Marketing and sustainability – do these practices go together as a business program? In 2009 a research paper titled “Marketing and Sustainability” set out to “raise for debate among marketers the issue of the relationship between marketing and sustainability.” In the four years since, the evidence suggests that more and more businesses are focusing on sustainability as part of their ethos and business practices. The Sustainable Brands ’13 annual conference is coming up in early June and the number of participants and businesses involved this year are significant. Moreover, the list of prominent businesses attending such conferences is growing.
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Businesses such as Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Sony Pictures, Kaiser Permanente and Lululemon are just a few of the conference attendees that are now “embedding” sustainability into their business practices, not for any promotional reasons that will gain favor with their customers – instead, it makes good business sense. The idea of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), where People, Planet and Profit take center stage is now becoming mainstream for many businesses, because being sustainable in all areas of business is the key to long-term success. Treating the environment, employees, customers, suppliers and partners with the same high level of respect runs contrary to the old days where businesses were focused only “cut-throat” practices that left neglected each of the audiences in key areas.
The change in mindset came about in the 1990s when many public companies began adding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) officers or departments. Initially, CSR reporting in annual reports was as an “add-on” to what the company had done in the previous year that was deemed socially and ecologically responsible. It was more or less tacked on as part of due diligence in being responsible. However, in many cases this kind of reporting wasn’t necessarily addressing the main areas of production and supply chain.
In 1995, there was one company that took a unique and proactive approach toward TBL when it set forth its “Mission Zero” initiative that would see it become 100% sustainable by the year 2020. That company is InterfaceFLOR that manufactures carpet tiles. It’s CEO, Ray Anderson, had a vision where his company would be profitable while at the same time not taking away from the environment. From “cradle to grave,” Anderson’s approach to business was to do as little harm to the environment from sourcing materials, production of goods to the final sale and beyond with recycling. By creating less emissions, using carbon offsets and by demanding that sustainability be a part of all business practices, InterfaceFLOR is a profitable and environmentally responsible company today. Sadly, Ray Anderson died a few years ago, however his mission lives on and has inspired many others to follow suit.
What is your company doing to benefit this triple bottom line? Let us know.