GIVING OUR WORK MEANING
Here’s what I’ve learned recently about 3 brands doing really cool things: for the planet, for their community and for themselves. It’s got me thinking about how Wordstruck can speak up louder about what we do.
First up, Ben and Jerry’s. This is a company who’ve shouted loud and long for the causes they support, the rainforests they save and how making the ‘world a better place gives their work meaning.’ That’s what we all want, right?
My niece Imogen Scobie, heard first hand what their European division is doing at a recent event in Bristol, ‘Why Business Need to Integrate a More Activist Mindset’, hosted by Enviral, an environmental and social communication agency. Alongside Ben & Jerry was Rory Atton, founder of Dewerstone, an outdoor clothing brand.
Amplifying the voices of others
Ben & Jerry’s social mission is split between their impact, for example, choosing fair trade cocoa, and their influence. Both take time, said Kerry Thorpe, Head of Communications for Europe at Ben and Jerry’s. ‘You have to do it all year round. Not hop on a trend when it’s cool.’
This means doing it because you want to, not because you want your brand to look like it cares. It needs to ACTUALLY care 😉
Ben & Jerry's Activism Managers: how to influence
Influence is all about how you bring customers on board. At Ben & Jerry’s they have specific ‘activism managers’ whose role is to bring to life their progressive values through a multi-year strategy. (A new job title to me.)
Activism managers will partner with NGOs or other grassroots groups. In the UK one of their focus areas is supporting refugees to resettle safely in Europe and they’ve teamed up with the International Rescue Committee. Globally their focus is more broadly on climate justice; plus lots of other causes.
In addition to their specific ‘activism managers’, the company will also use their resources – and their talent (like their marketing team) to work on campaigns and social impact projects. You can see how they’ve done that here so well: in this mocked-up To Do List for the British Home Secretary shared on X (formerly Twitter). A brilliant way to use humour to make a point.
Finding your tipping point
Rory Atton, founder of Dewerstone (and the other speaker at the Bristol event), gave a different perspective on how brand activism works – especially for smaller companies.
He described how you reach a ‘tipping point, when you cannot walk past something anymore and not do anything about it.’ (Yup, know that one! I call it a shift moment.)
Currently their outdoor lifestyle brand supports a number of causes, including the Save Our Rivers movement in the UK.
But it was during the pandemic that they really swung into action. Many years before Rory had been to the Gili Islands in Indonesia. In 2020, they were about to open a Dewerstone store on Gili Trawangan. With no tourists, the island communities were going hnungry. ‘I got a phone call saying people are starving,’ said Rory.
Dewerstone turned their store into a food parcel distribution hub and fed 10,000 people over 6 months. How? By selling t-shirts for £25 a pop and giving all the profits to their own ‘Feed the Families Campaign.’
Now the company is a member of 1% for the Planet. This means they give a minimum of 1% of total sales to environmental non-profit organisations like Save Our Rivers, Gili Eco Trust & Eden Reforestation.
Changing the way we shop
For the past three years Wordstruck has been working with Selfridges in the UK, supporting them with their strategic storytelling and internal messaging. They are a great example of a business who pioneered retail activism back in 2011 with Project Ocean and was one of the first department stores to ban fur. Over time this has evolved into Project Earth and Reselfridges (their eco-conscious range of pre-loved luxury items).
A global brand like Selfridges can – and does – use its influence to help change minds. When Let’s Change the Way We Shop appeared in massive letters on the side of their Oxford Street stores, the media and the public took notice. Today they keep evolving their offer, experimenting with new ways of doing circular, repair and refill, as well as supporting lots of initiatives behind the scenes.
So… can ice cream change the world? I reckon. Brand activism can move the dial.
Here are 3 sprinkles to takeaway…
- Don’t wait til you’re perfect before you act. Kerry Thorpe describes how it’s scary before they launch a campaign because they know that not all their audience will love it. In fact, some will hate it. ‘But you need to go ahead to stay true to your values.’
- Use your skills to help people in whichever way makes most sense, says Rory Atton. ‘This could be cash, resources, time, space…’ or in their case, printing t-shirts. And their company’s mantra: ‘If you love it, fight for it.’
- Last word from Kerry. ‘Do 10 things. Talk about two. Don’t just do things because you can talk about them.’
Hi, I’m Claire. Through my business Wordstruck we help companies bring their sustainability strategy to life. As the Founder of Regenerative Storytelling, we’re helping leaders do more for their people, their community and the planet. I publish regular content about storytelling, regenerative leadership and reframing how to address our rapidly heating world. To see more of my content, please sign up – and join the conversation by sharing a comment below.