Michelle Gallant from the Marketplace Sustainability team reflects on this year’s successful entries to the Engaging Customers on Sustainability Award, supported by How on Earth.
Last year BITC launched the ‘9 billion challenge’, a provocative ask of business to take a profound look at their own products and services and honestly ask themselves, is this helping or hindering us to move towards a sustainable future? With a projected 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, the answer to this question, and the actions that follow, is becoming increasingly more important.
An accurate answer to that question involves a deep look into how one’s customers interact with a product/service, from use through to disposal. After all, customer use is often where the biggest impacts lie, with a Unilever survey of its own products finding it to be as high as 68%.
As the biggest link to customers, marketers have the opportunity to engage them on this agenda, utilising their marketing activity to inspire and enable customers to change their behaviour. The Engaging Customers on Sustainability Award, supported by How on Earth, recognises businesses who have used their marketing activity to do just this.
The three companies awarded a Big Tick and vying for the overall winning accolade were Anglian Water, Thames Water and Waitrose. Each demonstrated the importance of involving stakeholders from community groups, other organisations or businesses as well as customers themselves. Using sources that customers already know and trust, and communicating the companies’ messages through these was seen as key to engagement.
The judges declared Anglian Water the winner for clearly demonstrating how their marketing campaign has positively changed long-term behaviour. The problem was very clear - annual sewer blockages cost the business £13million with an additional £7m in maintenance, and 70% of all sewer flooding incidents and environmental pollution incidents are a result of a blockage.
Anglian Water needed to find a way to prevent this happening in the first place, and so it engaged and educated its customers on what can and can’t be discarded down the toilet or sink. The company-wide Keep it Clear initiative involved a range of stakeholders. With a clear objective, thorough research and relevant stakeholders on board, Anglian Water has demonstrated this is the recipe for significant impact. The results speak for themselves with a 49% reduction in sewer blockages across its network, and an impressive 85% reduction in blockages in the areas where the campaign has been running the longest.
This evidence of behaviour change is supported by a survey conducted by sustainability communications agency Futerra and BSR earlier this year, revealing that consumer behaviour change will drive significant business growth over the next few years. It pointed out that for many companies, efforts to change consumer behaviour are driven mainly by risk and reputation. However it highlights the potential opportunity for growth, innovation and increased market share that a focus on sustainability and influencing behaviour can bring. BITC encourages and supports businesses to focus on influencing customer behaviour and finding those opportunities.
In the meantime, read our Award stories for examples of best practice in engaging customers on sustainability.