To kick off the final day of Brand-Led Culture Change, attendees were treated to a broad series of examples, from a wide swath of experts, of clever strategies that lead to behavior change.
Finding the right levers: Strategies for effective behavior change
First up, Project InsideOut founder Renee Lertzman and Christina Niemelä Ström, Head of Sustainability at IKEA Supply, teamed up to explain why the newly developed or Internal Development Goals are just as important as UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“It’s one thing to have targets, goals, metrics and pledges. But the real question is, how do we actually get there? Because, as we all know, it is complicated,” Lertzman said.
Cue the IDGs, developed by a coalition of partners — including the University Stockholm School of Economics, Ashoka, IKEA, Google and Spotify — and launched this year. Much like the SDGs, the IDGs are built around a “synergistic, elegant, simple framework that just about any organization can grab hold of and work with.” They are designed to get organisations thinking about their competencies for integrity, authenticity, openness to learning, mindset, self-awareness and presence. It enables them to assess and understand their capability for critical thinking, long-term orientation and visioning.
As one of the collaborating partners, IKEA got a chance to engage with the IDGs framework when it was in its early stages of development.
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“To work with complex issues and sustainability challenges … you need to pay big attention also to the inner development of us as humans, individuals, and together in teams. So, we wanted to work with that,” Ström said. The Swedish company now plans to use the IDGs framework to enhance its response to the sustainability challenge by embedding it into individual and team development plans.
Another tangible strategy explored was that of Unilever’s mayonnaise brand, Hellman’s. Benjamin Crook, the company’s Senior Marketing Director in North America, was on hand to explain how creative marketing and comedy can help to land sustainability messages. In 2021, the brand used its Super Bowl ad to make sure its story was made loud and clear. It’s easier said than done, Crook said. “Each year, there are 80 to 90 different Super Bowl commercial viewers to watch. So, in a window of 30 seconds, you have to stand out and be remembered. Knowing all of this, we set out to create something that would be unmissable.” The result was a funny ad about food waste. “We felt that taking a comedic approach to convey our purpose could spark some joy, provide some creative thinking and ‘a-ha’ moments for people when it comes to food and their fridge.” The thinking was that comedy can deliver messages in a way that drums up emotion, connection and conversation. It worked.
Beyond the funny commercials, Crook said it was crucial that Hellman’s helped to educate its audience and work to make impactful change — so, for each Super Bowl campaign, it ramped up its donation effort. “In 2022, we partnered with Feeding America to provide 500,000 meals to those in need and secured an additional 5,000 meals for every in-game tackle.”
Michiel Bakker, Google’s VP of Global Workplace Programs, closed out the morning plenary by exploring how brands can apply holistic systems thinking to solving behavioral change problems — and amplify their impact. The result is called the Flywheel Effect. Bakker asked the audience to imagine that their goal was to nudge their employees into making healthier and more sustainable food choices at work.
“A number of years ago, we decreased the size of our plates [in the canteen] from 11 inches to 9. And guess what? That simple change enabled our workforce to eat less on a daily basis. And they didn't even realize it, because we just changed the ecosystem. It’s one of the levers,” he explained.
Another example was how Google encouraged people to drink more water and less soda in the workplace. “How do you go about it? It’s not by just telling people and inviting them to drink more water.” Instead, they looked at the lever of systems and changed the context of all beverage coolers around the world — reorganizing products, placing bottled water below diet drinks. “It makes the better choice the easier choice, and it works.”
To wrap up the session, Fred Bucher, Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer at The Weather Channel, explained how the TV forecasters (celebrating their 40th year on the airwaves) plan to be the go-to source for insight and explanation of the climate crisis through its expert and interactive coverage. Bucher decried the lack of science behind TV news coverage of climate change: “As a business, we want to be the go-to source for science-based climate change coverage … combining our world-class, science-based journalism with state-of-the-art technology to tell stories that can't be found anywhere else.”
How and when brands can best engage in crisis
There was a time when brands pleaded the fifth during crisis, but those days are over. Brands are poised to leverage their influence to address key issues of the day; but the line between doing the right thing and self-interest can often be a blurry one.
Business action on social and environmental issues is often a buffer against reputational and legal risk. Take, for example, the brand exodus from Myanmar after the coup in 2021. One unfortunate result was that the business vacuum was filled by unethical kleptocrats and many suffered, particularly women.
When companies make black-and-white decisions, it’s usually to protect against ESG risks. But that doesn't always mean the best for the greater good.
“We can end up with unintended consequences that can actually make the problems we’re trying to solve worse,” said Alison Taylor, Executive Director at Ethical Systems and adjunct professor at New York University.
Corporates tend to be risk averse, but they must be risk tolerant; and defaulting to values and principles is the best way to strengthen resilience.
Elizabeth Morrison, Chief DEI Officer at Levi Strauss & Co, described her company’s approach to using foundational values as anchors during turbulent times — one of these values is discretion on where to take a stand.
“If we speak out on everything, it will mean nothing,” Morrison pointed out.
