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.