There was a time when a company could just be a company. Thirty years ago, consumers weren’t as sophisticated about the way they engaged with brands. It wasn’t such a big deal that McDonald’s fries were swimming in artery-clogging saturated fats—they tasted great. It didn’t matter that the NFL sold a sport that was hyper-dangerous to its players. The spectacle was all that mattered.
Things are different today. Just ask Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick what it’s like to be the leader of a company with a tarnished brand. Turns out, it’s much more challenging to run a successful company if it’s perceived to be socially, economically, and environmentally unaware.
A “Triple Bottom Line”
Our friends at Green Builder Media (GBM) give a good rundown of this idea. GBM’s Editor-in-chief Matt Power writes, “Simple bottom line decisions are not good enough for many shareholders, and they’re leveraging CEOs to act more responsibly.” Companies see that consumers respond to brands that are at least perceived to be filling out a “triple bottom line”—simultaneously acting in the best interests of shareholders, the environment, and the social climate. (For instance, if you’re selling high-profit margin, eco-friendly backpacks to bank robbers, you’re only hitting two of the three benchmarks.)
With so much information at their fingertips, consumers want to feel good about what they’ve purchased. This isn’t just a warm-and-fuzzy sentiment, there are numbers to back it up. GBM quotes a study that showed that in 2014, “S&P 500 companies with a clear strategy for addressing climate change earned an 18 percent higher return on investment than companies that did not.”
What It Means For You
The central question of this new branding reality is a complex one. Which matters more: to be socially, economically, and profit-responsible or to just be perceived so? Apple is a company with a sterling reputation, but it’s manufactured billions of landfill-stuffing smartphones that contain heavy metals that could one day contaminate drinking water.
There is good news: a 2017 report from World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Calvert Investments, CDP, and Ceres, states that 48 percent of Fortune 500 companies have at least one climate or energy goal, an increase of five percent from a prior 2014 report.
As a responsible energy user, you should consider working with dealers, vendors, and companies that care as much about the environment as you do. After all, the one sure way your company will be perceived to be doing the right thing, is if you’re actually doing the right thing.