This is part of an article series for the Power List 2022, created in partnership with Twitter as part of their global #LeadersforGood initiative.
At a recent roundtable for the Campaign Asia-Pacific Power List, several senior marketers clearly articulated the contradiction inherent between companies being champions of consumerism, and their espousal of sustainability. Rupen Desai, co-founder of TS/28 and global CMO of Dole Sunshine Company said, “One of the largest challenges is that the language of marketing, at times, is incompatible with a sustainable world.
“We have been trying to figure out how marketing evolves so that it’s more compatible with a sustainable world, while not losing its primary mission of being a growth engine. It’s humanised growth, regenerative growth — it’s the language where people, planet, and prosperity thrive, interdependently, together — rather than one, at the cost of another.”
Addressing and, to the extent possible, resolving the contradiction between sustainability and driving profit has become a vital element in the agenda for every marketing leader. And research from Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Power List partner, Twitter, shows that sustainability is still vitally important to consumers. As part of their annual Twitter Trends report, the platform analysed billions of tweets across 11 markets over a two-year period to find universal trends across the globe, and found that the Great Restoration is one of three major emerging trends.
Trang Hoang, Twitter’s head of business marketing for Southeast Asia, says, “While sustainability isn’t a new trend, we’re seeing a fundamental shift in conversation around the environment and climate change, with attention moving away from the consumer and onto big business, governments and brands.”
Hoang attributed the changing tides to the pandemic, saying, “People are focusing on themselves and expect corporations to take the lead against massive planetary challenges. Accountability has become a consistent drumbeat, as more people wake up to the action (or lack thereof) from industries and governments.
Reflecting on what that means for brands, Hoang concluded, “As much as the Great Restoration is a reset button for society, it’s also a chance for brands to do better, because consumers are getting real about the things that will really make a difference.”
It is amply evident that the age of merely using sustainability as a peg for a commercial or a small-scale activation is over. The world’s biggest marketers are making changes that go to the heart of how they run their businesses.
Here’s how some of the APAC’s best marketers — members of the 2022 Asia-Pacific Power List — are keeping up with the shifting goal posts on sustainability.
Creating more meaningful communication
PepsiCo Positive (pep+) was launched two years ago as an overarching framework for the beverage maker. Lilly Yip, who was already chief marketing officer for PepsiCo APAC, got the additional mandate of chief sustainability officer. The commitments under pep+ affected areas like agriculture, supply chain, and consumer choices.
Yip said, “In order to make changes to many of our sustainability initiatives, we first need to raise public awareness and motivate them to participate.”
This has resulted in pep+ messaging being embedded in stories that best fit the brand proposition. For instance, profiles on domestic farmers for potato crisp brands (Lay’s in China and Smith’s in Australia), which have outlined how the company supports this vital element in its supply chain.
To push plastic recycling, the company marked its first batch of recycled pet bottles in Australia with a ‘100% recycled’ message. Marketing events in China and Vietnam have featured recycling machines to remind consumers to dispose of bottles in the right way.
Colgate-Palmolive will launch an environmentally-themed campaign in Australia and then through the rest of the Asia-Pacific region next year. Yves Briantais, vice president of marketing, APAC, at Colgate-Palmolive, said, “For the first time, our campaigns will not be talking about toothpaste or toothbrushes, but about plastic instead.”
Fresh and packaged fruit company Dole Sunshine decided to take on the massive wastage of food in an ongoing campaign called ‘Malnutrition Labels.’ Styled after the ‘nutrition label’ section that is a prominent part of snack packaging, the campaign involved placing hard-hitting statistics on food wastage and its impact, placed on garbage bins and trucks across New York. Desai said, “It starts from the fact that we waste one-third of the food we grow.” Renditions of ‘Malnutrition Labels’ are expected to launch worldwide.
This transparency and accountability is an approach endorsed by Twitter, with Hoang advising brands to go beyond “lofty promises” and “get out there and do something that makes a difference, no matter how small.” Whether that’s through “publicly showing transparency and traceability in your supply chain,” or helping customers repair old products to extend a product’s lifespan, she advocates for “showing progress” instead of “just focusing on goals.”
Creating more eco-friendly products
Around six years ago, Colgate-Palmolive pushed for the development of the first recyclable toothpaste tube. Realising how game-changing this was likely to be, the company offered the recyclable tube to its competitors instead of securing it as a competitive advantage — much like Volvo did with seatbelts in the auto industry. Briantais said, “Some of our competitors are now taking it over, and we hope tubes all over the world become recyclable. The planet will not be saved, but it will be a meaningful change and a major step forward.”
Some of these solutions are naturally constrained by the audience. For instance, Briantais said that while Colgate-Palmolive was working to make sachets — a popular format for consumers with limited purchasing power — more eco-friendly, the price of that solution should not be passed on to the consumer. But higher up the value chain, Colgate was experimenting with new product formats that often came with a premium price tag.
For example, Colgate Keep, a toothbrush with a replaceable head and an aluminium handle built to reduce plastic waste, is manufactured in small quantities and priced at a premium “to reflect the microstructure of the product.” However, Briantais intimated that the plan with premium products such as Keep is to gear them to become mass products and reducing the cost as demand increases. “As we make it mass, the cost will go down. If we do it authentically, the business will benefit. People will know why they buy us and do so no matter what, because of loyalty.”
Looking further afield for partners
With three tonnes of pineapple leaves potentially wasted for every tonne of pineapple grown, the footprint left behind by decaying vegetable matter is a major concern for Dole Sunshine.
The company tied up with Ananas Anam, a manufacturer of vegan leather, interested in purchasing pineapple leaf fiber for Piñatex, a vegan fabric which has so far been used by over 80 companies including Nike, H&M, and Hugo Boss. Desai said, “Purpose should never end as a two-minute advertising or communication brief. It must transform how we innovate, structure, generate prosperity and measure success. You look for what’s causing potential harm, find an amazing partner, and then hit the sweet spot where people (including our farmers), planet, and prosperity can all thrive.” This is not merely a marketing mandate and requires coordination between teams across innovation, supply chain, procurement, and communications.
Besides having created a sustainable business model, Dole Sunshine has also managed accolades from various industry bodies including a Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions for creative business transformation.
At Twitter, collaborations are considered powerful tools for affecting change, especially if they’re with unexpected partners. When it comes to tackling thorny issues such as sustainability — where systemic, rather than individual change is the key — Hoang challenges brands to band together with competitors for a formidable “team of rivals.” When striving towards a worthy cause such as sustainability, a little healthy competition — and cumulative corporate muscle — might just be the ticket.
Shifting the tenor of communication from alarmist to celebratory
Another issue to be tackled is the reporting on sustainability. While the attempt to convey the seriousness of the crisis is laudable, reportage and communication on the space has often carried with it a sense that the worst eventualities have already come to pass. Asked about the impact of this communication, Desai said, “There is an alarmist tone and pessimism which weighs down sustainability, and the agenda for change. The big task for all of us as communicators is how do we find ways of making sustainable solutions fun, exciting, innovative, and optimistic? That is my next big brief for transformation — making everyday sustainability colloquial, fun, and optimistic. To say this is not just for the eco warriors, but for everyone.”