Sustainable Practices in Marketing and Communications
Late last year, California experienced the worst wildfires in the state’s history for the second year in a row. My colleagues in Media Cause’s San Francisco office and I had to wear face masks outside for two weeks due to the toxic levels of smoke in the air. This was without a doubt the most dramatic example of the impact of climate change on the local environment since the severe droughts we experienced two years before. I have two small children at home and I often find myself worrying about the world they will grow up in. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change lately.
At Media Cause, we spend most of our time helping mission-driven clients create positive social and environmental change. We’re thrilled to be working with organizations like Ceres, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and COOL Effect in their efforts to combat climate change.
But if we take a step back from the positive impact our mission-driven clients are making and turn our attention to our own industry, marketing and communications, what impact can we ourselves make to combat climate change?
Paper and Printing
As digital marketing, communications and design specialists, most of our work is created and distributed digitally, but we also develop printed communication materials for many of our clients. As an industry, we have the ability to choose recycled, Chlorine-free paper which will reduce the consumption of tree products. We can also use environmentally-friendly Volatile Organic Compound-free (VOC) which will curb the use of toxic chemicals. Whenever possible, we can advocate for environmentally-friendly print solutions.
Digital design also contributes to climate change through the heavy use of electricity. Applications and websites can be designed and developed to consume less power and use fewer CPU calculations. Additionally, new releases of apps can be designed to run on older devices in order to to decrease the throw-away rate of older devices and lower the amount of electronic waste.
Another important step to take is to switch to renewable energy. In California, there are an increasing number of options available when it comes to supplying our energy needs that don’t involve relying on public utility companies like PG&E (whose downed power lines, ironically, created the wildfires). Switching to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power will reduce gas and electricity usage and contribute to creating a sustainable workplace.
These are three relatively simple steps we can and should take as an industry in order to reduce our reliance on natural resources. But that’s really just the beginning.
What if we took it a step further, and changed the way we think about the actual messages and products we create for our clients and their audiences?
There are numerous examples out there of brands who have changed their mindsets, and their processes, in order to make a positive impact. Here are a few:
Apple and Verizon Support Renewable Energy
Both Apple and Verizon have made big commitments to renewable energy. Apple now powers all of its California stores, data centers and offices with solar energy. Verizon has partnered with Hawaiian Electric to develop a network of solar panels with smart sensors embedded into electricity meters which allows Hawaiian Electric to see how much energy is being sent to the grid from their solar programs. Technology companies may not make you think eco-friendly, but these are two examples of big tech brands trying to make a difference.
Starbucks Bans Plastics Straws
The coffee giant says it will eliminate plastic straws from all its stores by 2020 in an effort to reduce environmental plastic pollution. Phasing out single-use straws from 28,000 locations will cut out roughly 1 billion straws per year. Starbucks says the decision was motivated by requests from partners and customers.
Patagonia Supports the Environment
Patagonia is a very successful active wear company working to make a difference. They’ve built repair centers around the world to increase the life of their products and to lower their carbon footprint. Additionally, they pledge 10 million of their Black Friday sales each year to environmental groups.
The previous examples show that it’s possible for big, established brands to change their thinking in an effort to create positive change, even if it is the result of market demand. But there is also a new generation of young brands emerging — mission-driven green brands — that are radically rethinking what it means to do business in the face of climate change, by incorporating sustainability practices into multiple aspects of their business model. Here are a few examples:
Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger
We have several outspoken vegans and vegetarians at Media Cause. I am not one of them, and I love meat as much as the next person. However, there are two new brands disrupting the meat industry — an industry which many environmentalists say is a major culprit in climate change. Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger both make delicious plant-based meat products that meat-eaters can get behind, and they are better for humans and the environment.
Allbirds is a direct-to-consumer startup which designs environmentally friendly footwear. They sell several different types of shoes made from unusual materials derived from castor beans, eucalyptus trees and sugar cane.
Made Of creates everyday home, baby and skin care products that are organic and plant-derived. The company also believe in mandatory transparency standards for sourcing, manufacturing, testing, handling and certification.
California’s wildfires have been contained and we are no longer in a drought, but it feels like we are just waiting for the next emergency. The news and any Google search containing “climate change” present an alarming version of reality which can feel very overwhelming. But instead of giving in to fear, we have the opportunity to create change through small actions.
At Media Cause, we have the unique perspective of seeing things from the issue side as well as the marketing side. We have the responsibility of considering the impact of products and their messaging, and driving change for our clients while also facing challenges in our own industry. We know there’s no silver bullet to becoming more sustainable, but by keeping it top of mind in our everyday lives—at work and at home—we can get a little bit closer.