There’s a huge opportunity to embrace brand led sustainability: Lulu Raghavan

Sustainability is emerging as the biggest prospect for brands. It might completely change existing industries and create new ones. We already have a large chunk of consumers advocating sustainable products but there are barriers that need to be crossed. In this episode of Mrigashira, Charu Raizada speaks to Lulu Raghavan on the importance of bringing sustainability to the core of the businesses. She also discusses the role of a communication professional in the rapidly evolving world of sustainability.

Listen to the podcast here:

Are brands in India even ready to rise up to the sustainability challenge?

The pandemic has fundamentally shifted consumer behaviour. An IBM study shows that 93% of consumers have changed their views on sustainability after the pandemic. It's really woken us up to the paramount importance of not just our own health and vitality, but also that of our Mother Earth. So sustainability now is a very definitive transformative force that might completely change existing industries, create new ones. If we think about digital transformation and how that was the buzzword in corporate boardrooms, ECG will take centerstage in the coming decade.

So, let’s take a few data points for these different stakeholders – study shows that environmental concerns amongst employees have increased 52%. People have taken to the streets to protest that world leaders and businesses should take action on climate change. Let’s look at consumers. Kantar’s inaugural study on sustainability covering nine markets in Asia shows that 58% of consumers are prepared to spend time and money to support companies that do good. If you look at investors, BCG’s pulse check found that 51% of investors think it's important for healthy companies to pursue their ESG priorities. When it comes to the government, the world over we know that they are accelerating action in this regard. All your listeners would know that the government is planning a social stock exchange, and there are ambitious goals like all electrical vehicles by 2030. So to answer this question, what matters to stakeholders must matter to brands? So, you can clearly see that there’s a lot more to come. Honestly, sustainability is the both the most intractable challenge, but also the biggest commercial opportunity for brands.

How can brands integrate sustainability rather than have it as value add?

The need of the hour now is for brands to close the value action gap. Which is, consumers are saying that they want to buy more sustainable products and support good companies. But there are barriers. From the consumers’ perspective, cost is definitely a huge one here in India, there's also comfort, and changing consumer behaviour is extremely difficult. Convenience has been the USP for so many products over the past couple of decades - plastic packaging, etc. I think there’s a very real desire to close this gap, but I think many companies don’t know where to start. Sometimes it is tackled at the corporate level, not the brand level, they may fear of doing wrong. Within the company, there might be silos also that prevent this progress. But the truth is standing still is more risky. I think the issue is that regulation and compliance make sustainability very costly from the company’s perspective. So, what we believe is that in order for sustainability to be seen as a competitive advantage, that’s something that brands should truly embrace at a very deep level, a point of differentiation needs to be found, and therefore we have to turn to brand in order for the sustainable initiatives to really drive ROI.

So, we look at the journey of sustainability through the lens of a two by two.Imagine a Y axis, where you are plotting sustainability as central to the business strategy, or more peripheral. Think of the X axis where it's more central to brand or more peripheral. That top right hand quadrant is the Holy Grail, where the sustainably native brands and businesses like a Tesla, for example, sit. So, for brands and businesses choosing your stance on how sustainably native you want it to be, is it core, or is it periphery, is really quite important. You can either transform to be more sustainable, or you can create more sustainably native brands. That’s really the opportunity. We have a process called the good brands process, where we really help our clients assess where they are, decide where to go, help them find their focus, ideate to really see how to bring these innovation opportunities to life, and to then implement it. Greenwashing or making a promise that’s very superficial will easily be called out in this digitally transparent world that we live in. So, you have to absolutely back up your promise or what you communicate, with what you actually do, there is no scope for anything else. You can’t just make tall claims.

How can brand custodians help brands adopt sustainable practices?

In this transparent digitally connected world, stakeholders will have no patience or tolerance for greenwashing, you have to be sincere. David Attenborough’s first message on Instagram said that “Saving the planet is a communications challenge that we know needs to be done. We just now need to do it.” I believe we have an opportunity to change the narrative for businesses and for consumers. How can we as communicators shift from a very doomsday scenario to sustainability as something that’s really going to help us and our kids’ generation really enjoy the future. So, sustainability needs to be viewed not as compliance. It is not about depriving yourself, but about something to really look forward to.

So be inclusive, inviting people into this movement, and not just talk. I think we can show businesses that brands can really lead the change, brands are catalysts for action. They are a rallying cry for the entire organisation, we can help them redefine their purpose at an organisational level, at a brand level. Look at Unilever, for example. There are great examples of companies who have really defined their corporate purpose as well as individual brand purposes. Kantar brands data shows that brands with weak purpose grew only 70%. But brands with strong purpose grew 175%. So, we can actually help them use innovation, to develop products against that purpose. We can help them really embrace and embed design thinking or new mind-set deeply in the culture. This is going to be about cultural transformation as well. And when you communicate and evangelise, we have to be authentic. We have to be transparent. We have to be brutally honest. We have to be realistic. And we can’t actually greenwash right, so it’s the inside out transformation, which is the need of the hour. I think there’s a huge opportunity to embrace brand led sustainability so that we can actually benefit people, planet and profit.

*Edited for length and clarity

(Mirgashira is a podcast for Indian PR and Communication professionals anchored by RadhaRadhakrishnan and Charu Raizada. To listen to all episodes visit


News in the domain of Advertising, Marketing, Media and Business of Entertainment