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18 April 2018

Sexy and Sustainable? YES we can!

The buzz of Lacoste’s Capsule polo line replacing its iconic croco logo with endangered species sends a positive signal to all brands: sustainability can be sexyDesigned to cast attention to the fragile equilibrium of biodiversity at the Paris 2018 Fashion Week, the line sold out immediately.

For Lacoste, ‘The Save Our Species’ polo shirts mark the beginning of a three-year partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Cynics will argue that Lacoste could work on a greener production line instead of selling polos. I asked myself the same question. But got pleasantly surprised when reading the brand’s extensive Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments.

Next to Lacoste, Lego recently announced they’ll market a range of eco-friendly bricks made from responsibly sourced sugar cane. The group wants to reduce its plastic waste by fully replacing current raw materials with eco-plastic by 2030. Not later than this year you’ll be able to buy the first set of sustainable plant shaped collection…raise your hand if you want to be a child again!

However, it is not just about owning a historical fashion item or some eco-friendly bricks.

Sutainability is the way to go to ethics economy

As marketers, we are sensitive about what customers want. Part of their expectations now includes a commitment from the brands they buy from on issues of general concern. The pull is dubbed by a push coming from employees who are themselves on the lookout for more purpose and positive impact in their jobs. Are we entering an economy of ethics? I’d dare to think so.

Today the circular economy is in a full scale-up phase. While initially encouraged by smaller, somehow marginal actors, big players like Coca-Cola, Unilever, L’Oréal and Mars are joining the movement. OK, to be fair there has been a decent amount of pressure from world leaders at the Economic Forum in Davos asking multinationals to step in. But who doesn’t need to be pushed to start to change…?

Ethics should be considered as a competitive advantage, a determining factor of choice between two comparable options for a picky customer. All organizations will have to confront sustainability. And this is not a boring nor a moralizing message anymore, but an exciting realm to explore. Winning on the 3Ps leads to opportunities such as supply chain optimization, employee retention, new product development at low CapEx and risk mitigation in the innovation funnel.

But how?

If CSR is only considered within organizations in an isolated manner, CSR will fail. Stories of customers discrediting shady make ups of multinationals got a lot of harmful press exposure (Shell, Coca-Cola,…). Sustainability needs to run in the corporation’s veins. What we see today is that many companies are still missing out because CSR is not integrated in key departments, namely marketing.

The Lacoste and Lego stories are sexy because they are so cohesive with their respective corporate long-term vision. These brands understood how to integrate good causes into their brand building strategy in order to win on all 3Ps and have involved their marketing departments closely to get there. 

CSR is not philanthropy. It starts with a clear business strategy. Social promises should meet business targets that are clearly communicated with internal and external stakeholders. No promises to be made before assessing how CSR investments support the organization’s objectives and practices.

In this context marketing can be the guardian of market success by providing relevant customer insights and preserving the brand identity when integrating a CSR dimension. If no customer-centric thinking is applied to the roll-out of sustainability policies, it will not have the desired effect on the bottom line.

The rise of viable sharing economy models as well as changing consumers’ and employees’ expectations create a positive climate to include more ethics into business models. Examples show that integrating sustainability factors can increasingly be achieved without compromise on financials targets and even reinforce brand equity. The most it takes is to start to look at things differently and find a cause that resonates with the brand’s core values. Adding this little effort, let’s make marketing make sustainability sexy and make sustainability a priority for marketing.

As a marketer, I sign for it. And you?