The Drum | How do you solve a problem like… finding new ways to talk about sustainability?

This week, as part of their 'How do you solve a problem like...?' series, The Drum released an article sharing insights from key industry marketing heads exploring the different ways in which brands should be tackling sustainability in their communications. Alongside representatives from M&C Saatchi, Absolut Vodka & FutureBrand London, The Mill's VP of Global Marketing, Mark Hardy, shared his insights on the ever-evolving issue.
Community December 2, 2020

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum from brands, agencies and everything in between for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners. This week, they tell us how brands can cut through the sustainability noise…


Tad Greenough, Chief Creative Officer, Absolut Vodka

In order to cut through the noise and be more relevant to consumers, brands need to realise it’s not just about sustainability – it’s about a broader sense of responsibility. When it comes to being a primary source for good, brands are more trusted than governments these days. So, communicating a clear stance on social issues that are relevant in consumer’s everyday lives, shows that you have moved beyond important but foundational facets of sustainability, into other ways that you can be a responsible brand.

Today everyone has a voice – so that means everybody has a responsibility for the planet and the society they’re apart of. Therefore, we need to make our communications and campaigns personal, with the aim to encourage consumer participation. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s risky to tackle controversial topics, especially as a global brand. However at the end of the day it’s all about positive change – so enabling our consumers to join us will have the biggest impact.


Mark Hardy, Vice President Global Marketing, The Mill

Brands that credibly do their bit across all of their business can shine if they tell their customers. Consider making bold statements such as releasing an alternative Christmas ad revealing your three-point plan to reduce carbon emissions in ten years. Make that ‘the dream’.

Avoid ‘bolt-ons’ (once the cornerstone of CSR!) such as guilt-driven donations and tenuous partnerships. Don’t just ‘off-set’. It looks hollow to increasingly discerning customers. Be true to your market and make real changes. Then tell your customers through your biggest channels. Be honest and open. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about committing to being better.


Hilary Davies, Head of Corporate and Global Brand, M&C Saatchi Talk

Brands dominating the sustainability conversation will be making it all about their customers’ lives. People have had a tough year in and out of lockdowns and grappling with economic uncertainty. While most of us associate with a higher purpose to save the planet, the well-documented ‘intention-action gap’ around sustainability is likely to widen in 2021. Living a Greta-approved lifestyle saving Greenland’s ice sheet is admirable, but for many it presents as a complicated set of sacrifices with no tangible ‘my-world’ reward.

As chest-thumping on corporate sustainability gets louder, real consumer mindshare will be earned by brands that address the unspoken question on the lips of even the most well-intentioned: ‘What’s in it for me?’. Brands should pick one relevant micro-issue, make it locally meaningful and demonstrate the impact of individual action. Becoming creators of positive emotional engagement and social rewards in place of finger-wagging induced guilt – drawing long-term loyalty.

BBC’s Blue Planet II arguably catalysed the UK’s war on plastics when it showed the effects of ocean plastic along Britain’s coastline. The impact of plastic pollution was brought home to our doorstep, broadcast across our living rooms, and a nation felt empowered to take action and save its own natural world.


At The Mill, we believe that we can make a positive contribution to society, the environment, our people and our business by managing our activities with care and respecting our immediate and wider environment. We regularly review the actions we can take to further minimise our impact. For example, The Mill London is a member of the BIMA Sustainability Council’s first Net Carbon Negative Programme, where the council assesses our carbon emissions with the view to making reductions and eventually becoming a Net Carbon Negative studio.

Find out more about The Mill’s sustainability efforts on our People & Culture page here, and read the full Sustainability article on The Drum here.