This article was adapted from Johanna’s insightful interview on CMO Convo, CMO Alliance’s podcast exploring what it takes to be a great marketing leader.
Sustainability is imperative, and the burden is on brands to do the right thing. But more than putting eco-friendly messaging in your company values and posting on social media on Earth Day, sustainability is a company-wide strategy that requires you to work hard on the internal line before you even think about mentioning it externally.
I'm Johanna Bauman, the Chief Marketing Officer at PubMatic. Before I started my CMO journey, I started my career in the nonprofit world. So out of college, I did AmeriCorps, working for smaller nonprofits across the US. I really got involved in social causes as a core driver of my career.
Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges that the world, society, and my industry face. I think one of the reasons that this is an important topic for me and CMOs is because it's core to our story. It's our narrative. It's what our customers care about. So we need to be really focusing on the aspects of our narrative, the aspects of our differentiation, that are most relevant to the audiences that we're talking to.
Why CMOs and marketers are the driving force behind sustainability initiatives
Marketing departments are increasingly being looked to for guidance on corporate responsibility and sustainability issues, and it's a responsibility that some marketers have taken on willingly.
One reason for this is that marketers are inherently empathetic and are skilled at understanding their customers' needs and values. They are able to take this unique perspective and apply it to social responsibility and corporate responsibility within their organizations. Additionally, customers are asking more and more about companies' sustainability practices, making it important for the brands to have a narrative around their sustainability efforts that is both authentic and informative.
At PubMatic, for example, the marketing team began to take on the task of understanding the company's sustainability practices and telling the story of its sustainability efforts. This was a process that involved digging into the company's operations and understanding its carbon impact. The marketing team's ability to tell a compelling story helped to uncover gaps in the company's sustainability practices and identify areas for improvement.
This exercise in storytelling is a crucial part of sustainability efforts, as it can help to educate both internal and external stakeholders on a company's sustainability practices. However, it's important to ensure that the narrative is both truthful and authentic to the company's values.
Ultimately, taking on the responsibility of corporate responsibility and sustainability within an organization requires a data-driven mindset and a willingness to tackle the tough questions. By doing so, marketers can help their organizations take meaningful steps toward sustainability and corporate responsibility.
Balancing marketing and sustainability: Avoiding greenwashing
When it comes to sustainability marketing initiatives, authenticity is key. This is a big question that needs to be addressed by companies in a genuine and truthful manner. The responsibility of spearheading these initiatives should rest with the CMO, as they possess the necessary business perspective to connect with stakeholders across the organization.
Before launching any external marketing campaigns, it's crucial to first do the hard work internally. This includes asking tough questions, understanding the business impact, and identifying the necessary investments to make a difference. A marketer cannot simply raise their hand and say they want to tackle this issue without doing the necessary groundwork.
While it's essential to have a marketer who cares about sustainability, it's equally important to ensure that their efforts are not seen as merely a marketing tactic. By approaching sustainability initiatives with authenticity and transparency, businesses can avoid the pitfall of greenwashing and establish themselves as true advocates for change.
The role of CMOs in driving internal alignment of sustainability initiatives
In today's world, sustainability is a top priority for businesses. As a marketer, I've noticed that our role has become increasingly important in addressing sustainability within our own organizations. But why is that? Well, marketers are inherently empathetic. Our job is to understand and translate what our business is doing into something that our customers care about. This perspective allows us to take a unique view of how social and corporate responsibility play within our organizations.
Our customers are asking for sustainability and it's becoming top of mind. It's bubbling up in a lot of different avenues. Our sales teams are getting asked about it in sales meetings, our executive team is getting asked about it in investor conversations. This has resulted in marketers raising their hands and taking on the challenge of sustainability. We want to tell a story that is both authentic and true to our organization, while still adding our unique perspective to the conversation.
But it's not just about storytelling. This exercise of telling the sustainability story often uncovers gaps that we need to solve in our business. Questions arise, such as: what are we actually doing? How are we able to measure our carbon impact? In order to prioritize and make the right investments, we need to have relevant data points. This can include external market data or an external consultant who has experience in the field of sustainability.
It's important to level set and get everyone on the same page before beginning the sustainability journey. We need a shared understanding and alignment of both the starting point and where we are trying to go. This requires relevant data to make smart, sound business decisions. We need a true understanding of the actual financial implications of undergoing these investments. What is the commercial opportunity? Conversations with our customers can help us understand how their business decisions might change if we decide to prioritize sustainability.
We must make sure that we are well-aligned with our CFO and executive leadership team to achieve the same objective and goal. It's important to get those numbers right and understand the cost and commercial opportunity. While budgets are more constrained than ever, we must prioritize and make investments that have both short and long-term impacts.
It's not an easy journey, but it's one that we must take as a society. It's an all-hands-on-deck type of effort that requires collaboration and a willingness to learn and adapt.
The disconnect between B2B businesses and sustainability values
It is not uncommon to hear about consumer sentiment when it comes to sustainability, but what about the B2B world? The data points and surveys aren't as readily available, but that doesn't mean the B2B buyer isn't a socially conscious individual. They, too, care about societal causes and make decisions based on shared vision and passion.
While B2B decision-making may seem cold and data-driven, it's important to remember that it all comes down to people. Building connections with customers and working together on sustainability initiatives can strengthen relationships and create learning opportunities. It's essential to consider all aspects of the B2B relationship and prioritize shared values and initiatives to make a meaningful impact.
PubMatic’s sustainability journey: Uncovering our carbon footprint
At PubMatic, it took us six to nine months to uncover what was happening regarding sustainability. Although a lot was happening around the company, there was no coordination or good cross-departmental collaboration. PubMatic is an infrastructure-rich business of digital advertising and 90% of our carbon impact or energy usage comes from our data centers. So, that’s the first place we looked, and we discovered the data centers were run exclusively on renewable energy.
