More and more businesses are taking sustainability seriously. The Purposeful Company recently announced that 14 of the UK’s top companies have pledged to put employees, communities and broader society higher on their boardroom agenda.
In the UK, on average, one company per day is gaining B Corp certified status. Even the FT has recently said that “rewards await those who put sustainability ahead of short-term gains”.
There has also recently been a wave of books devoted to the concept of ‘conscious capitalism’, from John Elkington’s Green Swans to Mark Carney’s Value(s) via Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.
The consensus is that we still need to make significant changes to the way we make, sell and buy our stuff; but change is happening, and businesses are realizing that sustainability and profitability are not contradictions (in fact, they are often catalysts).
Saving the planet through conversion optimization
What can we, as advertisers and marketers, do to help? Well, according to the World Federation of Advertisers, quite a lot...
They’ve recently launched ’Planet Pledge’ in an attempt to create a framework to galvanize our industry to make a difference.
We need to stop thinking of ourselves as merely ’consumer drivers’ and look at the bigger picture – and who else is better placed to help shape consumer behavior and preferences than marketing and advertising specialists?
As someone who works in conversion optimization, I've been considering how to add this way of thinking to our armory. We’re used to considering various heuristic frameworks, cognitive biases and persuasive mechanisms when seeking to refine customer journeys; let’s overlay the importance of sustainability factors too.
In order to do this, I found an incredibly useful resource from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board: their ’Materiality Map’. It’s a detailed summary of the sustainability issues most likely to affect the performance of companies in different markets and industries.
These issues can act as a proxy for consumer preference and help us move away from just thinking about ’sustainability’ as a whole, and dig deeper into what really matters.
Let’s look at how this helps frame the success of three examples:
Home furnishings: Ikea
From the SASB Materiality Map we can see that under the building products and furnishings section, one of the key factors is product design and lifecycle management. As they state themselves, this relates to the way a company manages the product lifecycle, including end-of-life.
Our conversion optimization experience also tells us that consumers respond well to reciprocity (will feel a need to give back to others if they’ve gained themselves) and also commitment (when someone publicly commits to doing something that aligns with our values).
With this in mind, you can see why Ikea’s ‘buy-back’ service could be a great success for them... as well as generate some fantastic PR.
Consumer finance: Nationwide
Nationwide has always created compelling messaging built on their heritage as a building society, hence their investment in community.
When it comes to typically persuasive messages that would align with this, we’d probably lead with social proof (evidence that other people have been here before) or liking (we like to buy from people and organizations that seem ‘similar’ to us).
But if we consider the sustainability factors, it reminds us that financial institutions are judged very closely on factors such as privacy and data security – remember, sustainability isn’t just about treating the environment well, it’s about treating people and society well too.
If you take a look at the Nationwide website, and many of their advertising campaigns, you can clearly see plenty of references to the crossover between data security, privacy and community. It’s not at all surprising why this is impactful.
Fashion: Bamboo Clothing
Sustainability has always been a core part of the mission for Bamboo Clothing (you can read their story here), so messaging around sustainability obviously features significantly along the customer journey.
However (and I’m trying to be objective because they are a client of ours), they display these messages in some fantastic ways.
From a conversion optimization perspective, the journey contains prominent, product-level, third-party reviews that provide reassurance.
The website has loads of great content around sustainability, which cements their value proposition as a leader in this area; plus, they do a great job of reducing anxiety by providing clear messages around their flexible delivery and returns policies.
But it’s one specific sustainability element that I want to highlight.
If we go back to the SASB Materiality Map, we can see that in the apparel, accessories and footwear sector, two of the key factors are supply chain management, and materials sourcing and efficiency; consumers want to know their product has been produced in a truly sustainable way.
What better way to do this than show the impact of every item’s production on the environment? Bamboo Clothing has worked with Green Story, a Canadian business specializing in supply chain evaluation in the fashion industry.
The objective credibility of this is great, but it’s the execution that’s brilliant. For each product, they then display the positive impact the consumer will have if they purchase this product from the supplier in question compared to a regular fashion retailer.
Sustainably-conscious customers can toggle between a view that shows the ‘equivalent’ impact (for example, water saved is shown in ‘days of drinking water’) or the ‘actual’ (water saved shown in liters)
Each of these businesses has taken an approach to sustainability that is more meaningful and widespread rather than using it simply as a tool to nudge someone along the customer journey; for an increasingly sustainability-conscious consumer, that authenticity is key.
However, it’s the way they are then leveraging that approach, inserting compelling signposts to improve their website performance, that is impressive.
I expect to see more and more of this over the coming year; as such, maybe those of us working in conversion optimization just might be able to do our bit extra to help save the planet.