CIM Marketing Podcast - Episode 51: How to free your brand’s green fear

CIM Marketing Podcast - Episode 51: How to free your brand’s green fear

Make sustainable marketing successful

This podcast will:

  • Show why a fear of sustainable marketing is holding the sector back
  • Explore the twin traps of green-washing and green-hushing
  • Reveal how marketers are perfectly placed to lead corporate sustainability drives

To find out more about driving sustainable change forward visit the CIM Sustainable Transformation Hub.

Podcast transcript

Intro  00:01

Welcome to the CIM Marketing Podcast. The contents and views expressed by individuals in the CIM Marketing Podcast, and not necessarily those are the companies for which they work. This series is currently being recorded via web conferencing. We apologise for any issues with the audio.

Ben Walker  00:19

Hi everybody and welcome to the CIM Marketing Podcast. Two golden greats of the podcast back with us today - it is Ally Cook, who joined us quite recently, is returning from CIM and Gemma Butler, the double-hatted Gemma Butler CIM's director of marketing, and co authoress of the hit book 'Sustainable Marketing' is with us today. Again, welcome back. Ladies. How are you?

Gemma Butler  00:50

Good. Thank you.

Ally Cook  00:51

Very well, thank you.

Ben Walker  00:53

Now, there's a phrase - a hackneyed phrase, a cliche - that was doing the rounds a while ago saying that if you go woke, you go broke. I think it's been disproved, but the latest attack is on purpose, not wokeness.  So, there's been attacks on companies like Unilever, and accusations that if they concentrate too much on purpose, it's not good for them. Is that fair Gemma, too much purpose and not enough purchase?

Gemma Butler  01:22

I think that you can never have too much purpose when you're discussing, you know, saving humanity and driving great change in, in what we do to the planet that we live on. But I also am a great believer that everything is about balance. And I think that you know, we need to be balanced in everything we do.  So what we take away we need to give back. So yeah, a bit of a mixed answer there. But balance for me, there's no 100% purest way of being sustainable. But we can't carry on, in the, on the course we are, which is just taking taking and not giving anything back.

Ben Walker  02:00

I used Unilever, it's a bit of an obvious example because it was their biggest shareholder that was accusing them of focusing too much on purpose and not enough on purchases. Not enough on making money. Is that fair? Do you think Ally, do you think that sometimes you can go too far with it?

Ally Cook  02:14

I'm in complete agreement with Gemma here. I think that when it comes to purpose, it's not necessarily something you can quantify. Obviously, you need to have as Gemma said, a balance, and profit can absolutely exist in conjunction with purpose.

And as I think we've seen throughout the last couple of years, and certainly looking to the future of how businesses are focusing on sustainability, those two things can and will go in tandem together. It's not a case of them being you know, mutually exclusive; purpose can and will drive profit, I think increasingly, as we move forward through the next couple of years.

Ben Walker  02:45

So why the disparity then Gemma Butler, do you think? Why is it that if, if these things can be combined purpose and purchases can and should be combined? Why is that this disparity, that we can see that some brands are clearly holding back from the, from using a purpose as an angle to build relationships with their consumers?

Gemma Butler  03:04

I think there's, you know, there's a couple of things there. In that, the purpose: if you take, you know, the people-planet-profit part, the, the focus has been heavily, heavily weighted to profit over the last guess 50 years, which is what they are calling the great acceleration.

Where, you know, we want more, we need more, we buy more, and organisations make more. I think, you know, using purpose: purpose, essentially is asking yourself the question of why does my organisation exist, you know. Why do we exist? Why are we here?  And in terms of purpose-driven, purpose-driven narrative and campaigns and talking about that, I think we've reached a point where you know, greenwashing from a, from a large sort of corporate perspective is visible, highly visible in the green claims code came in, and hopefully that will start tackling some of that. I think there's, I think, I spoke to somebody yesterday for my podcast, and they they talked about 'green hushing', and how a lot of smaller organisations are almost probably terrified to say anything about sustainability.  Because as you say, when we're talking about purpose, when we're talking about sustainability, we get terms thrown in like, 'woke', and you know, everyone, there's all this accusations that the organization's doing it for the wrong reasons.

