Content engines — as we have seen so far in this series — have many uses, from helping brands reach their business goals to powering the next generation of consumer experiences. But the content engine framework, in its capacity to streamline an organisation’s processes, also lends itself to the important business of delivering on a brand’s sustainability goals.
The modern consumer is increasingly environmentally and socially aware and they demand products, brands, and experiences that show similar savvy when it comes to sustainability and social responsibility, from the sourcing of materials and avoiding single-use plastic packaging to how they treat employees, the impact of their processes on the world, and where they invest their profits.
Kantar’s 2023 Sustainability Index revealed that 98% of APAC consumers want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, while in a 2022 Bain & Company survey, 80% of eco-conscious respondents said they would recommend sustainable products they were satisfied with. As consumers become increasingly sustainability conscious, it is clear that choices and commitments that brands make matter more than ever.
Content engines and sustainability
In fact, the two go hand in hand, according to Tamara Davenport, head of channel activation, APAC, at Tag.
“A content engine and sustainability practices are designed with similar goals from different points of view,” she said. Referencing sustainability’s oft-repeated 3R concept (‘reduce, reuse, recycle’), she stated that increasing efficiency, by reducing and reusing assets for example, “is what our content engines are built around.”
Helping brands make better, more informed choices
Sustainability is a battle all brands must fight; it is a well-trodden path when it comes to corporate initiatives — think restorative forestry and purchasing carbon offsets. Noble as those efforts are, a more effective approach is to be proactive rather than reactive — a shift that the content engine can help to facilitate.
Sustainability is about choices and content engines can effectively be used to make the right one.
“Our role as a partner is to very proactively educate or influence our clients to effect more fundamental change in their performance that can reduce their negative impact on the environment, minimise risk, and improve operations,” said Doris Lee, ESG analyst at Tag.
For agencies, a key part of that is strategy — working with brands to understand their KPIs and then underpinning processes to capture the data needed to move the dial against them. Only then can you present the most suitable options and underscore any potential trade-offs in the R&D stage.
This process is enabled by the sustainable content engine framework, and taking such steps can help brands embed sustainability at the heart of their engine.
KPIs are only one aspect, though. “We also have to make sure that the product and aesthetic are appropriate and marketable,” said Lee.
Embedding the analysis of benefits and drawbacks of each option within the content engine helps explain the differences in choices and the impact each will have on aesthetics — like how swapping white paper to kraft paper will give the product a rawer feel — and cost.
Embedding sustainability into the content engine
Ideally, this all fits with the brand’s vision, and sustainability can be embedded into the content engine. A knock-on effect of that is increased organisational efficiency — saving time and money, as well as the planet.
“The basic premise of the content engine is to consider all the different channels and verticals from the beginning and remove silos. It also means considering all of the assets that you want to produce or deliver at the outset,” said Davenport.
This symbiotic support and holistic mindset applies to everything, not just physical products. By working cross-functionally in a content engine, brands can reduce duplication and make smarter, more efficient decisions in their digital processes, such as reusing digital assets and even reducing the number of assets created in the first place.
"Better choices can be as simple as choosing between a physical photo or video shoot and using virtual production to simulate the same shoot," said Davenport, "with the latter reducing your carbon footprint. Or, they could be as complex as analysing every aspect of a global series of experiential consumer events to effectively deliver them in the most sustainable manner."
“If you were going to run a similar event in multiple markets, you can start to think about how physical attributes are designed so that they’re flat-packed when taken down, so you’re reducing the carbon footprint when moving it around and you’re removing the need to recreate the same physical products,” she explained.
Getting to that stage means ensuring that everyone involved — from project managers to designers to sourcing teams — understands how their day-to-day decision-making drives the organisation’s overall sustainability vision.
When that mindset is embedded alongside investment in such practices, it opens brands up to building a sustainable consumer journey and driving growth.
Davenport points to incentivising clients and consumers to pick environmentally friendly options using CRM platforms — for example, pick a slightly later delivery date to allow the route to fill up, thereby reducing waste, and receive a few points or credits towards future orders.
“I think it’s really important that sustainability doesn’t become this hard thing to do, and is seen as a way for brands to grow revenue, drive change and sales, and really position themselves as sustainable by bringing consumers on the journey with them,” she said.
This leads back to incrementality and having sustainability integrated into all functions across the content engine. Instead of having sustainability leads for each part of the engine, Davenport advocates for having a broader spectrum understanding to make smarter decisions.
“I think that there’s a massive upskilling happening right now within all businesses around sustainability,” she said.
This is no longer about job titles, roles, and responsibilities. The journey now includes all teams and individuals, with an increasing adoption of training and education in environmental, ethical, and sustainable decision-making across the board.
