Brands turn to sustainable practices, as consumers call for climate action

Industry experts offer insights into innovative sustainable marketing practices

MUMBAI: Consumers today expect brands to take responsibility towards following sustainable practices, while being more aware of their choices. And they expect action, not just empty promises on sustainability, according to a recent BBC Global News study which revealed that 80 per cent of consumers in the Asia Pacific region agree that demonstrating a commitment to sustainability adds value to the brand. But where do brands stand on sustainability today?

A virtual webinar - ‘Taking the Sustainability leap’ organised by BBC News in collaboration with on Thursday gave some valuable insights into innovative and sustainable marketing practices adopted by some of the leading brands who have taken the sustainability plunge.

“The rise in global consumption levels over the last decades has been accompanied by a persistent increase in resource depletion and pollution, putting serious pressure on the environment well above its regenerative capacities,” said BBC Global News, SVP Commercial Development, Alistair McEwan as he initiated the discussion. “Without a significant change in current consumption and production patterns, the world will face strong environmental and economic costs such as those caused by projected climate change.”

The event that shared case studies from sustainability leaders across the globe kicked off with a panel discussion on ‘Leading with Innovation and Inspiration’ led by The R Collective founder and CEO Christina Dean, Climate Force founder Barney Swan, The Fabrick lab founder Elaine Yan Ling Ng, and Sophie’s BioNutrients co-founder and CEO Eugene Wang.

Other key speakers at the event included Maruti Suzuki India, assistant vice president-sustainability and carbon neutrality G P Chaddha, Godrej Group, head-environmental sustainability Ram Vaidyanathan, Tata Consultancy Services, head of sustainability marketing, Preeti Gandhi, Lenovo, head of communications, Asia Pacific, Geneviene Hilton, and Honasa Consumer Pvt Ltd (MamaEarth) vice-president marketing Sambit Dash. The discussion was moderated by BBC News senior journalist Devina Gupta.

Shooting down the notion that sustainability and business profitability cannot go hand-in-hand, Godrej Group’s Ram Vaidyanathan pointed out that companies with stronger sustainable principles and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) practices have far out-performed the other companies on pure financial indicators as well. “80 per cent of sustainable initiatives are actually cost-saving, simply by being more efficient in the way we use resources,” he added, highlighting that from an investor’s perspective too it makes sense as strong ESG performance and processes are de-risking investments.

"The current situation in India is that we're still trying to make companies ESG-compliant. There's a bit of regulatory pressure too," said Maruti Suzuki’s GP Chaddha, adding that while production came to a virtual standstill during the pandemic, sustainable practices helped the company to bounce back quicker than others.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)’s Preeti Gandhi talked about the low carbon emissions observed across the country and globally during the pandemic due to the prevalence of WFH and minimal commutes. “It is important for us to continue these reductions over the long term as we come back to work and return to normalcy,” she said, citing some of the efficiency measures the company has implemented over this period such including the hybrid working initiatives like ‘25 by 25’ wherein only 25 per cent of its employees will commute to work by the year 2025. “This would hopefully ensure that we continue to see the environmental resilience to continue, even post-pandemic.”

Lenovo’s Geneviene Hilton underlined the fact that sustainability needs to be ingrained into the entire business from the start, for it to be truly effective. "Consumers today are also keen to know about the environmental, social, and governance measures that companies undertake," she said.

Taking the belief of embedding environmental sustainability into the business’ foundation, Mamaearth’s Sambit Dash talked about the PETA-certified brand’s vision about being a purpose-led brand wanting to make a good impact on the environment as well as society. “We recycled more plastic than we produced from the beginning. Therefore, at a time when other brands are trying to be ‘plastic neutral,’ we have been ‘plastic positive’ right from the start,” shared Dash.

GP Chadhha referred to Maruti’s tagline of “Petrol khatam hi nahi hota” as evidence of its fuel-efficient cars. “There's a need to increase incentivisation for brands and customers to start moving in the sustainable and carbon-neutral direction,” he said.

According to Godrej’s Ram Vaidyanathan, the Customer is the biggest stakeholder when it comes to deciding the kind of products that any company makes, so that’s a big driver when it comes to sustainable products. He believes packaging should be the biggest area where those companies must focus on to create maximum impact.

Gandhi also threw light on the role of media in championing the cause of sustainable consumerism and de-mystifying the eco-labels. “When it came to creating systems and platforms for eco-friendly collaborations, it must be led by the policy thinkers and changemakers across the board towards specific goals in driving sustainable development for all,” she noted.

The event also saw BBC Future Planet editor Martha Henriques shedding some light on how BBC is doing its part of the sustainability of the planet. BBC Future Planet is the first major online publication launched in 2020, with a sole focus on climate change that also aims to be as close to zero carbon as possible. BBC StoryWorks APAC director Nicola Eliot discussed how brands are partnering with the BBC to tell their stories on forging an effective sustainability journey.

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