With all the hype and rallying going around these couple topics, there’s a lot of misconceptions on what they mean.
Green relates to environmental and biological health impacts.
Social Responsibility relates to taking or refraining from action that promotes or protects the well-being of individuals, communities, and nature whether the party’s relationship to recipient(s) are direct, indirect, or none.
Economics relates to financial viability in terms of costs, benefits, and strategic fit with short and long term goals.
Sustainability encompasses the longevity of green, social responsibility, and economics.
Allow me to stress that sustainability relates to proportionally maintaining defined levels of being or status, as variable factors change over time. How those levels are defined will determine the positive/negative degree of current or projected levels of sustainability.
The major difficulty lies with defining what acceptable and desired levels are (strategy), and how to meet them (tactics). Every party wants to maximize the benefits and scenarios valuable to them, yet constraints and variable factors over time will affect their viability.
So although defining the optimum levels and meaning of the word Sustainable may seem frustrating and nearly impossible, there is some help. Companies, NGOs, and trade associations across nearly every industry are working to share best practices and create standards. To begin understanding the issues of environmental concern and improvement, look at both media publications and associations serving classes of trade (banking, transport, chemical), and organizational functions (communications, product development, IT). With this practical information, you can undertake an audit of your internal operations and amongst your partners to see how ’sustainable’ you are.
This is an ongoing process and there’s much to be said. However, the point is that understanding sustainability and applying it through initiatives involves traditional internal and external assessments. The powerful magic underneath it all is promoting innovation and continuous improvement…so long as there exists sufficient considered value in the triple bottom line of ecological, social, and economic impact. That is where marketing comes in: defining, creating, communicating, delivering, and measuring value.
Before wading in these philosophical waters any further, I’d like to explain why this discussion is important. The days of being humble and silent about one’s sustainability initiatives are over. Ecological health and social responsibility are becoming stronger societal values. People increasingly want to purchase from and work for organizations whose actions support causes they find relevant and appealing. This has created huge opportunities for branding and differentiation. But to effectively reach and connect with your audiences, whether activists or apathetics, marketing must be properly deployed to define and communicate an expanded organizational image and value proposition that is credible.