My wrap-up of Sustainable Brands New Metrics ’14 Friday morning plenaries.
The final morning of Sustainable Brands’ New Metrics ’14 conference started with an invitation from MC Bill Baue, co-founder of the Sustainability Context Group, to imagine “what if?” sustainability pioneer Donella Meadows were in the room and what she would say.
“Am I working at a leverage point that has the most potential to leverage systemic change?” Baue asked, referring to Meadows’ landmark book, Places to Intervene in a System. He then asked attendees to keep this in mind for the day’s theme of analyzing and engaging consumers and employees, and to consider how New Metrics can help us inform and illuminate ways “to transform systems for a more sustainable — and indeed flourishing and prosperous — future.”
Terry Garcia, Chief Science and Exploration Officer at National Geographic, announced the global release today of findings from National Geographic’s fifth 2014 Greendex with GlobeScan’s Eric Whan.
L-R: Eric Whan, Terry Garcia & Alexander Gillett
The survey highlights a growing concern about environment and climate change and how that’s going to impact quality of life. But despite this, it also shows that a corresponding change in consumer behavior has only grown slowly.
Even with this gap between intention and action, there’s some good news in the survey. Whan said that a growing sense of anxiety — an awareness — shows the preconditions for making change. And that, “In my opinion there are no better change agents than marketing and branding people.” He ran through some of the survey’s deeper findings, including which groups seem more willing to change, that people are willing to pay more for more sustainable choices, and what actually motivates them do take actions.
Next up was Amy Fenton, Global Leader of Public Development & Sustainability at Nielsen, who shared new research on whether consumers actually follow their words and intentions with their wallets.
“In fact, the profound answer is ‘yes,’” Fenton asserted. “Consumers do care and their actions will follow. There are preconditions for how that change occurs, but consumer change can result in increased revenues.” Indeed, the latest data from Nielsen’s 2014 Global Corporate Social Responsibility survey shows that 55 percent of global online consumers across 60 countries are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.
Focusing in on millennials, she said that since over 50 percent of those willing to pay more globally for more sustainable choices are millennials, this is the group brands need to be thinking of long term.
Next, Jenny Rushmore, Director of Responsible Travel at TripAdvisor, discussed the novel metrics her company is using for its green hotel rating program by saying that it’s “a totally different way of doing research that avoids current pitfalls and opens up new exciting possibilities.” This work is the first time guest perception research has been done with a very large sample set of unprompted responses, gathered from the TripAdvisor’s GreenLeaders database of both sustainable hotel practices (over 4,000) and traveler reviews of those practices (over 30,000).
One of the striking takeaways from the research is that highly-visible green practices like sustainable food that directly add value to the consumer experience can improve the customer’s overall experience and potentially increase revenue by bumping up the hotel’s rating overall.
Highlighting another example of how new metrics can help consumers make better informed purchasing decisions was Alexander Gillett, CEO of How Good. His company’s food rating labels help create shifts in purchasing behaviors by giving shoppers an at-a-glance view of a product’s environmental and social impacts.
Echoing what TripAdvisor learned about customers, the food industry is a bellwether for how new metrics can help influence more sustainable customer decisions in other sectors. “Food is one of the areas where there is positive change,” Gillett said. “Some of the things that are happening in food will probably be happening in other industries in 10 years.”
How Good is finding that giving customers more information can bump up sales for sustainable products. He shared how putting a “This product is great for the environment, society and the world” label on the shelf under a high-rated product led to a 46 percent increase in sales for that item in conventional grocery stores.
After a break, the sessions continued with Roya Kazemi, Director of GreeNYC, the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. She shared research that the City has done on how best to engage residents on sustainability issues, and what her team has learned about branding, messaging and media strategies that get results.
When NYC Mayor DeBlasio recently announced the city’s new goal to achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050, he not only made NY the largest city in the world committing to that goal, but also made Kazemi’s job that much bigger. There’s a lot that the City is doing on the levels of infrastructure and policy, but consumers have to be a big part of that. “Household energy use is 39 percent of New York City’s CO2 emissions, so consumers have to be a big part of it,” she said. She pointed out that consumer behavior change can have an impact in a matter of months, compared to legislation that can take years.
Kazemi then described the data-driven approach they’re using to guide strategic decision-making. The detailed plan they rolled out focuses on the top 10 actions to reach people who aren’t currently doing them, to help NYC get a significant way to the goal using a positive voice, clear call-to-actions, and the use of a branded mascot named Birdie.
Kazemi’s presentation was a perfect tee-up from New York’s citywide plan to Shelton Group CEO Suzanne Shelton’s, on applying behavioral economics to inspire behavior change around energy-efficiency actions.
“Energy-efficiency is actually the best thing we can do for the environment,” Shelton said. “The problem is that none of us really want to be energy-efficient — and that’s a perception problem.” She laid out the program her company runs with utility companies to drive energy-efficiency behavior change. The “Do 5 Things” program rests on the insight that getting people to do just five things — not 2 and not 25 — is the sweet spot for getting customers engaged, happy with their savings and highly likely to do the next thing. She described how they tailored messages and methods to four distinct customer segments and used off-beat marketing messages to catch customers’ attention.
“If you want to change behaviors,” Shelton said, “you have to know who you’re talking to, customize the actions for them, make the action list manageable, and apply behavioral nudges over time.”
Shifting gears a bit, Steph Sharma, Managing Partner of Lead the Difference, posed a provocative metrics question to the room: “If human capital is a company’s greatest asset, then why does business-as-usual reflect it only as a liability?” She then explained how ongoing analysis is delving into the possibilities of making human capital more real on the balance sheet, how it could be measured, what the barriers are, and what it could mean for how we organize and manage businesses overall.
If the task is to discover which metrics represent the actual value created by humans, then one of the challenges is to determine the right inputs and outputs. As the analysis continues, Sharma said that information will be shared widely and openly. “This is all about keeping humans central,” she said, towards the goal of making humans a real asset to businesses and doing it correctly.
Finally, Tom LaForge, Global Director of Human & Cultural Insights at Coca-Cola, took the stage to discuss how culture shifts are changing how brands see themselves and position themselves in the marketplace.
“What’s emerging is that brands are starting to stand for something good — we’re entering an era where brands stand for solving problems of society,” he said. “Corporations and government have the power to make change. What I’m hoping is happening is that we the people — including the people who use your product — think that the good they want to see in the world is possible if they team up with the right people.”
The morning wrapped up with LaForge saying, “This is the world you have to prepare your organization for. This new era of social branding is about what’s the right way to do business. Start thinking about words like ‘right’ and ‘good.’ We are assessing brands at a social level and we need metrics that can help us measure and assess if a brand is helping society.”