“Everyone, no matter what role they are in, has recognised a responsibility to understand how they can impact the overarching sustainability strategy of their organisation,” she explained.
“I think that fundamentally, all content engines should be sustainable. Sustainability shouldn’t necessarily be a distinguishing factor between the two because really, they’re one and the same thing,” concluded Davenport.
So where does sustainability fit with accountability?
“Information is the only currency that matters,” said Lee. “Providing quality information is the key to corporate sustainability.” Keeping accurate data in a brand’s internal content engine is what enables them to properly meet their sustainability KPI targets.
Making changes is one thing, understanding them is quite another. To truly appreciate the cumulative impact of these incremental changes, each step of the content production life cycle needs to be well thought out.
Most crucially, the organisation needs to set science-based targets and goals, and then weave data collection and analysis into the content engine to support sustainability.
Lee recommends a four-step process: establish a net zero corporate strategy; set science-based targets as a baseline to track sustainability progress; take part in climate disclosure programmes (CDP); and finally, execution.
“Doing this means you have to set the capability for carbon footprint monitoring,” Lee says. “This is very important and ensures that the company calculates its carbon footprint to know whether it falls under scope 1, 2, or 3.”
All of the above can be tracked and managed within the content engine framework, creating a single source of truth for all relevant sustainability metrics and data.
While this may sound complicated, for many companies, adopting more sustainable practices can start by simply using the content engine to see existing data in different ways — it enables everything to be seen and used by all relevant parties.
“If you think about it, a lot of that data is being captured for other reasons in businesses already. It’s just not being used in the context of sustainability,” Davenport said. “This brings us back to the content engine eliminating duplication. When sustainability sits outside of the core business function, it can be harder to progress.”
Organisations also need to consider what sustainability entails. Beyond environmental sustainability, equal emphasis should be placed on the social side of sustainability when considering that progress.
This means calling out the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and prosperity — also known as stakeholder capitalism, where brands consider the planet as a stakeholder when making decisions.
“It’s about thinking about what's the impact that we’re having on the communities around us,” Davenport said. That means asking questions about the profile of partners, such as how diverse they are and how the brand ensures they are engaging positively and proactively, and scrutinising the practices they have in place to ensure they are environmentally aware and ethical employers.
“The governance part of it ensures you’ve got the right processes in place to do work that respects your brand values and the brand’s sustainability policies,” she explained.
The future of sustainable engines
That’s the here and now, but what does the future have in store? AI is already being utilised by many organisations, but its rise and rapid development will open up more opportunities to drive further efficiency through sustainable content engines.
At Tag, AI complements content engines in several ways. These include summarising insights from briefs and identifying areas to remove wastage; reducing time and effort spent on creative concepting and ideation; streamlining the manipulation of images at high-quality scale; and validating a piece of messaging’s effectiveness. In real terms, these AI applications could mean creating renders rather than physical prototypes, or using eye-tracking technology to measure impact.
As with everything in life, moderation is key. AI models are highly energy- and resource-intensive, and should be used sparingly, cautioned Lee.
She advised keeping the usage of AI data in check by measuring the kilowatt hours (kWh) for each step and assessing its suitability. “We don’t want people to rely on and overuse AI; we must use it wisely,” said Lee.
That means using AI for its analytical capabilities — say, running different scenarios based on variations in the materials or manufacturing processes to predict the environmental impact of a product’s lifecycle — rather than at every possible opportunity. It is finding the best uses of AI — now and in the future as the technology evolves — where the content engine offers the most scope for improving sustainability.
Ultimately, a content engine can support sustainability by creating a closed-loop system for the ongoing creation, distribution, and management of content by acting as a single source of information for all of those seemingly small but ever-important decisions.
“Essentially, it creates a single ecosystem which then leads to a culture of checking what’s there in an easily accessible way,” said Davenport.
Within the content engine, she explained further, the tracking of other metrics like efficiency rates and time enables teams to continuously improve efficiency.
“If we know time is being wasted or things are going unused, we can dig deeper. Take the assets that we create,” she said. “What’s being used, how often is it being used? Does it even need to be created in the first place? How does it help drive what we do for our next execution?”
Asking these questions and having the information at hand is key to facilitating sustainability via content engines.
“When we talk about incremental change, we’re talking about giving people the information they need to make the right informed choice, at the very moment when they’re making that choice,” Davenport concluded. “Rather than looking back retrospectively and thinking ‘Oh, well, next time I’ll do it differently.’ It’s that in-the-moment decision-making.”
That is vital, as when it comes to sustainability, even the seemingly smallest decisions could change the world through incremental impact.