How can professional services marketers shape sustainability in their firms? Award-winning Ayo Abbas shares four scenarios where you can drive change.

COP27 in Egypt and COP15 in Canada in November and December last year, focussing specifically on how we can protect biodiversity and nature globally, could easily have passed you by. As the UK wasn’t hosting these events this time around, they certainly didn’t have the impact and focus of COP26 in Glasgow last year.

Other pressing societal issues from our recent frequent changes in UK Government, the ongoing war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis are currently dominating the news agenda and public consciousness. Issues such as climate change, and the impacts it’s making on the world, have been brushed to one side or are seen as being far too expensive to tackle right now.

The problem is that the longer the issue of having a more volatile climate is kicked into the grass, behaviour changes, adaptations and mitigations become more challenging. And in the long run, the cost will be greater.

The economics of growth
Marketing traditionally has been solely measured on growth, but now newer models such as the triple bottom line which measures profit, people and planet are coming to the fore. Sustainability, social value, and environmental, social, governance (ESG) is now adopted by the business community, investors and governments.

There is a raft of regulations on the horizon that will impact all aspects of business. This ranges from the recently introduced Green Claims Code to proposals for Sustainability Disclosure Requirements and Greenhouse Gas Protocols as well as more stringent financial reporting and laws surrounding biodiversity being proposed around the world.

Money and legislation are two levers that can really drive behavioural change, but there is still more we can directly impact as marketers.   Now is a time for action and it’s widely acknowledged that we need to make major shifts and behavioural changes as a society quickly.

In this article, I want to share some of the ways that all professional services marketers, not just those with sustainability in their job title or spec, can positively impact driving change. It is no longer a ‘nice to have’ that’s handed over to a couple of specialists; it should touch and be a part of all the communications and activity that we deliver.

Scenario 1 – ESG is not part of my role

It’s all too easy to dismiss sustainability-related aspects of marketing or communications to those who have it specifically in their job title. But the tide is changing, with ESG taking an all-encompassing approach which impacts all aspects of a business. Here are some of the ways that we can all upskill to get up to speed on the main topics: 

  • Research courses to develop learning around Sustainability and ESG. The Charted Institute of Marketing has a host of resources in its CIM sustainability transformation hub.
  • Listen to or attend podcasts, talks and events where other marketers share their learnings, process and experiences in the sustainability space.

Scenario 2 – Can in-person events be sustainable?

A professional services firm’s business is built on relationships. From dinners to roundtables or conferences, face-to-face events are well and truly back. And while it’s great to have some semblance of a return to normality post-Covid and it’s undoubtedly easier to build relationships face-to-face, have you thought how you could make your presence more sustainable?

Here are some ideas for professional services marketers:

  • Ask the event organisers about what they’re doing about sustainability. Even better, ask for this performance before you sign up – if more of us ask, it’ll drive behaviour change and make organisers act. What’s the carbon footprint of the show? Are they encouraging the use of public transport and active transport? Do they have a sustainable supply chain in place, and are they monitoring the overall carbon footprint of the show
  • If you’re exhibiting, what aspects of your attendance can change to reduce the impact of your attendance? Are there things that you can reuse or source from sustainable suppliers? Can you reuse your current stand or procure one that you can use multiple times? 
  • Do you need to have print materials or plastic giveaways? Or could you try something entirely different that doesn’t involve consumption? Newer ideas are coming onto the market, such as Givsly in the US where event organisers offer charitable donations rather than corporate gifts to demonstrate their social values.

Scenario 3 – Wild and outlandish claims
We’ve all been there; someone comes up with an idea or piece of content that isn’t true or is exaggerated and tends toward greenwashing. What can you do?

  • Don’t be afraid to question. Does this piece need to be sent out?
  • Can something be more clearly explained/ clarified?
  • Can definitions be explained more fully?
  • Can evidence or proof points be used to support what is being said? 

Scenario 4 – I’m too junior to challenge?
It can be hard and even intimidating to speak up and challenge a senior-level person about sustainability matters. But acknowledging this and using some of the advice above is a good starting point for people earlier on in their career journey. Here are some practical things you can do.

  • Arm yourself with evidence – I always find it’s useful to put a few bullet points down of what I want to get across.
  • Find sources, evidence and proof points to support your arguments.
  • Don’t be afraid to escalate to a more senior stakeholder if you don’t feel confident that you’re doing the right thing.

In summary, I firmly believe that we all have a role to play to drive more sustainable marketing. We’re no longer at a stage where we can sit back and leave it to others. We all need to look at where we can change our day-to-day activities to make them more sustainable, and even go so far as to question if what we’re doing is really necessary at all.

Ayo Abbas is an award-winning marketing consultant who specialises in working with professional services firms in the built environment firms delivering strategic marketing content and campaigns. She recently received the overall title of Digital Woman of the Year 2022 at the Digital Women Awards. She has 21 years’ experience working for major firms including Arup, Mace, and Ramboll.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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