The recently released Sense & Sustainability Study is helping businesses understand how sustainability can boost their bottom line.
September 14, 2015
John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good, and we are so honored to have with us today Ron Loch. He is the Managing Director of Sustainability Consulting at G&S Business Communications. Welcome to Green Is Good, Ron. Ron Loch: Thanks, John. Glad to be here. John Shegerian: Happy to have you, and before we get talking about all the great work you’re doing at G&S Business Communications with your colleagues, can you share the Ron Loch story, please? Ron Loch: Yeah. Certainly. I guess, I’ve always been rooted in an interest particularly in the environment. I started out in fisheries and wildlife biology about 30 years ago, and soon came to discover, though, that I’m a rather math-challenged person and was always good at communications, so I pivoted and went into journalism. About six years ago, as I was getting along in my career – I have been with this agency for 28 years – I wanted to look at maybe making a change, get more inspired after such a long period of time and realized as I looked around that sustainability had become a great business challenge that companies were dealing with, our clients were dealing with, and so I went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in Managing the Sustainable Enterprise and started the consulting practice within G&S Business Communications and focused on that ever since, helping companies figure out their sustainability strategy and communicating that to their stakeholders. John Shegerian: And were you happy – as you said, pivoted – has that pivot turned out to be the right pivot for you? Ron Loch: It absolutely has. I have a lot of passion for this and it is a critical issue that all companies are dealing with, and so we just keep seeing the market increase for a company like ours to help them identify issues and communicate what they’re doing around the relationships with society and the environment. John Shegerian: That’s great. And for our listeners to learn more about everything that Ron is doing at G&S Business Communications, you can go to www.GScommunications.com. It’s really easy, www.GScommunications.com. You just have published a Sense and Sustainability Study. Can you share a little bit about what that means and what’s in that study? Ron Loch: Sure. Yeah. We started this six years ago when I began the practice just to gauge where general consumers in the U.S. are in relation to sustainability and corporations. And so this year, in our sixth study, we asked some questions around understanding not only of sustainability but also of science, and we found that nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t feel real comfortable with their practical understanding of science. Also, what we’re finding is many Americans don’t have a sufficient grasp of how companies can practice sustainability. And when we talk about sustainability, we’re asking them questions around the well-being of the planet, people and community, so it’s both environmental and social issues. John Shegerian: And so how do you think – why is this? Why are Americans so uninformed when it comes to sustainability and how can we improve that? Ron Loch: Yeah, I think one reason is that if you look at most companies – and certainly, there are certain companies that sustainability is part of their marketing efforts – but largely the information that consumers are exposed to have nothing to do with that relationship that the company has with the environment or society, and they really would have to dig very deep into investor relations or on their corporate website to find that information. So I think the lack of accessibility is one of the critical issues that we’re seeing influencing this. Then there is also just – I think – an unhealthy skepticism still. John Shegerian: Ah. Ron Loch: People have been fed this idea that you can’t be a good business and also really care about environmental and social issues, and I think that comes into play as well. John Shegerian: Interesting. So since, as you say, there is a skepticism towards business about being green – because there has been so much green-washing, frankly, as you and I well know – how do you help businesses raise their visibility and get the credit and build the reputation for being green when they’re doing the right thing? Ron Loch: Yeah. One of the keys is really focusing on those issues where they can have the greatest impact and that takes an analysis of what kinds of products of services they offer and what that entails so that the issues that they talk about are ones where they truly can have an impact on the environment or on the local community. Some of the green-washing comes from aspirations that have nothing to do with the business, and if you can’t impact it through your business, you’re not going to have results, so that’s first, is just making sure that you’re addressing relevant issues. Then, from there, it’s really being transparent in setting goals and not being afraid to talk about not achieving those goals but really through storytelling, addressing the progress that you’re making and also the impact that it’s having. Sometimes we’re hiding behind legalese and data-driven jargon and what’s lost is the real positive impact even the smallest activities can have on improving the environment or improving the lives of people ‘til we really push getting a better level of storytelling out in front of consumers. John Shegerian: And, Ron, what kind of companies come to G&S Business Communications