This was a massive accomplishment that we didn't even know about internally. We realized that there are ways to start sharing this information internally, getting employees excited, and to start speaking about our achievements externally.
However, we also realized that we couldn't use that as a launchpad to tell a big sustainability story when we needed a lot more work to uncover it. So we partnered with an organization called Ad Net Zero, an industry body focused on helping transition the advertising industry towards a net-zero target. Ad Net Zero was used as a partner to learn from, and they identified some consultants that were in our space and understood both our business and customers, as well as where the industry was going.
PubMatic had a dual focus on both internal education and conducting a carbon footprint analysis. The first step was to conduct a stakeholder workshop, and we then expanded the scope beyond our data centers and looked at the entire world of our operations. We started looking at our UK business as a pilot and conducted a carbon footprint analysis that we concluded last year. We're now in the process of scaling it globally to understand our baseline. The goal is to set quantifiable goals for reducing our impact.
The challenge of sustainability can seem daunting and the scope of the issue can be intimidating. This is something that many individuals, including those with limited background and experience in the field, can find challenging. It's natural to be afraid of doing something wrong, but any incremental movement in the right direction can have an impact.
Raising your hand and prioritizing learning can be a game-changer when it comes to overcoming the fear and intimidation of sustainability. In this way, you can focus on identifying the path you want to take and surrounding yourself with people and resources that can help you stay on track.
As a marketer, it can be tempting to tell your company's sustainability story externally. However, it's important to do the work internally first, educate yourself and your teams, and identify your goals before sharing your achievements with the world. By taking this approach and being authentic, you can make real progress in the pursuit of sustainability.
Educating teams on sustainability
Creating a sustainable culture within an organization requires a focused effort on education and alignment across all levels. At PubMatic, we invested in key individuals who expressed an interest in sustainability and sponsored their education, allowing them to disseminate their knowledge to a wider group.
The initial kickoff involved a stakeholder workshop, where all relevant individuals were invited to align on the baseline, needs, and investment required. With senior leadership aligned, we then implemented a sustainability task force with representatives from various departments to ensure alignment on the path forward.
Regular meetings are held to share information, learnings, and insights, and to make sure everyone is aligned on the company's sustainability initiatives. This approach has allowed us to make progress toward our sustainability goals and create a culture where sustainability is a priority across the organization.
Setting sustainability goals
When our company first started on the path toward sustainability, we thought that setting a goal right away would be a win. However, as we worked with consultants and dug deeper into our carbon footprint, we quickly realized that we needed to first understand our benchmark before we could set meaningful targets. We couldn't just put numbers out there without a real strategy or a way to hold ourselves accountable for achieving those goals.
As someone new to this world, I had seen other companies make sustainability announcements with year-based targets, but I soon realized that there was a learning curve and that we needed to do things the right way. We needed to ensure that our strategies were sustainable in and of themselves and that we could continue to make progress toward achieving our goals.
To achieve this, we needed to package our initiatives together and understand the investments required to achieve our targets. We couldn't do one without the other. We formed a deep understanding of our carbon footprint, benchmarked our targets, and implemented initiatives to achieve them. We created a strategy that was not just a marketing ploy but a strategic business decision, and we continue to make measurable and incremental progress toward achieving our sustainability goals.
How alignment and commitment at senior levels drives sustainability initiatives
Achieving sustainability goals requires commitment and alignment from senior leadership. For this reason, PubMatic rolled out its sustainability focus to employees at a global sales kickoff event.
However, we have yet (Editor: At time of recording) to make public announcements about our sustainability goals. We believe that any public statements must be tied to an actual plan for achieving those goals. Therefore, we are still in the internal process of measuring our carbon footprint and setting achievable targets. Once we have aligned on these goals and have strategies in place, we will make a public announcement.
Our focus is on taking a strategic approach to sustainability, ensuring that we make measurable and incremental progress toward achieving our goals.
Enhancing sustainable product development
As sustainability continues to become a top priority for businesses across industries, companies are taking a closer look at their carbon footprint and downstream impacts. For us at PubMatic, the focus is on expanding our carbon footprint analysis globally to understand the impact of their entire business operations.
Furthermore, the company is also taking steps to ensure that our customers can operate in sustainable ways by looking at product development enhancements. This includes finding more efficient ways of doing advertising that is less data-intensive and offering sustainable products to our customers.
As the company expands its focus beyond our own operations, we aim to help our customers on their own sustainability journeys by facilitating a closer look at downstream impacts, referred to as scope three carbon emissions. This dual-path approach highlights our commitment to sustainability and our effort to lead the way towards a more sustainable future.
Top tips for achieving sustainability goals
Achieving sustainability goals can seem like a daunting task, but it is important to remember that progress is more important than perfection.
Here are some of my top advice for moving in the right direction toward a more sustainable corporate future:
- Don't wait - start taking steps toward sustainability now. It is an ongoing process, and any progress is better than no progress.
- Invest in education and learning - sustainability is a complex and ever-evolving field. Continuously educating yourself and your team is essential to make progress.
- Connect with peers and share information - collaboration and sharing best practices are key to making meaningful change on a larger scale.
- Think about big leap opportunities - while taking incremental steps towards sustainability is important, also think about larger-scale opportunities for change.
By following these steps, individuals and organizations can move towards achieving their sustainability goals and contributing to a more sustainable future for all.
What steps are you taking as a CMO to drive sustainability in your organization? Have you hit any roadblocks you need help overcoming? Share your insights and ask for advice with a global network of marketing leaders on the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel.