Building a culture around sustainability is important, but we’re doing it wrong
As the greenwashing backlash grows louder and stronger, Media.Monks senior creative Herbert Pradjaja says agencies and brands need to rethink how they approach sustainability.
Accusations of greenwashing are all around us. It’s no surprise because the marketing industry often takes off from the wrong starting point when it comes to being green.
Here’s my take on it. Being sustainable is not just about sexy headlines and making every brand a tree hugger (though it won’t hurt). It’s about changing the habits of consumers, staff and companies. We need to be in the habit of going green. The starting point needs to be a question: do you have a greener solution? If we focus on changing lives and behaviours first, staff and customers will join you—we’ve been doing it the wrong way around. Habits change minds.
Starting small with culture
To drive the importance of sustainability, we first need to embed it into the culture of the business, so it grows into a habit. How? Start small.
Here’s the challenge: microaggression. Most of the time, expectations of a sustainable workplace turn into pinpointing those who don’t adopt sustainable practices in the office. This is why it’s hard to make things stick. The secret to this is focusing on instant gratification.
For example: in our Singapore office, we’ve installed a green wall that grows vegetables and herbs. We harvest the wall once a week and Singapore.Monks take these fresh vegetables home, or make lunches out of them. It serves as a beautiful visual reminder in the office but, most importantly, there’s an instant salad (read: reward).
Flipping this on its head, we also have a cupboard with reusable lunch boxes for people to use when grabbing some takeaway from hawkers or restaurants. There’s an honesty system where anyone who doesn’t use these lunchboxes, and instead brings back single-use plastic, is supposed to drop money in a donation jar—an instant dollar off your savings rather than a reward. Small change for climate change. All the dollars we collect help supply the reusable boxes and make this much easier for people to adopt this sustainable habit.
The truth about these small changes is that, once you taste them, you want more. It’s the gateway drug to being greener. Daily dosages are more impactful than one-time stunts.
From wishlist to priority
The next step is to elevate this into bigger ideas, for your own company or for clients.
The first place to start is changing the mindset of sustainability, which is seen as a good thing to have and not a responsibility. This is fundamentally driven from the top but if you are not the chief-of-sustainability-and-all-other-green-stuff of your company, the easy place to start is showing how sustainability efforts correlate with performance.
This can improve the performance of marketing initiatives or even efficiencies within the business. For instance, having a green wall means we have free lunch! And that means Monks are more willing to come in more often, grab a salad and mingle around, resulting in better collaborations which indirectly impacts the work. Doing good and having good business results are not mutually exclusive.
Many brands don’t see a relationship between performance and sustainability efforts and this is exactly the role that agencies can take on to help bridge that. It is, therefore, an agency’s prerogative to also take on the responsibility to pitch sustainable ideas.
How to sell it in
With topics like sustainability that are fundamentally new or require a significant change, we tend to think that it takes too much investment, it’s too risky.
As an agency, we should be our clients' partners. Start by understanding their business and their challenges. If for every festive period, they need to do a premium to be given away because it helps boost sales, we could propose a premium that grows, so that it can help boost their brand image on top of it. The key is to put yourself as part of the brand’s team and know how to solve business problems. This isn’t about translating ideas to them, it’s about speaking their language.
You are the best test bed
This shift in culture can be applied to a wider remit than sustainability. Ultimately what drives this is a culture of testing and learning. When Media.Monks wants to do something new, we use ourselves first as a litmus test, it’s in our DNA. The headlines that come from being greener are a wonderful bonus, but it should be nothing in comparison to what’s being done day-to-day. That’s what being green is all about. It’s not just all about innovation because it’s an aspiration—it’s our collective responsibility.
Herbert Pradjaja is senior creative at Media.Monks