So I think there is that element at play, which is, we know that we need to do better we know that we need to change. It's a huge journey to even start on this. But there is a fear that if you talk about what you're going to do or you're trying to do that somebody is going to shout you down. I think that's a genuine fear that has been instilled in organisations now.

Ben Walker  04:50

That is an extraordinary development, isn't it? Green hushing, green hushing, first time I've come across that phrase. That people actually know what they need to do, know what they ought to be doing. In some cases are doing it, Ally Cook, yet don't want to talk about it.

Ally Cook  05:05

Yeah, well, I think that Gemma's point there completely correlates with some research that we conducted last year, which showed that 49% of marketers were wary of working on sustainability campaigns for fears of being accused of greenwashing.  And that shows absolutely that we kind of understand the need in the market and that this is absolutely something we should be focusing on.

But the fear of getting it wrong and the fear of entering the wrong conversation, obviously, at an organisational level, the damage that, that potentially can cause is significant. And it's something that absolutely, absolutely should be taken into consideration, particularly with the advent of things like the green claims code, which Gemma discussed. 

So it's definitely something that I think there's a fear around which is can absolutely be dispelled, as I'm sure we'll talk about a bit more as we go through. Particularly not only from kind of consumer opposition, but also the Unilever example that we started the show with, from internal stakeholders that actually aren't prepared to commit to real substantial sustainability claims.

Ben Walker  06:02

Companies are fearful that they will be accused of either greenwashing full stop, or just getting it wrong and doing something that they shouldn't be doing, or that's not actually sustainable. Although they're presenting it as such, then presumably, there is the third group that are doing exactly the right things, but don't actually know how to talk about it and communicate it. And presumably, Gemma Butler, that's where marketing comes in.

Gemma Butler  06:25

Absolutely, I think, you know, we have a communications issue in many areas in relation to the societal challenges that we face today, effective communication, whereby, you know, people understand and we're talking to them in in a way that is relatable to them, I think a lot of people unless you can relate to it, you you can read all of the science, and you can read all of the stats, but if it's not relatable to you, then you don't know what it is you need to do. As an individual or as a business.  I think transparency, I talk a lot about transparency and honesty and authentic narrative, you know. As well as talking about the things you're doing, talk about the things that you haven't yet done, but you will be addressing because as I say sustainability is hugely complex. There are, you know, nobody's gonna walk in and go right, we're tackling sustainability today. It's just too big.

And I think organisations need to approach it in a way that makes it realistic, makes it sustainable, makes it manageable.  And I think by talking about what you're not doing, as well as what you intend to do, and what you're not quite there yet, I think that that that goes a long way to tackling that balance between greenwash or green hush.

Ben Walker  07:41

It's interesting, isn't it? I mean, you yourself both work at a professional body sustained by Royal Charter, CIM, Chartered Institute of Marketing, which itself has been on a sustainability journey. I mean, how that's been for you Ally Cook, in terms of a) doing it, and b) telling your members about it?

Ally Cook  08:02

Well, I think building on what Gemma just mentioned now, I would say that one of the most important first steps is internal education. Because it is unreasonable in many ways to expect that every single stakeholder within an organisation will fully grasp sustainability as a concept, and also be able to kind of interpret what that means for the organisation and to be able to see it through a lens of making it really relevant.  So I think to Gemma's point, marketing has such a significant role to play in terms of being that internal champion. And Gemma has absolutely been that within CIM, I think it's fair to say. You know, educating people joining the conversation, sticking our head above the parapet and making the claims that we need to be making and really, you know, committing to internally educating all of the relevant stakeholders, and being that kind of point of contact and the person that is involved in the conversation. 