for your services? Is it huge multinationals? Is it smaller, locally oriented businesses? How big or small are the companies, and then what are they looking at in terms of what is pushing them now to want to market or message more sustainability or their green behavior? Ron Loch: For the most part, it is large companies – Fortune 500, some Fortune 1,000 companies that we work with – and we’re finding their value and interest largely is their public companies, and there is just rising investor interest in sustainability. So that’s one. Another is just what social media has done, which means nothing is really opaque any longer with companies. Everything is pretty transparent and there is this recognition that your activities – people will know where you have a relationship with a community within your supply chain, the environmental conditions within the supply chain. And then lastly is just experience in approaching these issues and realizing the value that is inherent in having a strong sustainability strategy. John Shegerian: Right. Ron Loch: It’s not just about mitigating risk and a lot of companies did get to sustainability with the idea “how do we mitigate our risk,” particularly environmental risk. But now what they’re seeing is you can also reduce cost, but more importantly, you can create tremendous value through innovation and differentiation if you have a very robust sustainability program. John Shegerian: Are people who are – if it’s Fortune 500 companies that are walking through your doors – is it companies that already have sustainability programs or is it really driven by a CEO who says, “Hey, listen, we’re going to hire or promote our first chief sustainability officer. We’re finally going to create that position, and I want you to work with Ron to now create a whole suite of messaging and opportunities at the company so we can get some wins and then we can message those wins?” Is it across the board already people who have programs and then some others that you have to create? What kind of groups of Fortune 500 companies are coming to you, and how much do you have to do for them? Ron Loch: It’s both. And in some cases it’s companies that have been focused on sustainability as long as 15 years, and what they’re coming to us for there is, “How can we tell this story better? How can we communicate with our stakeholders more effectively?” In other cases, particularly in this year – and it’s often companies that are a little further up the supply chain, maybe in industries where they have not had to communicate a lot because they’re business-to-business, they don’t have a lot of customers and now they’re realizing that they’re getting questions from their investors. Or they may be getting questions from their downstream customer, who has got a very robust reporting program and they need kind of the scoop to know what issues should be refocused on, what kind of strategy should we have and how do we effectively tell this story? So it really does vary. There are companies at every stage of the sustainability journey right now. But one trend, I will say that I’m seeing, is just the questions from investors and customers is starting to drive greater awareness about the business importance of sustainability. John Shegerian: That’s great. And for our listeners who just joined us we’re got Ron Loch on with us. He is the Managing Director of Sustainability Consulting at G&S Business Communication. To learn more about what Ron is doing and his colleagues are doing at G&S Business Communications, you can go to www.GScommunications.com. So your sense and sustainability study has been published, and it’s evolving in terms of the information that you gather. Talk a little bit about – we love to offer solutions on Green Is Good, Ron, and we have lots of business owners that listen to this show. What are some ways businesses can make their efforts to go green more appealing to their clients or potential clients? Ron Loch: Yeah. Well, our study found a couple things, and one is to really humanize or soften the language. We took terms to see what would resonate the most with consumers, and when you look at the terms that are resonating most, “human rights” and “wildlife protection” are much better than “deforestation,” “carbon footprint,” “climate change.” So it does make sense when you sit back and think about it from a communications standpoint. Babies and animals still sell in advertising, right? And I think what this is telling us is while we have to focus on the broader issues – for example, deforestation because deforestation as an issue has tremendous implication both for human rights as well as wildlife protection – but when we get down to the point of telling the story of what we’re focused on and the impact that’s having, not losing that element, that kind of soft emotional element that’s speaking about how fellow community members are benefitting or how we’re benefiting animals that live within the forest, that’s a much more compelling way to reach these people. John Shegerian: Interesting. Ron Loch: Another would be not to ignore the news media. John Shegerian: Yeah. Ron Loch: The news media by and large – and this has been tracking year-to-year – is still very important for a source that people go to to understand what businesses are doing around sustainability. News media gets more than 50 percent. After that, it’s word-of-mouth, which is 40 percent. So the news media is very, very important. We would think social media but compared to news media, social media is 32 percent of the consumer’s say that that’s where they’re going for that information. John