Brands are facing bombardments on multiple fronts, both internally and externally. These can’t be addressed with platitudes; nor should brands jump every time someone yells on social media. Morrison’s advice: Be thoughtful on the things you can meaningfully influence that are very impactful for stakeholders and your business and don’t leverage PR at the expense of action.
Taylor warned against corporate rhetoric, citing the potential for brands to generate backlash. Taylor and Morrison implored purposeful brands to only speak out if their words match their actions and are rooted in established values. Make decisions on that basis, and don’t apologize.
Taylor noted that the current, polarizing political discourse often isn’t representative of the average consumer, so taking cues from Washington on which issues to speak up against and how to address them isn’t the best idea. In recent years, brands have been compelled to step up and speak up amidst an environment rife with mudslinging and cancel culture; so, companies must center on their locus of influence and focus on their principles. Building mechanisms for listening is the best way to combat rage and polarization.
“What we really need is to have a more grown-up discussion about what we should expect corporations to do about issues and encourage them to get their own house in order before they start taking controversial positions,” Taylor said.
Aligning leadership with values and principles fosters accountability and counters hypocrisy. But the best medicine is prevention; so, if society is yelling at you to make a difference you can’t make, don’t say you can.
How to communicate corporate sustainability
How to communicate corporate sustainability is broad and nuanced — with factors to consider including compliance and regulations; best practices; and the omnipresent, slippery slope of greenwashing.
OneTrust runs the gamut between data privacy, third-party risk management and ESG. Director of Product Marketing Jamie Molnar shared how to deepen understanding of communicating corporate sustainability efforts, and how to leverage ESG insights to drive clear, authentic stakeholder communications around sustainability.
The sustainability transformation is among the biggest the business world has ever seen, she said. It goes beyond carbon accounting — incorporating a broad range of drivers including identifying and measuring the impact of policies and procedures, and how these policies and procedures impact brand, revenue, company valuation, market perception and risk. Furthermore, ESG acts as a driver for top-line growth by attracting talent, reducing costs, and building trust among stakeholders — and trust is driving the next decade of growth and differentiation, Molnar said.
“Trusting a brand is so much more important than it was before,” Molnar said, citing the reputational risk done from high-profile data leaks among tech and financial companies.
People only want to engage with brands that make them feel secure, she said, citing changes in society, regulations and technology that have driven ESG awareness in the past several years. And research shows trust offers a competitive advantage. People are 7x more willing to pay premium prices, 7x more willing to share personal data, and 6x more loyal to brands they trust.
Consumer trust should be a main KPI and serve as a proxy for whether other ESG targets are on track. Why? Because sustainability is important to nearly 8 in 10 consumers, with further indications that they are watching brands that act responsibly.
“At the end of the day, CEOs have realized that ethically, [sustainability] makes sense; but it also makes great sense for the business,” Molnar said.
These business benefits create feedback loops of change that ripple down the value change, from C-suite to regulators.
Regulators, in particular, are poised to start forcing change in response to corporate greenwashing. Europe recently adopted anti-greenwashing regulations, and the SEC has proposed new regulations on climate impact-related disclosures.
First-movers in sustainability will have a strong advantage, Molnar said, citing early adopters of the digital transformation. Sustainability will yield similar seismic market changes, and similar benefits to brands that adopt early. Molnar laid out best practices to aid in successful transition to the sustainable transformation:
Compliance: A first step
Marketing: Set targets and report on progress against those targets
Procurement: Ensure supplier alignment with ESG policies to mitigate risk
Corporate communications: Communicate to customers through verified trust centers
A breach or misalignment in any of the above could lead to reputational or regulatory risk. Molnar provided three insights to consider when communicating ESG initiatives:
Be clear about what a brand promise is and isn’t. It must be measurable.
Fulfill on your brand promise or modify it if you can’t. Have a path to fulfill promises.
Know consumer perception of your brand. Understand your place in the marketplace, so you can align ESG initiatives with your competitors.
“At OneTrust, we believe what’s good for society is good for business,” Molnar concluded. “ESG is really the most important KPI of our time, and we all hold it in our hands to manage it right.”
Is carbon labeling right for you? Hint: the answer is ‘yes’
As Sandra Noonan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Just Salad, explained: Carbon labeling is a great way to “... forge a new conversation with consumers about the connection between what we eat and our carbon footprint.”
Just Salad has been carbon-labeling its menu items since 2020. Noonan said an early challenge was tracking the final disposal of consumer packaging waste. Only then was a full ‘cradle-to-grave’ LCA completed — a process that measured the emissions of Just Salad’s ingredients during the agricultural production, packaging, processing, distribution, consumer use and end-of-life stages; as well as emissions from consumer packaging.
Meanwhile, mealkit giant HelloFresh is still working towards publishing specific carbon-emission numbers. Director of Sustainability Jeff Yorzyk said having LCA data for ingredients created new opportunities for stakeholder engagement and recipe creation. With 87 percent of food emissions coming from the on-farm agricultural stage and the land-use change, Yorzyk acknowledged that a fundamental move is to source lower-carbon foods. While continuing to work with its global supply chain towards this long-term goal, HelloFresh launched a low-carbon label in its European market and is piloting variant labels in the US.