Because actually, that is how our sustainability journey started was just, you know, having an opinion engaging with the most relevant issues to us and to our members. And thinking, what is our role here? Because obviously, CIM has quite a unique position, we're not only kind of setting the standard for marketing in terms of our own output, but we're also guiding the marketing industry generally. And you know, having an authoritative voice within that space.

So the challenge for us really is is twofold, not only making sure that we're, you know, walking the talk, but we're also making sure that all of our members are really up to date with all of the latest information. So it's a very complex issue for us. But having someone like Gemma as that kind of internal guardian of what we do and where we should be focusing our energy has been really helpful to make sure we don't go down too many, you know, wrong paths or dead ends with it.

Ben Walker  09:37

Before you get to that point, before you get to the membership, before you get to the public, you've got to win the hearts and mind internally, Gemma. And you can as I said earlier, co-author of Sustainable Marketing, you are a key figure who's been tasked with that job who's wanted to take on that challenge. 

But presumably challenge is the right word to actually be able to communicate that and get buy-in across a organisation, you know, brings its own hurdles and puzzles. And you know, what sorts of things have you faced when you set out on that path?

Gemma Butler  10:09

I think, you know, initially, so before, before I wrote the book, Ally was part of a Grow group, and Grow groups at CIM are groups that come across, come together from across different functions and discuss issues or challenges or opportunities that, you know, we need to drive change within the organisation and how we communicate those and get, you know, the participation to make them real, and make them happen.

And that Grow group was focused on - part of our businesses is a conference centre, and within hospitality - and how do we reduce down you know, things like plastic, single-use plastic and disposable cups, and all of those different key parts.  So that journey from that side was kind of an obvious place, I guess, before we even started trying to champion this. Where we needed to make, make reductions, and then look at our impacts. I think then, following the book, it was a case of, really, you know, that's that moment where you go, this is a huge, huge challenge and a subject and it's not going away, and we need to start, you know, looking at the solutions that CIM need to put in place, through our qualifications and through our training and through our content.  And we need to start educating the marketing profession and raising awareness and you know, building out that network within this space, so that we can start to use our voice, as marketing uses its voice, to share those insights and those solutions.

And then we're about to embark on our own now broader review of the impacts we make as an organisation because as Ally said, we'd really absolutely need to be walking the talk.  So you know, we're now going into that deeper part with the, with the rest of the organisation and start addressing that. So I think some of the hurdles as you asked about are: it's such a massive subject that people just think, where on earth do you start with this?

I think the other, the other hurdle, and the other challenges that that we faced along the way is just working out, what do we talk about? And how do we talk about it.  You know, how do we not go down the rabbit holes where we get forced down to a place where you think we're not scientists, we need to come back now from the climate conversation, and just put a sustainable marketing lens over everything that we do to make sure that actually what we're saying is relevant to business, but also absolutely relevant to marketing and those who work in it.

Ben Walker  12:40

There's a danger of talking about too much there. Because it is such a massive subject, that when you're trying to communicate it internally, and latterly, to your membership, and beyond that to the public - is there a danger then about talking about too much, almost taking on too big an animal, and therefore sort of losing out?

Gemma Butler  12:58

I think there is, I think there's a danger in talking too much about this subject. But also we are, you know, the Chartered Institute of Marketing, we have to, we still have to cover brand and digital and strategy and all of those other really important parts, that marketing is involved with, you know, around, around effective communication and all of these things.  So, you know, sustainability is one part and we try and weave that through now, everything that we do, and we also, but we also can't let it distract from all of the other important remits and skills and everything that we need to do in, in representing the profession and the industries and, and all of the other parts that go with it. So it's, it's a huge, huge challenge, but opportunity for us in representing the profession.

Ben Walker  13:43

I mean, you've been on that journey a while now. As I say, other people, other heads of marketing, directors, marketing and other organisations will be going on that same journey. Your, it's fairly embedded at Moor Hall now. It's fairly embedded in the Chartered Institute of Marketing.  But if you had your time again - and of course none of us ever do - but if you did: advice, if you like, for those who may follow you. Would there have been anything you would have changed, when you started out on that journey?

