B2B technology companies should include sustainability messaging as part of your brand positioning. But how?

Paul Crabtree 14th April 2022 Brand Comms, Technology

Clare Leighton is a senior marketer who has been in B2B technology for over fifteen years. Always passionate about charity and the environment, in her most recent roles at Vodafone and Citrix, she began to focus, firstly on how the work of Vodafone Foundation can be brought to life for Business customers and latterly, how the technologies which Citrix sells, can be used to help customers reduce their impact on the environment. Clare is a firm believer that technology has an integral role to play in the betterment of society.When companies can use their core technologies not just for profit, but for good, then everyone gains.

In this blog, Paul Crabtree ,MD of Velo, talks to Clare about the ways we can all do our bit to help reduce our impact on the planet and share her experiences of advancing sustainability in a large B2B technology company.   He also explores her opinions on how B2B marketers should use their sustainability efforts in their messaging and brand story-telling.

Q : Can you give us a quick overview of what Greenhouse Gases are and why they are important?

Climate change is one of the greatest threats, to both our security and prosperity. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening, and that it is very likely to be primarily the result of human activity, that being the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG).

GHG are gases that trap heat, much like a greenhouse which lets in sunlight and creates warmth, but doesn’t let that warmth escape. It is this warmth which is driving global warming.

GHG are made up of six main gases; water vapour, Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Ozone (O3) and ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFCs). When we talk about reducing our carbon footprint, we are mostly talking about trying to reduce CO2, but also CH4, N2O and CFCs.

Ozone is a protective layer which prevents radiation from the sun, it is getting thinner, if holes open up, it could cause exposure to UVB rays, which in turn can lead to skin cancers. Two thirds of global warming has happened since 1975, if we continue on this path, life as we know it will change. As Simon Sinek says, the message is not that we have to save our planet, it’s that we have to save our species.

Q What targets do we have as a country?

In December 2021, the UK Government enshrined laws to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Net zero is the point at which the country is taking as much of these climate-changing gases out of the atmosphere as it is putting in. As part of this promise, the government has a target to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, compared with 1990 levels.

 

Q So what can we do to help our business?

The most obvious is ensuring that all of the energy – electricity – used in buildings is as efficient as possible, or uses renewable tariffs. Here are some things you can consider

  • LED lighting
  • Solar panels
  • Wind turbines
  • Ensure PCs, monitors and lights are all switched off at night rather than on stand by
  • Print less

Q What about IT?

You might not consider IT to be a big consumer of GHG, but it is. According to the International Conference on Sustainable Energy Information Technology 2020, ICT consumes around 2.3% of the worlds GHGs, this might not seem like a lot, but it consumes more than aviation at 1.9%. If you add in bitcoin mining, the figure jumps enormously, there are many estimates, but in an article in the BBC from Feb 2021, it is estimated that bitcoin mining consumes more electricity than Argentina, so the GHG emissions are likely to be commensurate.

So, what can you do to reduce the impact of your IT estate on the environment?

  1. Get rid of any redundant obsolete or trivial (ROT) data

According to Commvault, nearly 70% of our data is ROT, but it is all stored somewhere where it requires electricity in the form of lighting, heating and cooling, network connections, security and patching as well as human intervention. Even if it is in the most efficient and environmentally friendly hyperscale data centre, it is still a waste of time, resource and energy. It’s the equivalent of keeping old mouldy food in your fridge indefinitely and buying a new fridge each time your fridge gets full. So, before you begin any migration process, ensure that you are only transferring essential up to date data.

  1. Move to the cloud

According to Citrix and Justin Sutton-Parker on whose research an awful lot of their content is based, 40% of on premises data centres are inefficient negatively impacting IT’s GHG emissions. By moving workloads data and applications to global hyperscale data centres such as Azure, GCP and AWS, you can take advantage of their efficiency and sustainable technologies.

  1. End user compute (EUC) devices

Having moved workloads, data and applications to the cloud, the reliance on high performing end user computing devices is reduced. This has three potential benefits;

  • Organisations can deploy thin client devices such as Chromebooks or Raspberry PIs instead of high energy desktop devices or even CAD machines
  • Organisations can extend the refresh cycle of their devices. Because the compute is done in the cloud, the EUC does not require as high a specification and therefore doesn’t need to be replace as often. This means that embodied emissions (emissions from the manufacturing process) are reduced, and waste is saved from landfill.
  • Organisations can introduce a Bring your own device (BYOD) policy. With the correct security policies in place, again the number of devices needing to be manufactured, powered and then scrapped at the end of their useful life is reduced.
  1. Waste reduction

There is an awful lot that can be done to help with waste reduction. Some is really obvious such as reducing the amount of single use plastics and having the usual recycling bins, others take a bit more work.

During the pandemic, we have seen a huge rise in the amount of PPE, everything from disposable face masks and gloves to lateral flow tests. These are very hard to recycle through normal routes, but there is a company who can deal with them, and many other problem materials. Refactory based in Hull will collect them and turn them into children’s chairs, outdoor furniture and many other things. Another great source of information on sustainable products is MyGreenPod, the sustainability supplement of The Guardian.

