How Brands Can Harness The Power Of Influence To Drive Sustainable Change

By Emma Shuldham, Managing Director, ITB Worldwide

Earth Day has been and gone but sustainability need not be hinged on just one day in the year. While it serves as a conscious reminder to us all just how important it is to protect our planet, consumers are more aware than ever of how the decisions they make impact the world we live in so, to remain relevant, brands need to inspire and drive sustainable change all year round.

A study by the Global Fashion Agenda, in conjunction with BCG, found that 75% of consumers view sustainability as extremely or very important, and some 62% of Gen Z, in particular, prefer to buy sustainable brands, according to First Insight. The pandemic has amplified this further, with BCG finding that 90% of consumers were equally or more concerned about environmental issues since the Covid-19 outbreak and nearly 95% believed their personal actions could help reduce unsustainable waste, tackle climate change, and protect wildlife and biodiversity.

With consumers increasingly asking more from the brands they love, many businesses are in the process of making significant pivots, putting purpose ahead of profit and reigniting longer-term interest in the importance of sustainable marketing efforts.

Marketing has the power to shape consumer opinion, impact behaviours and drive real change – but how can brands get their sustainability messaging across in a way that is authentic, meaningful and purposeful?

Leverage The Experts

To really make an impact, inspire and drive real change, brands need to think more broadly about who has influence and how to leverage it, looking outside of the typically known influencer space and identifying passionate changemakers who are making a difference on a community level. It’s crucial to find the right balance of experts or authorities in the space who lend credibility to the campaign alongside those with high engagement and broader reach who ensure the messaging has impact and is delivered at scale.

Timberland’s #NatureNeedsHeroes campaign effectively-balanced this, with ITB securing an ensemble cast of multi-generational changemakers committed to making a difference and saving the planet. The ‘Heroes’ were those with influence and authority who would collectively generate press interest as well as inspire their communities to act, led by British singer Loyle Carner alongside 10 diverse sustainability experts and activists including solar designers, photojournalists, architects and urban gardeners, amongst others.

Practice Honesty and Transparency

Greenwashing your credentials just won’t stand with savvy consumers anymore; for true authenticity in this area, brands need to be open and honest, putting purpose and key facts front and centre in the narrative. Particularly in the wake of the events of 2020, brand trust is incredibly important so carefully crafting that sustainability messaging is key.

Patagonia, Pangaia and Everlane, to spotlight a few brands, show us the incredible ways to use Instagram and other social networks to share sustainability credentials in an educational and informative way – from regular IGTV talks on environmental issues to infographic carousel posts on materials and production processes, to profiling nano influencers that live an eco-friendly life. Everlane in particular practices ‘radical transparency’ – using their network of employees as influencers and taking their fans and followers behind the scenes of the making of their garments, highlighting the actual costs in the supply chain along the way.

To achieve true authenticity around sustainability, it requires more than just engaging talent as a mechanic to spread the word but partnering with those who have a strong synergy with your brand and wider sustainability goals – at whatever stage of the journey you might be on.

Build Long Term Partnerships

Conveying sustainability messaging at scale can be aided and amplified by engaging high-profile talent and macro-influencers, but for this to be authentic – and not perceived as transactional – it needs to be part of a long-term strategy. One-off activations and spikes of activity don’t ring true to today’s consumers.

Levi’s has approached this effectively through its partnership with Jaden Smith. Not only is he an authentic partner for their sustainability messaging – he is an artist, activist and the founder of two ethical water companies – he has been engaged to participate in multiple brand activations over the last 18 months. From ATL campaigns to an IG Live conversation to discuss the intersection of water, food, social justice and the importance of the youth vote, to the recent ‘Beauty of Becoming’ editorial and film launched on World Water Day to raise awareness around water access – Levi’s has been able to build and maintain the conversation around sustainability in a credible way with Jaden Smith, showing the power of using an influential voice – not just a face.

Identify Talent with Authentic Connections to Cause-based Initiatives

Levi’s has also enlisted Smith for its new multi-pronged ‘Buy Better, Wear Longer’ global sustainability campaign, launched last month, to raise awareness of the environmental impact of clothing production and consumption. Amongst an assembly of other Gen Z activists and influencers across the world is 23-year old Manchester United footballer, Marcus Rashford, who led the free school meals campaign for struggling families during the pandemic; a prime example of talent who has been using his profile and platform for the greater good.

Speaking to the Conscious Consumer

By coming together under a common cause and engaging with the right people of influence, brands have an opportunity to speak to environmentally conscious consumers in more powerful and authentic ways – leveraging those with reach and expertise to raise awareness of key issues and illustrate tangible ways we can all help the collective progress towards a more sustainable future. Combining the power of brands with the influence of credible talent who genuinely understand sustainability is a big step in the right direction to ‘Restore Our Earth’.