Gemma Butler  14:10

Um, I'm not sure there would be anything that I would change. I think aware, it starts with awareness, and having that actual awareness, and that for me came from the work we started with, with yourself over it LID, you know, and that was kind of a, that was a sort of subliminal learning and understanding.  So Ally, and I used to make regular commentary, which came out in the form of the short blogs around what organisations were doing, we keep up to date with all of the top stories within marketing, and then pick some and make comments on them. And noticed the pattern that the more we were picking, the more we were selecting, were in relation to you know, sustainability, packaging reduction, how do industry work together? How do we communicate this? And I think that that was where it was like, a bit of a lightbulb moment of 'this is, this is happening more and more'.  And then from writing the book, researching and writing the book, that was where awareness became a huge thing. And we keep saying it, once you see these things, you can't unsee them. So that's kind of where we started. And I don't think I would change that, I think my advice to other organisations is select the area.  So climate change, and carbon neutral, and net zero. And all of those terms is a real key point that organisations probably need to start with need to go away and have a look into that. And there's so many resources out there. And then they need to start taking actions against those, I think that's probably the first port of call. And then other things can come from that.

Ben Walker  15:40

So Ally Cook, it's interesting, isn't it: you start with a big picture, and then see, look at your developments in your space in your ecosystem, amongst your stakeholders and see how they fit in to the big picture. And then it makes it easier to communicate that to your people, to your members and to your public.

Ally Cook  16:01

Yeah, I completely agree. And I think that is interesting, to Gemma's point, that content for us was a really key starting point for that conversation to help us really identify what those areas were, you know, what was happening in the industry, what made most sense for us as a business to engage with. And I think that relates back to Gemma's earlier point about the importance of sustainable marketing, because it's one thing to be a sustainable organisation. And it's a fantastic thing to be a sustainable organisation, don't know anyone's quite cracked it yet.  But, you know, it's a very important part of the puzzle. But actually, if you're a sustainable organisation who hasn't yet cracked sustainable marketing, I think you're missing a really important part of the overall picture.

Because ultimately, unless we're driving better behaviours amongst our consumers, and you know, facilitating conscious consumerism as much as possible, then ultimately the future of your organisation doesn't look as sustainable as all the work that you're putting in to make it sustainable now. And I think that that really unlocks kind of the power of marketing within this whole conversation.  And absolutely, you know, using that, and using marketing as the voice of the consumer to feed back into your organisation, not just, you know, for regular pulse checks to see how initiatives are being perceived, but also to start that journey, and to work with your customers to know what is most important for them, for your organisation to be tackling. That is, is the power of marketing, and for me, really, within this whole debate.


Ben Walker  17:21

So you understand the big picture, you develop the policies, you do the outreach internally, then you get the communications, right, you get your communications, right, you've got all of those things in place, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Where does the journey end? Is there an end point?

Gemma Butler  17:39

No, very simply, no, there isn't an end point. It's that, it's like any, any big challenge, isn't it? Like there will never be an endpoint to your CRM system implementation and running off that, there will never be an end to your digital strategy. It, all of these things evolve with the, with, you know, in line with the environment that you're operating. And, you know,  The only way that you can can get better and consistently make progress is by not having an endpoint.

Ally Cook  18:09

So just to build on that, really, I completely agree with Gemma that, you know, the endpoint is not, it's not a destination, there isn't really a destination along this journey, other than to keep striving to continually improve. And I think that relating that back to content is really important. Because to be completely candid, our sustainability content is not our best performing. And it would be so easy to look at that and think, 'hmm, maybe you know, maybe our customers aren't that interested in it, maybe we shouldn't be talking about this, maybe we shouldn't be engaging with these subjects, maybe we need to kind of pivot and move away'.  But actually just having that consistency and knowing that actually sustainability is one of our most important pillars for our content, for our organisation, for our marketing strategy as a whole, and not deviating from that. Even though some of the initial results are telling us maybe, you know, is this where we should be focusing? What, what do our customers really want to know about this? Our role in providing that consistent drumbeat of information and updates - even if customers are switching off to it in the short term - we know that in the long term, that is where we need to be and that is where we need to be focusing. 