We all saw the impact of the digital divide during home schooling. If you open your IT cupboards and find excess laptops or IT equipment, please consider donating them to ComputerAid. ComputerAid was originally founded to send computer equipment to developing countries, but stepped in to send over 4500 devices to children in the UK during the pandemic.

Q What are the benefits or drivers to a business of becoming more sustainable?

The first is obvious, by reducing your carbon footprint, you are helping to protect the future of the human species. However, there are also business benefits to being an environmentally conscious organisation, as long as the actions are genuine and not just greenwashing.

  • Attraction and retention of talent – According to a new study commissioned by the Anthesis in April 2021, over half (53%) of the UK’s workforce say sustainability is an important factor in choosing a company to work for
  • Building brand and reputation – According to ITSMA, one of the three top marketing trends for 2022 is building brand and reputation. According to Agility PR Solutions there are four benefits to having a sustainable brand 1) it drives sales 2) the future is green 3) you risk being left behind 4) it builds trust
  • Compliance – All public sector organisations and many private sector businesses such as utilities have requirements on them to reduce their carbon footprints.
  • Attracting investment – Many investors are looking at organisations sustainability criteria before choosing to invest their capital with them, the same can be said of consumers.

If you want to look at how some of the most sustainable companies in the world run their business, you can find details on the Corporate Knights top 100 index.

Q So how can brands use this in their marketing without being accused of greenwashing?

That’s a really good question and for me, it comes down to authenticity and intent. If the intent of becoming sustainable is to use it in marketing, then I believe that is Greenwashing. If the intent is to become a greener more sustainable organisation, and the by product is being able to talk about it externally with the confidence to be able to back up the claims, for me that is genuine.

The Advertising Standards Agency is coming down heavily on companies who are making false claims, whilst not in the B2B world, there are nine examples in this article here, ranging from Innocent, to Shell.

Sustainability as a ToFU Activity

Many B2B marketing organisations overlook the opportunities presented by talking to audiences at the top of the marketing funnel. It’s estimated that only 5% of customers and prospects are in a buying cycle at any one time, so if you only focus on MoFu and BoFU activities, you are potentially missing out on 97% of the audience.

Top of the funnel activity is all about creating brand awareness and reputation, because a lot of companies miss out on this step, there is also less competition and noise at the top of the funnel. If you create strong relationships at the top of the funnel, customers are also less likely to look at the competition, sales cycles will be shorter and the value of the deals higher.

During this step, digital strategies such as SEO, social and organic can be used, but content is king. Messaging about an organisations’ sustainability strategy fits beautifully into this stage of the marketing funnel. It helps to build a picture of an organisation that you would like to do business with. Indeed, if you are doing business with public sector organisations and many private sector organisations, sustainability criteria are increasingly becoming part of RFPs, so establishing yourself as a player early in the buying journey is key.

Be clear where you are on your sustainability journey

When a leading software company first started marketing the benefits of their solutions to their customers, it was a movement started by the employees. They knew that the rest of the company did not, at that time, have a compelling story to tell. They were clear on this when customers asked about the companies own position. The message was, every journey has to start somewhere, this is our starting point.

Within two years, momentum had built and the message had got through to HQ, the company delivered its first sustainability report, its CDC carbon footprint benchmark and now sits in the Corporate Knights 100 most sustainable companies.

If they had just gone out to customers with the message of how their solutions could help THEM with THEIR carbon footprint challenges without being clear about their OWN journey, it could have looked like not taking their own medicine and been a PR disaster, they could have been accused of greenwashing.

Sustainability Messaging Sits in the So What, Alongside the Power of And

Sadly, I don’t believe that we are in a place where products or solutions can be sold purely on their environmental credentials, unless of course that is the only problem which an organisation is looking to solve.

For me, the power of the message sits in the “so what” part of any value proposition, and should sit alongside the main message. If the main message is that the solution will save money, the secondary message is AND it can also help you reduce your GHG emissions. The power of AND is important. Focus on the bottom line whilst also doing good for the planet.

Sustainability Can Help Unlock New Sources of Budget or Different Contacts

If the marketing and messaging are right, it can help to unlock new budgets and contacts. Reducing emissions is the responsibility of either the Chief Financial Officer or the Chief Risk Officer. If they are not the traditional persona you would sell into, but your solution can help them with one of their targets, you could gain a friend on the board, particularly if they have declared a climate emergency or had new targets set.

Sustainability Needs to have Buy in from Everyone in the Organisation

Finally, and this may sound obvious, in order to not be a tokenistic approach, a company’s sustainability strategy needs to have the buy in of everyone in the organisation. Those companies who do it best are the ones where the executive officers are remunerated on sustainability achievements, who have given up their corporate jets, where the achievements of the board are celebrated as much as the achievements of the employees in the local office and where they all work towards a common purpose.

 

To learn more about Velo’s brand and storytelling experience, please visit

Branding & Storytelling

Paul Crabtree

Paul Crabtree

Managing Director