Beyond just communicating a company’s ESG intent and efforts to the public, Schroders’ Jerry Low says the marketing function can also actively drive and shape them.

The irony is this: Marketing serves as quite the singular bridge between companies and the public, yet according to dentsu and Kantar’s ‘Marketing a Better Future’ report, it lacks the skills and tools to influence or measure sustainability programmes, and is not given the jurisdiction to play a central role in a company’s sustainability transformation.

It pains me to see that in many organisations, marketing’s role has been that of a loudspeaker, communicating an organisation’s sustainability intent and efforts to shape public perception only.

But while the sustainability message lends itself to the marketing function as a point of leverage, one can’t help but wonder: Is it enough? Or is there a bigger opportunity that marketers are not seeing? What else can we do?

Given that the marketing function is typically the closest to a company’s target audience, its role should not be solely to convey company activities but also to drive them. Marketing can and should take ownership of a company’s ESG pursuits, and actively steer programmes and initiatives. It is time marketing takes the spotlight.

Here are a few ways the marketing function can make a difference in a company’s ESG remit.

1. Identify and further ESG endeavours through involving people within and outside the organization

Schroders’ experience with their ‘Making An Impact’ campaign, featuring three Team Singapore athletes, exemplifies how this can be done. The campaign was built from the ground up, based first and foremost on the athletes’ personal sustainability journeys and ambitions, and only then mapping them against Schroders’ UN SDG commitments. The aim was to inspire awareness around how individuals can contribute significantly and positively to sustainability through everyday efforts and a desire to make an impact on the planet and its people.

In conceptualising this campaign, the marketing team also got Schroders’ staff involved in the storytelling. We encouraged colleagues from all departments to share their sustainability stories on social media using the hashtag #MakingAnImpact. This included proactive measures they were taking to live more sustainably to spur conversations and inspire others. But most of all, we made sure the campaign was as close to the ground as possible. Doing so gave us insights to drive what ESG stories we wanted to tell and what goals to focus on. The people formed the heartbeat.

Overall, ‘Making An Impact’ helped reinforce Schroders’ image to external stakeholders as steadfast in our ESG pursuits from top to bottom, and to internal stakeholders as leading by example. The success of the campaign can be attributed to the athletes, their friends and supporters and our colleagues who helped amplify it on social media, as well as making it authentic. Most of all, it is thanks to our listening to the sentiments from the ground about what needs to and can be done.

2. Expand ESG influence and amplify its results through meaningful partnerships

An example of this that stands out for me is Singapore Pools and its recent partnership with Singapore Polytechnic and SkillsFuture.

Dubbed Connexion, the partnership was aimed at equipping mid-career jobseekers with essential skills needed for the social services sector. The programmes, jointly developed and delivered by the three parties, combined each of their respective areas of expertise to boost jobseekers’ overall employability in the labour-strapped social services sector.

This is in line with Singapore Pools’ focus on forging meaningful partnerships (such as with like-minded organisations and employees) beyond merely informing the press and public about their endeavours. They saw a larger opportunity, and they took it. Marketing is at an excellent vantage point to identify who these partners are and what the points of leverage may be in terms of knowledge and capability, not merely the communications channels to employ.

3. Elevate the urgency of adopting ESG practices through transparent communications

The growing ESG buzz generated by enthusiastic marketers has culminated in a surge in demand for ESG data, statistics and results. Insights and findings then continue to inform the next round of ESG plans and activities. One company outside the finance sector that I pay attention to is Singapore’s national telco. Singtel organises its ESG information for annual reporting into four pillars: Climate Change and Environment, People and Future of Work, Community Impact and Sustainable Value Creation.

In FY2022, Singtel reported they had “achieved absolute GHG emissions reduction of 3.3% since FY2015”, as they work towards their goal of a 25% absolute reduction in GHG emissions in Scopes 1 and 2.

Among other interesting stats, they also reported completing 17% more learning hours with a 22% increase in monthly unique learners.

The point is, they were measurable, and they were transparent.

Besides reporting on a company’s commitments to ESG programmes and update on goals, companies are expected to give stakeholders easy access to information on successes, setbacks and progress.

In terms of emotional appeal, it is indicative of a willingness to be vulnerable and a sense of commitment to championing ESG causes and walking the talk despite obstacles along the way. Such communications will shift the paradigm to an even more pro-ESG state that in turn encourages even more data and details.

At Schroders, besides publishing official annual sustainability reports, we take it a step further. Schroders now publishes sustainability data for all reported funds, enhancing transparency around financial product offerings that are commonly deemed to be complicated. This is directed at partners who are concerned about the long-term sustainability and profitability of the offerings.

The drive to enhance transparency and widen the range of information disclosed is a strategic move that has the potential to greatly alleviate stakeholders’ concerns. Therefore, where feasible, more companies ought to follow suit. After all, marketing is all about fostering trust and confidence via responsible reporting.

4. Nurturing trust through being measurable in everything we do

Ad net zero is steadily gaining momentum as a principle and movement as the industry begins to spring into action with a five-point action plan. While I am proud to say that Schroders has already embarked on this journey, it is proving to be a long and challenging one.

In the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting report, I recall reading that businesses must translate overarching sustainability promises into clear departmental goals and this includes marketing objectives. However, there is not enough being measured when it comes to sustainability and marketing. But data ought to be in a marketer’s lifeblood.

“Sincere efforts must be made to crystallise the link between marketing’s sustainability strategies and business outcomes,” I quote. Like many other departments, marketing can be more involved in optimising the business strategy each year, instead of acting as a mere mouthpiece. And marketing ought to be.

‘Net Zero’ is also a growing priority for Schroders’ APAC clients. According to our Institutional Investor Study 2022:

  • 71% of APAC investors reported having made commitments to reduce emissions
  • 55% stated that greater consensus on frameworks and methodologies will aid them in their efforts to reach net zero
  • Only 7% of respondents in this region stated they are not on the pathway to net zero, which was half of what was found among global respondents (14%)

As the world transitions to an ESG-aligned future, marketers ought to evolve accordingly with a greater sense of purpose.

By committing to desired business outcomes and proactively choosing to work with ESG-aligned partners such as manufacturers and media owners, and backing up our recommendations with research and data, we can break out of a simplistic supporting role and jointly bring more meaningful and effective sustainable solutions to the boardroom table.