Sustainability is no Longer a Differentiator

In the construction industry, as in many others, sustainability is becoming the biggest and most critical conversation of our time. 

In fact, according to a survey by the World Economic Forum, 90% of executives believe sustainability is important to their brand. 

The investor story bears this out. More than three quarters (77%) of individual investors globally say they are interested in investing in companies that consider positive social and/or environmental impact, according to Morgan Stanley.

And even back in 2021, end-customers were already laying their sustainability cards on the table, with more than a third of consumers across seventeen countries stating, in a major study, that they were willing to pay more for sustainability.

Unsurprisingly, then, the construction industry is now awash with sustainability rhetoric. And that’s a towering problem for construction brands, right there. 
From buzzword to white noise

Here’s the conundrum: if you don’t embrace sustainability, you’re going to get left behind, but sustainability is so often simply not a differentiator anymore.  

That page on your website, that box-out in your brochure, that paragraph in your annual report – everybody’s doing it and none of this lip service is going to positively influence their brand long-term. 
This ’greenwashing’ is being publicly called out for what it is, as buyers become more and more savvy, which is damaging enough. But in turn, we are also seeing its pernicious alter ego, ‘greenhushing’, where companies are scared to comment on their sustainability credentials for fear of being accused of  - well, green-washing!

Yet the special few who are both enacting sustainability and talking it up distinctively and effectively are uniquely characterising their brand now, tomorrow, and long thereafter. A sustained sustainability advantage, if you will.

So, what’s their secret?
Embedding sustainability – at a price

In reality, there’s no quick fix, and neither should we pretend that it can be done on the cheap. Owning sustainability as a differentiating and credible brand strategy means building (or at least reshaping) your business around it, and articulating the outcomes in a timely, relevant, targeted manner.

So, take a drainage and access product manufacturer we’ve worked with. In a highly traditional and conservative sector of the construction industry, it did a daring thing: it switched a huge swathe of its products to recycled and recyclable polypropylene. Light and strong, it costs less fuel to transport, and requires less machinery and labour to lay.

Or take a flooring manufacturer client of ours, whose latest product range is made from wholly sustainable and organic natural ingredients, including rape seed oil – a departure from previous practice that has earned it a number of sustainability accreditations from highly-regarded bodies including Blue Angel and Cradle2Cradle.

Or consider a sustainable building design consultancy, also a client of ours, that not only enables buildings to become more energy-efficient, but has substantially modified its own offices to incorporate those same energy efficiencies into its everyday operations.

What emerges in all these examples is that sustainability as an effective brand differentiator in the construction sector has to be about deeds, behaviours, and proof points, not empty words and ‘green ticks’.

And because talk is cheap, but actions cost money, embedding sustainability credentials into your brand in this way inevitably adds cost initially, although it is proven that sustainable brands reduce costs over the longer-term and see a boost in profits – not to mention the increased pool of talent they attract.

Nonetheless, one of the knock-on effects of this is that for specifiers in the construction sector trying to favour sustainable products for use in projects, the cost conversations with both the main contractor and the end-customer often hit a sticking point.

Is there, then, a better way for that conversation to be had?
Moving sustainability conversations away from cost

This is the thinking behind our inaugural Specifier Summit, which takes place on 7th November 2024, and will see 150 specifiers brought together in the same space to discuss the role of sustainability in today’s economic climate.

Entitled Sustainability – at what cost?, the event will also feature contributions from the lead on environment for the World Economic Forum, Sir Jonathan Porritt, and exhibitors showcasing the latest in sustainable construction materials, methodologies, and products.

The objective is to spark pragmatic, common-sense conversations about how sustainability can occupy its rightful place as a credible and critical brand attribute, maintain its standards and distance itself from greenwashing, but appeal at least as strongly to buyers’ sense of responsibility and reputation in every part of the supply chain as to their sense of financial probity.

And we’re pushing at an open door, here. Sustainability is being backed by increasingly prescriptive and comprehensive legislation, and history has shown us that when construction companies can’t compete on price, they will enthusiastically compete on compliance.

Companies who do not take part in the sustainability conversation, at some level, will fall behind their competition, so join us.

To book your tickets to attend this seminal event for sustainability in the construction industry, click here, and learn what sustainability in construction truly means today, what it absolutely isn’t, and how it must urgently evolve beyond the merely financial to serve all our tomorrows.

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