Activism, sustainability and positioning: Aileen Zumstein as a guest in the "Tagesgespräch"

Published on 13.02.2020 | Translations available in: German

Activism, sustainability and positioning: Aileen Zumstein as a guest in the "Tagesgespräch"

In the past, companies could simply dismiss activists as an unwelcome source of trouble. But today, activists are creating action, are putting companies under pressure and are having a voice that is heard in society. So times are changing. But what is the reason why activists are suddenly being heard? And how can companies deal with activism without losing credibility? As a guest of Ivana Pribakovic, Aileen Zumstein answers these questions in the Tagesgespräch (SRF).

Find the whole interview on the homepage of Radio SRF (the interview was held in Swiss-German): Link

For a long time, society saw activists as a minority group, as marginal rule-breakers, almost as criminals. Today, activists are taken seriously, have a voice and therefore influence. Especially the climate youth is currently on everyone's lips - especially Greta Thunberg. A girl who originally skipped school for the climate speaks to the powerful at UN conferences and the World Economic Forum (WEF) about a year later. Why is that?

  • Social media enable activists to quickly reach a wide audience and spread the message.
  • The reach generates a lot of attention within a short period of time and this results in the building of reputation and image.
  • Climate protection is a topic that is being discussed across the entire political spectrum - positively and negatively.
  • Climate change is directly visible through stirring events such as the bush fires in Australia or the rise of the sea level.
  • If activists take up a polarising and emotional topic such as climate change in an authentic and credible manner, they can rally a large number of supporters behind them.

The term "climate youth" already describes the fact that activists are often younger people - millennials. Since millennials are an influential generation, companies need to respond to their needs. But what are the needs of millennials?

  • Millennials demand honesty, authenticity and credibility.
  • Millennials have a strong "bullshit radar" and are sensitive to a company preaching water but drinking wine.
  • Therefore, Millennials demand promises that can be kept as well as congruent behavior. In other words, the strategic and operational alignment corresponds to the values that are communicated.

But when it comes to authenticity, the question arises whether the communicated values really do correspond to the corporate actions. It is precisely because of the climate debate that many companies are taking up the cause of "sustainability". Portfolio manager Vera Diehl of Union Investment already warned:

"Companies that fail to deliver in terms of climate protection will find it increasingly difficult on the capital market in the future and will be punished."

So sustainability is not simply "nice to have", but an important factor for the success of companies. But how can companies live sustainability convincingly?

  • Sustainability means taking responsibility. So nothing is possible without responsible corporate governance.
  • Promoting values through greenwashing (in terms of environmental awareness) and pinkwashing (in terms of diversity) more strongly than actually living them is a no-go.
  • Messages must be authentic and credible.
  • Pure marketing without actions should be avoided. Doing so has negative effects on image and reputation.
  • A company has to show meaningfulness. Sustainability is not a communication measure, but a strategic decision and thus part of the communication strategy and the corporate strategy.
  • The values should be consistent with the values and strategy of the company, but also with those of the relevant stakeholders.
  • The relevant and central question is: Are companies willing to act sustainably and earn less money, make less profit in return?

Listen to the whole interview (Swiss-German) here: Link

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