World Oceans Week: A call to purpose for consumers and brands alike

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The beginning of June marks the start of the largest worldwide celebration of our oceans: World Oceans Week, which culminates with World Oceans Day on Saturday, June 8. It’s a cause that has evolved into a global United Nations initiative, at Canada’s urging, and it’s shining a spotlight on protecting the world’s shared ocean, which has a direct impact on our wellness and quality of life. This includes the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, in addition to helping regulate our climate.

From pollution killing off entire hatcheries of fish to plastic waste being shipped to developing countries, the situation is dire. And with five trillion pieces of plastic waste contaminating oceans across the globe, and estimates there will be more plastic in oceans than fish by 2050, it’s critically important for consumers and businesses alike to reevaluate the impact their choices are having on the planet.

It’s no wonder many brands are taking note and pledging to minimize wasteful practices and improve CSR and sustainability efforts. The plastic straw ban is one such example that has gained prominence at many restaurants and coffee chains. Beach and harbour-side cleanups are also growing in popularity, and a great way to bring people together to combat litter in our local communities. And global CPG brands like P&G and Unilever are taking concerted efforts to reduce plastic packaging in their products and ensure the plastic they do use can be reused, recycled or, in some cases, composted.

Last year, a Brooklyn-based ad agency developed their “Postcards from the Oceans” campaign, highlighting some of the most polluted beaches and destinations around the world. The work was done for their client, Ocean52, a Barcelona beverage company that donates 52% of all earnings to conserving oceans.

So how can more brands commit to developing or enhancing their corporate social responsibility platforms and educate existing and potential customers on the merits of their efforts?

Find a cause that aligns with your brand.

The most authentic platforms and partnerships are those that are a natural fit with or extension of their brand. Adidas’ partnership with Parley for the Oceans — an organization that generates awareness of our oceans through conservation initiatives and collaborations — is a prime example, and embodies the adage, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” In 2018, Adidas and Parley started their joint global initiative called Run for the Oceans, which brought together a million runners to raise $1 million for Parley and created five million pairs of running shoes made out of recycled marine plastic.

This year they’re taking the partnership a step further, and pledging to raise $1.5 million for the cause, with the funds earned going towards educating people living in coastal areas about the global ocean plastic problem, and creating 11 million pairs of shoes out of recycled plastic.

Stella McCartney, purveyor of luxury, cruelty-free clothing and accessories, has also embraced recycled plastic merchandise through Ocean Legend, a partnership with Parley and international non-profit ocean conservation organization, Sea Shepherd.

These brands show that CSR and brand integrity must work hand-in-hand to have a lasting, positive impact.

Be transparent.

Transparency is of paramount importance when it comes to defining and explaining your approach to CSR. Are you committing to only using recycled plastic in your products by a specific year? Say that, and show how you will meet your target. And if you’re donating funds to a charity or non-profit, clearly outline how much money will be donated from net proceeds, and to which specific cause. And direct your customers to a web page or platform where they can find additional information and follow your progress.

Sustain momentum (and see your commitments through).

One-off donations and initiatives help, of course, but why not sustain momentum from your sustainability efforts and turn it into a long-standing program or initiative? This shows your customers that you’re not just in it for the “cash grab” but that you’re truly committed to a specific cause and will see it through, and understand its importance not just for your business but for society at large. Moreover, it provides you with the opportunity to engage with new and prospective customers on an ongoing basis, by highlighting key achievements and milestones month-over-month or year-over-year.

In today’s digital age, good news and bad news can spread rapidly, so organizations who stand to make a profit from CSR initiatives must ensure they’re taking a purposeful approach that has an implicit connection to their brand.

And at a time when social media can wreak havoc on your reputation with one tweet or message (Provident’s recent crisis readiness study proves just that), it’s more important than ever before to be transparent and clearly communicate your stance to stakeholders, while prioritizing the customer relationship every step of the way.

Above all else, organizations would be wise to remember that CSR should be ingrained in the company ethos, and sustainability efforts must be embraced at all levels, from the senior-most business leaders to middle-management and junior staff. And this also means nurturing that commitment and purpose every day, not just at one or two key inflection points during the year. It makes business sense, yes, but it is also the smart human choice.