowledge is power and understanding what is having the greatest carbon impact in your operations is key to being able to identify the problem areas and start finding solutions. Is it packaging and POS? Or are you flying execs around the world for shoots constantly, which is adding up?

We’ve been helping our clients understand the carbon impact of their marketing ecosystems so they can track their progress. Because as marketers we love measurement. And we should bring that through into our sustainability practices to show our impact and be data-driven in our approach. 

Plan a sustainable approach from the start 

Once you have that baseline in place, it’s time to look ahead to your upcoming output. This is where planning comes to the fore. One thing that came through loudly is that people want to prioritise sustainability but don’t know where to start, and my answer there is always the same – at the beginning.

Having a partner like Tag onside with an end-to-end understanding of your ecosystem means we can help you bake in sustainability from the outset and spot opportunities to be more economical in campaigns. That means cutting out what isn’t working effectively for you and then finding more sustainable ways to do what is. Brands need to be putting pressure on their partners to surface these options upfront as part of the pitching and planning process.

Collaboration is key, and make sure you share the knowledge you glean

All companies are working on their sustainability plans and, although there are differences in the rate of change, no one company has all the answers. Everyone interviewed for this report agreed they are still working towards their goals and they recognise there is always room for improvement, no matter what their organisation has achieved already.

One thing we were all in agreement on? We need to keep this conversation going as we learn. All of us, Tag included, are on a sustainable journey. Carbon negative can’t happen for every business overnight, but by sharing the knowledge we have, and coming together to discuss shared problems, we’ll get to the solutions much quicker.

The good news? Our industry is showing up

Having spoken with many senior marketers and procurement leads over the last few weeks, it is clear the industry is passionate about this issue and there is real desire to make progress. This is key, and at Tag we look forward to partnering with many more brands to help them on that journey and be a part of this change.

Access your copy of the report here.

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