Monday, March 17, 2008

Making Sustainability Irresistible

The agenda for the next three years is shaping up and sustainability is towards the top for every business I know. There’s been a lot of talk, but to me the challenge is clear. We have to get beyond talk to action, and action that is big enough to make a difference to the problems we face. Starting with ourselves.

I’m seeing 2008 as Saatchi & Saatchi’s breakthrough year. It’s the year we brought the San Francisco-based sustainability consultancy, Act Now, into the Saatchi family. It’s the year Adam Werbach, Act Now’s founder, one of the great thinkers in the global sustainability debate, joined us as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S. It’s the year we’ll be making sustainability irresistible to our clients and partners, and irresistible to the people who choose and buy in the marketplace.

Saatchi & Saatchi S is founded on the simple conviction that we can make the world a better place one person at a time. I’ve talked about this idea before on this blog. Remember the amazing online small loans site Kiva, and the Japanese government encouraging men to wear cooler clothing so the air conditioning can be turned down? Well here it comes again. Saatchi & Saatchi S’s signature offering is created around an idea. The Personal Sustainability Project or PSP. Adam and his team encourage, cajole and inspire people working in organizations to take personal responsibility for one small change in their lives that helps sustainability. For one, it might be committing to walk to work twice a week. For another, saving water at home. For yet another, organizing the clean-up of a local stream. Not big world-changing commitments in themselves, but together they make a difference and start to build the vital momentum we all need.

One of the people involved at Wal-Mart explained that it’s not so much taking on a project that is important, but the change it makes to how you feel about sustainability. Instead of sustainability being something that people ‘out-there’ push at you, it becomes something you embrace for yourself. It becomes a way of thinking and feeling and acting that permeates what you do at work, at home and in the community. I believe that without this intensely personal commitment, attempts to encourage sustainability risk becoming isolated fads demanding huge amounts of energy and resources again and again.

Saatchi & Saatchi has always been inspired by the spirit of 'Nothing Is Impossible'. Saatchi & Saatchi S lives by this spirit too. Its initial goal is one billion. That’s one billion people committed to adopting sustainability practices. In other words, around one sixth of the world’s population. What a fantastic challenge. Fortunately Saatchi & Saatchi S is off to a flying start, bringing rich experience with major companies including Wal-Mart, P&G, General Mills, Kaiser Permanente and General Electric.

Taking a cue from the name of Adam’s original company, we have to Act Now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when we have time. Now. How will we do this? By trading in limits for possibilities. By working at the scale of the problems we face. By connecting environmental, economic, social and cultural streams of action together. By making sustainability irresistible.

When we developed Lovemarks we understood that the shift of power to consumers would change brands forever. Now consumers are subjecting Lovemarks and would-be Lovemarks to another tough test. Not only is a Lovemark owned by the people who love it, but it has to front up to the sustainability challenge. No sustainability, no Lovemark.

Has there ever been a time when business and the future of the world were so closely aligned? Has there ever been a time when a healthy planet needs happy, engaged and fulfilled people? Not in my lifetime.


Chris said...

I just so adore this brilliantly written piece! I really do! My heart jumped a beat as I read it! I cannot POV it to your standard of prose here…I want to, but I cannot!

However, what I’ll say is I agree with sustainability never having been more important and that action has always spoken louder than the word! But Kevin-there is still a lot of talk! Not so much from Saatchi & Saatchi-who seem to forever have had that edge on “nothing is impossible”….And you know-there are many other organizations that have a similar spirit.

But – you only have to look to a few local advertising blogs and even ad trade rags to see that the anonymous local industry is increasingly proving itself to be as divisive and malicious as always! I use blogging for proactive and positive debate and interaction worldwide! Others certainly do not!

There’s also the danger of who takes the lead in influence over clients and the market. Take the trade media as one influence. If you have editors who are convinced that their Facebook is the future of digital and who regularly have guest Experiential writers talking down to the industry about the authenticity of branding – straight out of text book brand modeling we were all practicing 2000-2004! That’s a big concern to me. It’s not forward thinking-It’s scary! And in markets small enough, it can erode them!

Another area of concern is that my own Collective survives with leading edge consultancy and/or more often than not- the action of just getting on and doing it-creating the content-and increasingly winning the business and content awards! But we’re lean and whilst able to move faster than most, we have to be mindful of limited funds to do so. I wisely invested 6 months overseas last year to develop my mobile and online gaming creatives, but referral is also important to my survival….Often we trawl the recruitment market-always with skepticism that half the jobs we purely register interest in, don’t really exist. I have won some of my most lucrative contracts by applying for jobs that were not jobs! It’s now standard practice at the beginning of each year or at the end of one tax year for certain agencies to say they’re looking for the all encompassing Creative Director that can “do it all”! Mostly-it’s there wish list for all the freelancers they end up getting as their new list of freelancers! It’s an incredibly old fashioned and tactical mindset and these types of companies will never be about sustainability.

