Telum Talks to... Antti Toivonen, Managing Partner, Superson

Telum Talks to... Antti Toivonen, Managing Partner, Superson

Superson recently teamed up with John Grant to launch CUSP, a new sustainability communications capability in Singapore. We caught up with Antti Toivonen to learn more about the framework and to explore insights on sustainability communications.

Tell us a bit about CUSP and what drove Superson to partner with John Grant to publish the CUSP framework?
CUSP, short for Compelling Unique Sustainability Proposition, is a brand tool for sustainability communications. It is a framework to help companies integrate their brand and sustainability efforts. 
 
John Grant has been working with Superson since 2012 so our collaboration on sustainability marketing goes a long way back. We saw how companies build good sustainability programmes, but struggled to talk about their value and extent in a meaningful way. At the same time, consumers increasingly prefer brands that make an effort for a more sustainable world.
 
Sustainability and marketing are fundamentally very different kinds of functions; sustainability lives somewhere between accounting and safety, whereas marketing tends towards superficial appeals and hyperbole. John has been studying brands that have successfully put sustainability at the heart of their DNA for nearly two decades and noticed key patterns that we wanted to share with the world. 
 
It is a good time to put these learnings in a clear, easy-to-use framework for everyone to use. We say that CUSP is the under-recognised success formula behind companies that have already succeeded in this space and it is a great way to learn from the best. 
 
Why is it important for sustainability and brand to be a consolidated effort instead of going at it alone? 
Sustainability is no longer something you can choose to ignore: everyone is in the race, like it or not. This means that sustainability communications can’t be an afterthought much longer, and luckily many companies already have ambitious sustainability programmes in place.
 
We believe the future will be for companies that not only operate in a way that is sustainable for the planet, but which are also able to bring their customers on that journey in a credible and engaging way. 
 
When our impact on the planet can no longer be ignored and there is a whole green economy ahead to compete for, the question is less about whether to bring sustainability and marketing together but rather, ‘how are you going to win the race’? 
 
Greenwashing has become a growing concern when companies plan their communications efforts. What are your thoughts on how brands can tackle the issue of greenwashing from a communications perspective?
Having a solid sustainability programme is key. If that is not in place, it’s better to work on that before trying to venture into talking about it. 
 
A credible sustainability programme is not just solar panels on the roof of the corporate HQ. It is not an occasional CSR programme. It is a checklist of hundreds of standards to be reached, goals to be set, and volumes of reporting. 
 
A good sustainability programme goes through the entire company, and at best lives at the core of the company’s philosophy. And that’s what CUSP can help with.
 
Having an admirable, industry leading sustainability programme gives companies the credibility to talk about sustainability. Green Marketing has matured over 20 years, and superficial efforts like changing light bulbs will get called out.
 
What do you currently observe in the industry right now, in terms of the need for sustainability communications?
Firstly, sustainability communications need to be treated with as much importance as brand or crisis communications - they cannot be an afterthought. Secondly, we need communicators who understand what their sustainability departments are doing and work together closely.  
 
More importantly, bringing sustainability to the masses requires keen understanding of consumer realities. Sustainability is something people are keen to talk about but whether it turns into action requires more research. Results I’ve seen indicate that sustainability is actually not a main driver of purchase.  
 
The shift from early adopters to mass markets will be interesting, and will require fresh strategies, as well as larger cultural shifts. The key opportunities today are to educate consumers to appreciate true sustainability, to excite and empower them with innovation.

Having studied hundreds of companies with regards to their sustainability communication efforts, what are some of the highlights and insights that you have obtained?
Firstly, there is a deep commitment to sustainability, and it runs through the company on all levels. Secondly, they have the data and efforts to back it up. Thirdly, they have found, in the haystack of their sustainability efforts, one single-minded proposition that strikes a chord with their audience. 

Instead of talking about everything they do, successful companies frame their story around CUSP. And in most cases, it can be traced back to one of these four areas: sourcing, operations, guiding consumption / customer behaviour and transparency.

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