So really, what we're doing now is laying the groundwork for that, but to Gemma's point about, you know, the endpoint destination, you might think, 'Ooh, are we really, are we going in the right direction here?' You know, the early signs are maybe not showing that but I think that focusing ahead and looking to the next step, and not just to what's happening right now in this space, because a lot of sustainability work is being a trailblazer and going first and to my point earlier, you know, sticking your head above the parapet and just having a go.  And so it might in the short term look as though it's not quite paying the dividends that you want. But actually keeping an eye on the future is really important.


Ben Walker  19:43

Well, more of what, we've said it. We've said it haven't we, that one of the dangers about sustainability drives and sustainable marketing drives. Is it looks like, it can look like you're jumping on a bandwagon, but actually if you're doing it because it's the right thing to do. You're accepting it's not there to generate mass have traffic straightaway, it's because you need to keep it as a slow burner, to underpin all of the work you're doing, you avoid that risk of just jumping on the exact point where you suddenly think it might be popular.  But it's so potentially all encompassing, and so important. Is there a danger that you let slip other important social drives and concerns while forging the path to sustainability?

Gemma Butler  20:28

I think that, you know, I think it's fair to say that we have got some huge societal challenges that we face. But also sustainability isn't, you know, sustainability isn't just about being sustainable for the planet, it's also about delivering wellbeing for all. So within that, and if you look at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, you know, equality, and gender diversity is all in there. It's, you know, sustainable communities, and you know, consumption and production, and life underwater, all of these things are all set under sustainability.  We do have to take responsibility and make sure that, you know, we are looking after not only the communities around us, but we're thinking more broadly about the impacts around the world. So I would, I would argue that they all kind of sit under the same thing. However, the role and remit of marketing is getting broader and broader and broader every single year. And I think it is, it is falling to marketing who, you know, can play a very influential role in the culture of an organisation and how that organisation is perceived as we are the custodians of the brand, that, you know, we do need to be aware of the DNI issues, we do need to be aware of the sustainability challenge, we do need to be aware of how we are perceived.  Because that in turn also acts as a real sort of barrier or as a sort of invite to whether people want to engage with your organisation, whether that's working for it, or whether that's actually, you know, engaging with it as a customer. So I'd say sustainability kind of is the overarching piece there. But we can't, we can't not address those other things. But there are some big issues and sometimes time and, and the ability to be able to want to do more than you can is is a huge factor, I think, that many marketers face on a daily basis and deciding what they focus on.

Ben Walker  22:31

But CIM has done a lot already. You know, it's developed the policies, it's done the outreach, the books put out from its director of marketing, 'Sustainable Marketing' - do get a copy audience if you haven't read it yet, it's great - What's next, what's the next big thing coming out of CIM tires on the sustainability drive?

Ally Cook  22:49

Well, I will let Gemma talk a bit more about a very exciting event that we have coming up. But as I've kind of already touched on, it is such an important part of our content and our communication strategy going forward. You know, we know that this is an area that we need to be a consistent voice on, not only for our members, but for the marketing industry as a whole.  And we are really, really committed to being that, you know, authority of trusted voice of sustainability within marketing, looking at marketing's role in driving more sustainable behaviours. But we have got very exciting event coming up as well, which I'm sure Gemma can talk a bit more about.

Ben Walker  23:24

Gemma this does sound exciting, can you let us know? Can you reveal this great event that's coming forward?

