For businesses to survive they must stand for something other than profit – according to Kelly Evans from Social Change. Charlotte Reid spoke to her to find out how she is convincing companies to change their behaviour for good.
Our previous Green Dragons have wanted to help the environment by debunking climate change myths or investing their money ethically, but Kelly Evans wants companies to realise the power for a brand in acting in a socially responsible way.
Evans runs Social Change, a marketing research, communications and design agency that specialises in behaviour change. This means that Social Change works to improve people’s behaviour and to put social responsibility and sustainability at the heart of a business.
Social Change has worked with the NHS and Government departments, as well as others. Some of the campaigns she has been involved in include Change4Life, how to get more people recycling and how to get more people buying sustainable products.
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Evans explains that the job involves “using marketing tools and techniques for a social good by selling products and services that will have a positive impact on the environment or people and society”.
She says that before companies start telling their customers how to behave, they have to change their own behaviour first, “Businesses have to change their own behaviour internally and ensure sustainable practice throughout their entire value chain from how they make products to how they treat the people they employ.
“If they really want to convince the public that they are a company worth having a relationship with, businesses must start building a brand that stands for more than just profit to convince customers that you really are a good company.”
Blue & Green Tomorrow has written about people’s concerns about investing ethically because it will not perform as well as traditional funds. The same can apply to some businesses when they have to think about more than profit.
Evans sees that businesses need to get used to the idea that more than just profit will be beneficial.
“It is my view that you can be a profitable company and be socially responsible”, she says.
“They do go together. You can in fact have genuine competitive advantage over other businesses by becoming a socially responsible company and we work with companies to achieve this.
“So they stand for something bigger and they are actually contributing to the wider society and helping the planet.”
Make a difference
There was one moment when Evans was 18-years-old that made her realise she wanted to make a difference. She spent three months in New York documenting the experiences and lives of young people who were clinically obese.
Evans says, “This experience had a real profound impact on my life and the direction that I wanted to take and I decided that I wanted to be able to do something that helped people”. As she was working in journalism and marketing she wanted to see if those skills could make a difference.
“So that’s when I became very much involved in social marketing. I worked with the NHS, and with charities and Government departments to see how we could try and help people to change their behaviour, change their views or lives around certain issues.”
However, Evans is aware of how hard it is to convince companies of the merits of being a sustainable company as well as a successful business. But she is optimistic.
“If you asked me now if people are choosing a brand today based on its values or its contribution to the society and the planet I would probably say no. But if you asked me that again tomorrow I might say yes because things are changing.
“There are still lots of businesses and companies out there who can’t see the return on investment, at the moment, but there are many out there who can see the benefits. And I think the ones that can and do will be the businesses who are going to have the competitive advantage in the future.”
One problem that Evans identifies is the tough economic climate.
“It’s a recession where price and profit are the things that are driving companies to survive”, she says.
“It is very hard.”
But that shouldn’t stop companies acting.
“I think the best thing to do right now is to start thinking about sustainability as the next step in their evolution as a company.”
But how long will it take before companies change their behaviour? “How long is a piece of string?” she says. “In some companies change will only occur following a crisis or when competitors have jumped ahead.”
However, she is positive, “Behaviour change can take decades but in some cases small wins can be had in the short term”.
She draws from her own experience as Social Change is currently working with 25 restaurants to help them make small changes to put healthier options on the menu.
Evans explains that this small act “has already had a real positive impact”. It was found that there was an increase in the number of people who chose the healthier dishes and increased profit for the participating restaurants.
So Evans explains that the restaurants “could see the benefit – they did something good but they also benefitted themselves as a company in the short term”.
Evans finishes with a challenge.
“I would challenge any company or business that thinks they can’t be sustainable and be profitable and say that you can from small businesses to large multi-nationals.
“But you’ve got to start today. Don’t leave it until tomorrow because that is another day that you could potentially be missing out on opportunities.”
You don’t have to start your own company to make a difference. There are a number of things you can do to help make tomorrow as blue and green as it was yesterday.
Talk to your financial adviser, if you have one, about ethical funds for your money. Or let us help you by filling in our online form.
Also consider when shopping to visit websites like the Ethical Superstore. Switch to Good Energy, using home grown energy instead of fossil fuels and carbon. And consider sustainable travel when you’re thinking about your next holiday.