Emperor Foundation
Card image

Emperor foundation

Responsible business
Card image

Responsible business

Emerging Talent
Card image

Emerging Talent

We recently hosted 15 CEOs, CMOs and senior marketeers at a thought leadership summit with Warwick Business School at The Shard. Professor Laura Chamberlain facilitated, including thoughts from sustainability change leader and Emperor advisor Mike Barry.

The challenge

Creating a brand strategy that integrates sustainability and navigates the interconnected challenges of ESG, Net Zero and greenwashing can be a daunting task. How can we tackle these critical areas without getting it wrong and landing our business, brand and ourselves in trouble?

1. Start your vision – where do you want to be?

Thinking of your brand vision on three, five and 10-year horizons is essential to guide the development of meaningful goals and the questions you need to answer. This creates a starting point for internal conversations and space to integrate sustainability into your brand strategy. A meaningful corporate purpose this is an essential first step. This outlines why your organisation exists and ideally its positive impact on society and/or planet.

“For us it all starts with our purpose, which guides our decision making around how we will become a leader in our category and sustainability.”

2. Integrate sustainability ambitions – break down goals into manageable chunks

Thinking about purpose and vision will create perspectives on your sustainability ambitions. These high-level ambitions should feed into sustainability goals and strategy. ESG is useful on a more detailed level on specific actions required to get there.

“For our business, we realised it was ‘GSE’. We needed to tackle governance first, before we moved onto social and finally environment, which was more difficult.”

3. Consider the current business and its culture - ask ‘how do we measure up ourselves?’

Take a candid view of your business. What is absolutely core for your business and where are the biggest areas of activity? For example, supply chains might be where you spend the most money and have highest impact on emissions targets. At Emperor, we used the B Impact Assessment to guide our approach to responsible business, on our journey of continuous improvement. Painful at times, its driven significant enhancements in our business (and client work).

“It’s important to be honest with ourselves, we have to look at what we are doing in order to create meaningful change.”

4. Work from the inside out – your organisation will be your primary advocate

Build the case internally for change. Your brand should be relevant, compelling and authentic for your employees first. Brand strategy needs to be real for your people before external stakeholders are communicated with. Watch-out for siloes – it is essential that stakeholders are connected. At Emperor, this was critical, making our colleagues aware of our B Corp plans and the implications (on everything from business planning to investment to compensation). Our business now experiences higher retention rates than industry peers – a big plus for our clients.

“It was really important for us to spend the time to engage our organisation and achieve buy-in. The engagement has been more positive than we imagined and helped us build momentum.”

5. Use what’s around already – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel

Aiming for B Corp certification is a straightforward way of engaging with sustainability. There’s a well-trodden path and model for sustainable success. It can make it easier and more rewarding as the end point brings additional benefits and security for your business and brand. Could part of your brand vision be becoming a B Corp? It might not be appropriate for you but asking the question could help.

“Emperor invested a lot of money and time in becoming a B Corp. It was really helpful being able to follow their playbook and know we’d get where we needed to be by doing this.”

6. Ensure the goals are credible - check executive incentivisation is aligned for impact and authenticity

Sustainability goals can be notoriously vague and this opens up the risk of greenwashing. Check the goals of your organisation. To create meaningful impact, they need to be aligned with executive incentives. If not, it’s likely this misalignment will cause issues later. Accountability and showing year-on-year progress is the most difficult thing. If you can do that – you’re set for success.

“If you don’t measure it and it isn’t linked to incentives then it’s really difficult to be successful.”

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic or joining future events, please contact me at [email protected].