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Digital Transformation Festival Marketing

The Sustainability Group founder on how digital is transforming brand purpose


By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

March 31, 2020 | 4 min read

Mike Penrose, chief exec of The Sustainability Group believes digital has a significant role to play in driving home your sustainability credentials to customers.

'Unilever are advocates for the fact that sustainability can be profitable," Penrose poses

'Unilever are advocates for the fact that sustainability can be profitable," Penrose poses

“Through more digital capabilities, you can not only define causes that your customers care about you can also communicate them really effectively,” explains Penrose during an interview recorded a Q&A, as part of The Drum's Digital Transformation Festival.

“And it has an impact on the bottom line,” he continues. “And that's what's driving some of the big shifts we're seeing in the world today towards more sustainable brands, more sustainable consumption, and better environmental and social credentials.”

The former executive director of Unicef UK, Penrose knows a thing or two about doing ‘good’ work. Following his departure from the former, he founded The Sustainability Group. It works with companies and governments in helping them achieve sustainability and social impact in the work they do while showing them that sustainability can also be commercially viable.

He points to Unilever as a classic example that brands should look to emulate, referring to chief exec Alan Hope’s announcement that it will be divesting itself of all non-sustainable brands.

“It also dates back to Paul Polman's era and Keith Weed who were really strong advocates for the fact that this doesn't just make social sense, but that it's actually quite profitable,” Penrose insists. “And it's proven in the statistics, with some of their sustainable brands performing 60% higher than the non-sustainable ones.”

In his role at The Sustainability Group, he has seen first-hand how digital has been transforming how brands can do sustainability.

“We’ve been helping organisations better define the positive impacts their products can have on the world, by using digital means to measure it in a very broad sense,” he says after he advised businesses to not only consider the effect their product has on markets but on the planet.

“Digital technology allows us to compare businesses with different organisations, so our clients can see the environmental, the social, the climatic, the diversity and inclusion impact in the broad spectrum of what constitutes sustainability on their brand and then measure that against performance.”

Penrose believes that the biggest change that we will see in the world will be when brands take sustainability seriously, and it starts to translate through to positive social change. “That is going to bridge the $2Tn financial gap we have at the Sustainable Development Goals. It's not going to be through more charitable activity, it's going to be how brands actually take sustainability seriously,” he insists"

You can watch the full interview here and view more content from The Drum's Digital Transformation Festival here.

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