Then you have the Conferences and these debates are very important. And-increasingly-some of them are getting very good and actually doing stuff and showing case study…

But some are going backwards! For years-there would be complaints about Mobile Advertising all being “talk” and that there were more Conventions than Campaigns! (That was true locally!) Then you get one of the leaders in Mobile Summits this year putting on an Agency that has never done one thing on mobile…This is 2008 and that-again-is scary!

So yes-I agree that sustainability is key and that change starts with each and everyone. But from where I stand-there are some that are not changing Kevin…That’s fine, because a lot of us can eventually leave them where they belong, which is behind!

I think a lot of your breakthroughs are cool…I also think on a far smaller scale that so are some of mine-like winning major business away from major groups when I tried so hard to collaborate that in the end, it became a case of if you cannot join them, have a stab at beating them:-)

I’m not familiar with the San Fran “Act Now” Company you merged with, but they sound wonderful, and just the very name ACT NOW is so integral. And I think creating sustainability is all about acting now with experiments that actually do not cost much, but MUST be managed creatively and innovatively. Particularly experiments with digital and a digi-experiential genre that I don’t think everyone ‘gets yet’…A sort of model that builds a “CONTEVENT”, a mix of all relevant branded content and an event, but not just any old one off stage event…

More like an ongoing sponsorship of brand ID, where emerging and diversified ways of communicating that brand are measured ‘on the fly’ and each specialized template can control a web program or application as much as an employee partnership or a highly institutionalized brand becomes accessible and retail activated….INSTANTLY! I also feel here that you are no longer a custodian of brand, but –as a Creative Director- an educator, exhibitioner and curator of brand-always involved with ‘a mosaic of content’ and still making that a collaborative and consistent brand image!

You even hint at how your own fabulous Lovemark philosophy might become more user generated.

I can’t really explain all the above without doing! I’m seeing 2008 as my DOING year!

I was looking at the Earth Hour site today and I’m fairly convinced the world is becoming a better place and that certainly the power of the Collective is increasingly important for sustainability on every level. I think simple and single minded ideas can get many people participating, and show people how powerful they can be when they all act together. It’s not about the politics and the business of it, (or simply clambering to do something just to win advertising awards). It’s about simply showing that everyone can make a difference.

Incidentally-I’m not going to URL link here like spamming your blog, but I’d appreciate you and as many of your colleagues as possible supporting my 2 minute mobile phone MMS clip that was impromptually put together in-phone over a few hours the other day for Earth Hour! Just watching and rating it online at YouTube at my chrisMsimon channel, collaborates views that makes more people ‘turn out’ for the event! END OF PROMO! Sorry about that!

Once again-thanks for the inspirational piece about small or even big personal changes going towards sustainability. And, indeed, the ‘Nothing is Impossible’ mantra.

I think you paint a pretty healthy-happy-engaged and fulfilling future….If you want it that way!

I’m game! THX KEVIN. CUL8R.

Anonymous said...

Go Saatchi. This is exactly the type of initiative that Saatchi was born to take on.

Juanita said...

I'll tell you what I like about the Act Now approach: it's not a bunch of Greenwash.

Too often when the word advertising and sustainability are said in the same breath people immediately jump to 'Green Consumerism'- ie flogging 'green' products to get access to a new population of consumers. This will not solve to world's problems- not even close.

The valuable work in Walmart through the PSP program was that it brought sustainable thinking to individuals on the ground, to make it their own. This of course went hand-in-hand with action to 'green' processes and supply chains at the organisational level. This kind of change creates a lens of sustianabilty rather than treating it as a 'bolt on' CSR responsibility or as simply a new market opportunity.

Time is not on our side, so kudos to S&S and every other business that is willing to take the plunge into a different way of doing business and avoiding the Greenwash.

Kevin Roberts said...

Precisely. It’s ownership on the individual level that creates real change. Greenwashing just means you’re out of ideas. That’s why, at Saatchi & Saatchi we have dedicated ourselves to the creation of world-changing ideas.

Timbo said...

Excellent article. It's why I RSS uyour stuff.

"Not only is a Lovemark owned by the people who love it..."

I, for my own sustainable snowboarding company, only really came to realise the full potential of this last year (but believed in it, and sustainability from our beginnings in 02), and began working this mindset into the fibre of the company , so began unlocking the company and handing control over to everyone who was a "follower" of the brand (those emotionally invested).

Thanks for the continued insights into creating sustainable brands.
Tim M
Founder, Heresy Snowboarding

Kevin Roberts said...

Our Global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S, Adam Werbach, is releasing his book Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto in June this year. The book brings sustainability to the fore and lays out a strategy for success in this new global climate that involves engaging employees, using transparency as a business tool, and reaping the rewards of a networked organizational structure.
So stay tuned Tim and keeping fighting the good fight. KR.