StrategyContentFour brands commit to ethical marketing: Here’s how to join them

Four brands commit to ethical marketing: Here’s how to join them

30-second summary:

  • Today’s consumers are more concerned than ever with the environmental impact of the brands they consume, especially within food and beverage
  • There is a unique opportunity for brands to align their own purpose and growth with consumer desires to look after the world we live in
  • Brands must step up their sustainability efforts and can share powerful success stories to inspire confidence and trust in their brand
  • A healthy sustainability strategy can motivate and inspire people, creating a multiplier for inclusive growth

Margaret Molloy on how to build sustainable and ethical marketing practices

    • In honor of Earth Day 2022, I hosted The Marketing Society’s panel about driving the future of sustainability. The discussion featured four global marketing leaders from brands in the food and beverage industry: Danone, PepsiCo, Diageo, and Kitopi.

Today’s shoppers have a greater desire to do good and are paying close attention to the environmental impact of their purchases when picking a brand. The ‘2021 Food and Health Survey’ by the International Food Information Council found that almost half of U.S. consumers believe that their food choices impact the environment.

Therefore, brands face immense pressure to step up their sustainability efforts and this is most apparent in the food and beverage space. Our panel explored the importance of brand purpose and investing in the future. We discussed sustainable product sourcing, cutting waste, improving packaging to expanding product ranges, and the importance of collaboration of all key stakeholders as brands embrace marketing ethics.

Measuring and sharing sustainability success is powerful

Throughout our conversation, our four marketing leaders shared examples of initiatives they are launching and lessons they are learning. When so much of the conversation around sustainability is overwhelming, the resounding messages of progress and success motivate people, inspiring them to act.

By sharing these stories, the marketing leaders emphasized the merits and effectiveness of positive storytelling as a means through which marketers from any industry can connect with the next generation of educated consumers.

In closing, I asked our panelists, “What is your brand’s commitment to sustainability, and how do you measure success at your brand?” Here’s what they had to say:

Danone – Linda Bethea, Head of Marketing

“We at Danone have a portfolio of over twenty brands, and they have many different commitments. All are in the service of achieving Danone’s vision of One Planet. One Health—which reflects a belief that the health of people and the health of the planet are interconnected. We continue to advance our journey of leveraging business as a force for good. We were committed to becoming a Certified B Corp by 2020, and we achieved our goal in April 2018. Danone North America is now the largest Certified B Corp in the world. We have also committed to cutting food waste in half by 2030, by partnering with food rescue groups like City Harvest and We Don’t Waste.”

Evian as an example of sustainable and ethical marketing“Last year, we announced a new partnership with Rothy’s brand to repurpose Evian water bottles collected at the 2021 US Open tennis tournament into a limited-edition, tennis-inspired capsule collection. The first-of-its-kind capsule collection will debut in September 2022. In terms of measurement, we have very specific KPIs in place at the corporate level to measure corporate commitments, as well as at the brand level to measure such commitments as becoming carbon positive on Horizon Organic by 2025 or becoming 100% recycled plastic at Evian by 2030. We have KPIs in place and measure them regularly and track our sustainability journey.”

PepsiCo – Ciara Dilley, Vice President, Better Choice Snacking Brands, FNLA

Ciara Dilley talks sustainability and ethical marketing“At Pepsi, we have a fantastic corporate program called pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) that enables all and drives all that we do in our work, and our goals are embedded in pep+. This includes sourcing ingredients and making and selling our products in a more sustainable way, to leveraging our connections with consumers each day to take sustainability mainstream and engage people to make better choices for themselves and the planet. That trickles down to the brands. For example, one of our packaging innovations is around ‘Off the Eaten Path’, our plant-based veggie snack.”

“We have now launched the first industrially compostable snack bag in the United States. That was a massive step for us, because we know, if we can do this as the largest snack company in the country, if not the world, we can bring others with us. We can start to make this material commercially viable for more companies. We track our commitments from a corporate perspective but also from a brand and consumer perspective. Do our consumers feel good about this? Do they feel we’re doing enough? And does it make them feel closer to our brands?”

Diageo – Jim Ruane, Vice President, Reserve Vodkas

Jim Ruane talks sustainability and ethical marketing“Diageo’s grain-to-glass sustainability action plan requires accountability across all functions from supply to demand. So, similarly, we require every role to embrace this brand activist mentality: willing to take action, passion, creative flair, and rigor—going beyond what’s conventional. Preserving water is one of the critical pillars of our grain-to-glass sustainability platform. As such, we’re committed to preserving and replenishing water everywhere we operate.”