Shegerian: Wow. Ron Loch: So it’s critically important. And the CSL reports, only 15 percent say they’re going there for this information. So those are very important – the CSL reports. They’re important for investors, they’re important for industry. John Shegerian: So interesting. Ron Loch: But to fully get your story out there, they do need to look at multimedia approaches. John Shegerian: Right. So you can’t just go all – what you’re saying is you can’t just go all in on social and forget everything else just because your kids are now all over Facebook and you say, “That’s the way to go.” You’ve got to give a diverse approach to getting the message out. Ron Loch: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think you could probably make the argument that the social media – oftentimes kind of the wellspring of what is being shared would start in your traditional news media. John Shegerian: Now, you deal with lots of brands big and small, Ron, obviously. Talk a little bit now – let’s continue what you were just saying about getting the message out. Talk about generational differences. I’m 52, my son is 22. How do you reach 52-year-olds and 22-year-olds? Ron Loch: Yeah, that’s a good question. Again, I do think it’s – first and foremost – the stories will still resonate. John Shegerian: Yeah. Ron Loch: You’re both going to be associating with those stories that make it easy for you to understand how a program is benefitting, whether it’s people or the environment. That mix again – you may be more inclined to the news media where your son may be more a social, but collectively picking both of you up, you’ll get that word-of-mouth, which is second most important. What’s interesting, though, is our study would show that your interests in this topic is going to vary widely where your son’s generation is really looking for this information whereas our generation isn’t as much. In fact, we found that about a quarter of consumers are not interested in learning how companies are going green. John Shegerian: Wow. Ron Loch: And that was largely driven by our generation. John Shegerian: So you’re saying a quarter of consumers. But what’s the number when it comes to the Millennials then? Is that number much bigger if you broke them down just on generational issues? Ron Loch: No only 18 percent of millennials would say that they’re not interested. John Shegerian: Wow. Ron Loch: Versus the older Gen Xers, younger baby boomers, which would be defined at 45 to 54. John Shegerian: That’s us. Ron Loch: That was 29 percent. John Shegerian: Wow. Ron Loch: So about a third of our generation is saying they don’t really care to know. John Shegerian: Wow. Ron Loch: And by and large, millennials at 18 percent was the ones who care the most. John Shegerian: Yeah. What is the biggest misperception about green technologies and sustainability right now? Ron Loch: That they’re costly or don’t perform as well as so-called traditional approaches. It kind of gets to that skepticism I brought up earlier. We’ve been led to believe that these approaches always cost more money or deliver a product or service that isn’t up to par, and that’s just not the case. What we see is companies seeing tremendous innovation and growth by addressing the challenges that we have with the environment and society. John Shegerian: That’s so interesting. So this whole fallacy of “I don’t want to go green” or “I don’t want to take my company green because it costs more money” is really just a bunch of hooey really, Ron. You’re saying really if companies do it right and they work with folks like you and other great leaders, they can make it great for the bottom line and make it cultural at their company. Ron Loch: Absolutely. And the thing is it goes beyond the hard costs and returns. Every study will show that employee retention and recruitment are improved by pursuing a sustainability program. And there is a cost associated with that, and obviously, there is value associated with that. The innovation and product line growth that can come from addressing these challenges is huge. So it’s not just cost reduction by improving your energy footprint. There are so many different ways that businesses are gathering value by addressing the challenges that we face both on the environmental side and societal side. John Shegerian: And we’re down to the last minute. What’s the biggest catalyst for companies to become greener? What did you learn in your sense and sustainability study and in all your work? Biggest catalyst for companies to become greener? Ron Loch: It’s just what I was saying. It’s really the business value that can be derived through reduced cost, growth and value and mitigating risk. John Shegerian: I love it. Ron Loch: Yeah. John Shegerian: That’s great. That’s a lot. That’s a lot of [inaudible]. Ron Loch: It’s a better business, basically. John Shegerian: Yeah. Yeah exactly. And for our listeners to read your sense and sustainability study, they can contact you? Is that how they get it? Ron Loch: Yeah, or they can go on the website that you’ve given – www.GScommnications.com – and there is a button on there that they can go access the study. John Shegerian: Wow. Wow, that’s awesome. So for our listeners out there, again, this has been Ron Loch – the Managing Director of Sustainability Consulting at G&S Business Communications – and to download the Sense and Sustainability Study that he did, go to www.GScommunications.com. Thank you, Ron, for sharing the G&S Communications story with our listeners today. You are making the world a better place and are truly living proof that Green Is Good.