Sustainability and PR

For brands, creating dialogue around climate justice is not just good for the planet, it’s also good for business. But discerning consumers can differentiate between greenwashing and committed action.

A large number of people believe that brands actually have a more important role in creating a better future than governments do. While policymakers have stalled on confronting the climate crisis, parts of the private sector have begun to commit to internal targets rather than waiting for the regulation that activists demand. Are they galvanized by the impending crisis alone or by improved reputation? The honest truth is, it’s likely both.

Poor sustainability performance (a condition measured in both environmental and social impact) has been shown to hinder growth, so companies do have economic motivation for recalibrating to be in better alignment with the goals of the climate movement. A majority of people across generations seek companies that care about and implement programs to protect the environment—a trend that is set to continue. With this in mind, brands will need to go to even greater lengths to project consciousness of and action on issues that matter to consumers through their PR activity.

Experiential marketing in particular is an especially powerful tool for creating meaningful dialogue and raising a brand’s profile as an agent of change. Launches, pop-ups, activations and other experience-driven means directly engage the target demographic and communicate brand values and authenticity.

In early 2019, twin “Good Ships IKEA” set sail on one of London’s urban waterways as the Swedish homewares store opened a new location in the area. The large-scale replicas of a popular bath toy product were designed to collect garbage and other pollutants, with local families invited to join in the clean-up effort by remotely captaining the vessels. An associated educational program and a plan to donate the ships at the campaign’s conclusion were established in collaboration with local charities.

Nobis Laundromat coat drive

Guests donating used coats to New Circles Community Services at Nobis’ Laundromat Pop-up.

Bookmark’s PR and experiential team planned and executed a laundromat-inspired pop-up on behalf of our luxury outerwear client, Nobis, which doubled as a coat drive in partnership with Toronto’s New Circles Community Services. The event found an important use for items that may have otherwise ended up in landfills: helping newcomers, refugees and economically vulnerable families in Toronto meet their basic clothing needs. Nobis matched each coat donation with their own $100 contribution to the cause.

Discerning consumers can spot the difference between slacktivism and committed action. The challenge for brands is to execute meaningful PR and experiential marketing campaigns that are received as more than an empty gesture to ease green guilt (or worse—a blatant attempt to capitalize on the cause du jour). Modeling purposeful and actionable change through your marketing activity is not only productive on a social level, but it also resonates with a growing demographic of environmentally-minded consumers who vote with their wallets.

A Field Guide for Sustainable Experiential Marketing

  • Design a sustainable event from the get-go. Keeping your environmental footprint and social messaging top-of-mind at the proposal stage will ensure you’re not trying to shoehorn a fragmented guise of activism onto your concept at execution.
  • Partner with reputable charities and organizations and follow their lead to bring the most meaningful impact to a shared cause. Trusting outside expertise and lived experience is the best way to avoid implementing or contributing to a white elephant project, which beyond being ineffective to outright harmful also risks negative repercussions for brand optics.
  • Have a waste management plan and set targets to guide your choices from the planning stage onward.
  • Audit and streamline your event supply chain, establishing relationships with like-minded vendors and suppliers. More than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the supply chains of typical consumer companies. A company’s ethical standards for production should extend to its events and marketing (and vice-versa!).
  • Factor carbon offsets or credits into your PR and marketing budget where emissions-heavy activity like air travel or use of non-local vendors is unavoidable.
  • Follow through. Social responsibility isn’t a one-and-done affair, although your event or project might be. Let consumers know how the brand intends to stay connected and lend its continuous support to the cause by building that into your campaign, and into your overall content strategy.
  • Talk about it. You’ve got a platform, so use it well. Incite critical thought and dialogue and invite others to join the movement through experience-driven events and campaigns. Brands that actively participate in the conversation around sustainability and make it known that they are doing their part will find an audience and build trust among socially-conscious consumers.

Are you looking for ways to connect with your audience on issues they care about? Read the Experiential Marketing Industry Report and find out how to start meaningful conversations by leveraging the power of experience.

Leverage the power of experience

Read the Report