“Our targets are to ensure that every drink we produce by 2030 will take 30% less water to make than it does today and achieve a net positive water impact in our key water-stressed basins and communities. Additionally, we are working toward a low-carbon future, reducing emissions, and putting biodiversity back into the environment. Quite simply, Diageo measures success by measuring whether we have done what we have said we would do. Our success lies in our commitments to the world and the investor community; we’re tracking against 25 distinct commitments through 2030.”

Kitopi – Ziad Kamel, Vice President Global Brands and Cloud Restaurants Co-Founder

Ziad Kamel talks sustainability and ethical marketing“Based in Dubai, Kitopi started as a tech-powered cloud kitchen company. We were solving the problem of on-demand food delivery, and we grew incredibly fast in the region. With the pandemic, however, we saw a shift in consumer behavior, from going out to ordering in, which added rocket fuel to our growth and presented many new opportunities. The most significant impact we’ve made is on the packaging. The shift to restaurant delivery means, instead of diners eating on a ceramic plate, consumers want on-demand food.”

“We’ve seen a massive improvement in the supply chain and moving away from plastic containers to sustainable, biodegradable, reusable, or recyclable packaging containers. And we’ve taken steps to ensure the consumer experience isn’t negatively affected, while still ensuring our sustainability metrics are kept. Small decisions have massive impacts, such as working with our delivery partners to avoid making it a default to deliver cutlery with every food order. We made a commitment a few years back, and now 50% of our packaging is either recyclable or biodegradable. We continue to progress and innovate with our suppliers on that front. One metric we are targeting is to be 100% packaging sustainable by 2024.”

What adjustments do marketers need to make to their mindsets?

Marketing leaders are being presented with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset the purpose-growth relationship as they embrace ethical marketing practices. A successful sustainability strategy is a vital pillar of this opportunity. To achieve this reset, leaders must make three mental model shifts:

1) From Pause to Portal: The health, environmental, economic, and social justice crises are not temporary interruptions that must be survived only to return to our pre-pandemic lives. Instead, these challenges are opening the door to a new future. They are a portal through which to re-examine corporate purpose, make new commitments, forge new relationships, and unlock new growth possibilities.

2) From A Few Tribes to Multiple Stakeholders: Leaders need to move beyond shareholder primacy and customer obsession to consider all stakeholders. Responsible growth comes when we recast purpose not as a marketing artifact but as a core operating principle. Purpose is the means through which to galvanize talent, attract investors, drive customer preference, unlock innovation, and reimagine an ecosystem where private, social, and government sectors collaborate.

3) From Monuments to Movements: Brand building is no longer about static words and pictures; rather, it is about experiences. A brand’s success is a function of the narrative it creates to inspire people and the experiences people have with the brand. Ultimately, ambition shifts from a brand existing purely in an extrinsic context to rousing a sense of membership in all stakeholders. Sustainability & ethical marketing strategies are key areas to implement this approach. Telling stories that show progress and impact is a powerful way to engage all stakeholders as members.

How can brands commit their purpose to ethical marketing?

The featured marketing speakers are fierce advocates for aligning their brand’s purpose and growth with bettering people and the planet. Their positive stories and visceral commitments are inspiring. When your brand wants to advance on the path to aligning purpose and planet, answer these six questions:

1) Is your brand prepared for this wave of stakeholder capitalism and focus on inclusive growth?

2) How well do you understand what your stakeholders value?

3) Do you have a brand purpose that resonates broadly?

4) How is your brand showing up?

5) Do you know where your brand can travel?

6) Ultimately, do you have a plan for your brand to create and communicate value for all stakeholders? Or will it be left behind mired in inertia? Or—worse yet—will it be mired in nostalgia for how it used to be?

The past couple of years have been character-building for brands. Many brands have placed renewed and accelerated focus on the planet-people connection. They have doubled down on sustainable and enjoyed the benefits of ethical marketing practices. Brands’ responses to the crisis have heightened my conviction that brands can be catalysts for positive systems change. A well-lived sustainability strategy is a force multiplier. It amplifies responsible inclusive growth.


Margaret Molloy is Global CMO at Siegel+Gale. She can be found on Twitter @MargaretMolloy. You can learn more actionable insights from Margaret on how brands can in tune with audience emotions in her piece on trust building.

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