Gemma Butler  23:30

Yes. So on the 31st of March this year, we will be holding the CIM Sustainability Summit. And it will be held as a face to face event at The Brewery in London. And we are, we have a great series, selection of speakers and subjects that we're going to be addressing and tackling and discussing which we will be announcing, I believe, from the 16th of February the speakers.  And yeah, the aim of the day, the objective of the day is really to provide support and insights and education and awareness around, not only what people need to know but how they can, how they can get started and, and what they need to focus on moving forward. So we you know, in addition to the courses that CIM has brought out around sustainability, in addition to the new CIM Diploma in Sustainable Marketing, which has just launched, we'll also be looking to run sustainability through our other level qualification. So at level three, and level four, and level seven, in addition to all of the work that Ally and her team do around the content and how we take that out in the various formats.  This this summit really is going to bring everyone together in one place and, and talk about all of that and everything that people need to know. So, you know, it's kind of that moment where you go, we have, you know, a lot that we can share and support. But the other part is we want to inspire that next generation of marketers coming through that marketing, if it uses its powers for good, is a really, really strong profession.

And, and a really good profession to get into, you know, our Diploma in Sustainable Marketing, we have relationships with over 130 universities in the UK, we will map our content on to those degrees, business degrees that have a Marketing Module in and also marketing degrees.  And, you know, I think just taking that knowledge and that content out there to talk about, it's not just all about growth in terms of pounds, but also growth in terms of people and growth in terms of planet. So yeah, it's, I think it's a really, really exciting time to be a marketer. And I think it's a really, really exciting time to challenge ourselves and change the path and the course that we're on.

Ben Walker  25:51

I'm scribbling that date in my diary as we speak, Gemma Butler. The 31st of March, Thursday, the 31st of March in central London at The Brewery. That sounds to me like a stake in the ground, a rallying point, Ally Cook, that might change people's perceptions of marketing and how they do things more sustainability, make those communications in future?

Ally Cook  26:12

Yeah, absolutely. And I think this really speaks to our kind of role as CIM, as a facilitator of these conversations as well. You know, we're driving this agenda forward, we're making sure that these issues are being discussed. And it's about bringing people together to connect on this, which is why we really felt passionate about holding this event, but also to Gemma's point about launching the qualification.  It's not just about what we're doing, you know, as an organisation, but it's about what we're doing to ensure that the future of marketing is well looked after, and is sustainable, so that we can continue to operate effectively within businesses. So I would say that's another kind of key point, if you're within an organisation, looking at what you can do to be more sustainable, don't just think about your own impact in terms of what you're doing on a day to day basis within your organisation. What can you be doing to grow your community and grow the people around you and invest in the profession that you operate in, to make sure that you're, you know, encouraging good behaviours within that? But also, who can you partner with? How can you get this message out there and build that real kind of community of people around these issues that we all know are so important.

Ben Walker  27:15

It becomes an even bigger deal, Gemma Butler than, just getting it right for your own organisation. It's getting it right for your network and your stakeholders and your clients and your suppliers. And everybody in and around your own ecosystem. You can spread these ideas far and wide. And you're creating a multiplier.

Gemma Butler  27:32

Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, if we can, if we can do our bit as as a professional body, as Ally said, in being a facilitator and supporter and representing the profession, then hopefully, that, that, that information, knowledge sharing goes further. And then I think the key is how we effectively communicate this.  I think that is the key to everything. How do we communicate this? I think it is David Attenborough said that the environmental challenge is now a communications challenge. So and he is the man when it comes to the environmental challenge.

Ben Walker  28:06

So walk the walk, but make sure you also talk the talk because that's the key to success. That's what marketing is, of course, that is fantastic. Just again, Thursday, the 31st of March at The Brewery in central London, is CIM's first ever Sustainability Summit. We hope to see many of you podcast subscribers there. It's going to be a great event and lots of fun and interesting and we'll probably change the way you do things in future.  Gemma'll be there, Ally'll be there, I'll be there, and we hope to see you all there. Gemma Butler, Ally Cook, thank you very much indeed, today. It's been absolutely fascinating.

Ally Cook  28:46

Thanks so much, Ben.

Gemma Butler  28:47

Thank you very much.

Outro  28:49

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Ben Walker Host CIM Marketing Podcast
Gemma Butler Course director CIM
Ally Cook Content and engagement manager Formerly CIM
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