Christina Lampert, Director of Growth and Innovation at HowGood, understands that quantitative values alone are not digestible. For products on HowGood’s climate-friendly food database, this means qualifying products that have a farm-to-gate footprint that is lower than 70 percent of the 200 million products already rated by HowGood.
Edwina Hughes, head of WRI's Cool Food initiative, explained that the “Cool Food Badge" establishes a maximum recommended daily carbon footprint for a person’s diet aligned with 2030 climate reduction goals — a threshold that is 38 percent smaller than the current US average. Hughes emphasized the importance of making carbon labeling simple, short and easy to understand. Currently, people are not fluent enough in CO2 information to make a decision based on detailed labels. It’s better to meet consumers where they’re at and be selective with presentation of emissions data.
“It’s meant to engage consumers in a conversation around climate-friendly food,” Hughes said.
Lampert pointed out the many ways to illuminate carbon information to the consumer. Just Salad, for instance, communicates carbon data in many creative ways: It curates its lowest-carbon-emitting items into a dietary filter called the ‘Climatarian’ menu, offers promotions for selection of low-carbon menu items, and includes QR codes to allow easy access to a dish’s carbon data.
After launching the Climate Hero tag for a segment of its European market, HelloFresh continues an exciting phase of piloting different label formats in the US — including a ‘Climate Superstar’ tag and an ABC gradient of high, medium or low CO2e ratings. With messaging, a recent WRI study found that including environmental messages in a restaurant's menu encouraged consumers to select plant-based foods.
How can brands communicate about efforts that go beyond carbon emissions? For Yorzyk, brands should talk about how they are bringing regenerative ag practices to supply chains. Just Salad tells the story of its sourcing via highlighting a certified regenerative organic ingredient on the menu for one month, along with a deeper explanation of the benefits in an email newsletter to loyalty customers. Ultimately, carbon labeling is one of many sustainability levers that continue to push the needle further towards a collaboratively regenerative future while enhancing brand affinity.
Don’t toot your own horn: Principles of successful purpose-driven ad campaigns
The sustainability transformation requires advertising with unprecedented levels of creativity and empirical knowledge. Brand-Led Culture Change came to a calose with a set of interviews examining successful, purpose-driven ad campaigns.
First, Thomas Kolster, aka “Mr. Goodvertising,” shared an ongoing study comparing the impact of ads based on the underlying narratives of ‘purposeful’ or ‘transformative.’ Purposeful ads invite audiences to “believe in us as an organization to bring about change”; while transformative ads convey the message, “Believe in your own ability to bring about change,” with the brand as a coach rather than a preacher — putting its audience at the center of the action. Early findings of the study showed that transformative ads are 4-10 percent better at inspiring action.
“It’s time to start evolving how we look at purpose-driven ads and step more carefully when we put on the hero’s cape,” Kolster said to, and about, brands, “because how many heroes can we have in the supermarket aisle or during a commercial break?”
“Ultimately, it’s not about putting on the hero’s cape but turning all of us [consumers] into the heroes of our own lives,” Kolster said.
The next interview delved into Cascade’s “We do it every night” campaign, which cheekily addresses the need for water conservation by promoting the use of an energy-efficient dishwasher every night. Research shows that dishwashers are more water efficient than hand-washing; but many people still believe the opposite. Elizabeth Kinney, Senior Director of Communications Homecare at Procter & Gamble, explained the challenges of disrupting ingrained mindsets regarding a low-engagement, commonplace behavior such as washing dishes.
In the final interview, Tionna Cunningham, Marketing Director at Stacy’s Pita Chips, shared the inspiring story behind Stacy's Rise Project and #shareforher campaign. As a women-owned and -run brand, Stacy’s felt the need to support other female entrepreneurs — many of whom experienced additional difficulties during the pandemic. What started with turning signs from Women’s’ Marches into emblematic packaging evolved into a full-scale, annual grant and mentoring program where women entrepreneurs receive PepsiCo executive mentoring and support.
Cunningham shared the story of domestic violence survivor, single mom and Stacy’s Rise Project grantee Junita Flowers, founder of Junita’s Jar — a cookie company that supports other domestic survivors. On the verge of closing her business due to financial constraints, Flowers was awarded a grant from Stacy’s Rise Project. Just as the mentoring program was about to start, George Floyd was murdered across the street from her Minneapolis shop. Despite a series of stressful circumstances and added injustice trauma in her own backyard, Flowers persevered with the mentoring program — and Junita’s Jar recently secured distribution into 300 Target stores.
For Stacy’s, success means growing the business in ways that people can resonate with. It’s counting customer growth but also the number of new women being spotlighted, the level of engagement by employees, participants, program leaders, mentors, subject matter experts, as well as staff across the retail aisle.
“Everybody wins when we team up and look at a full ecosystem of results,” Cunningham said.
The moral of the story: Brands should be humble in their purpose work but still recognize the opportunity they have to play a role in other's successes, both large and small. Sometimes social issues feel distant and unrelated to where brands should focus their energy; but when a brand finds the intersections that are authentic to its identity, quintessential examples of purpose-driven success such as Junita’s Jar can demonstrate the power of business to uplift communities when it is most needed.