Suzy Goulding on what makes an effective sustainability strategy works in APAC

BF Firos |

In an exclusive interview with Adgully AsiaSuzy Goulding, Asia Lead at Salterbaxter and Head of Sustainability for APAC & MEA at MSL Group, shares her insights on developing impactful sustainability strategies for diverse sectors. Goulding emphasizes the importance of sector-specific challenges, the client's ambition, and corporate confidence in driving sustainable changes. She also discusses the integration of purpose into sustainability strategies, enhancing employee engagement, managing organisational change, and emerging trends that will shape sustainability strategies in the APAC region. Additionally, Goulding highlights how Publicis Groupe differentiates itself in the sustainability consulting space within the region.

Can you describe your approach to developing effective sustainability strategies for clients across diverse sectors?

There are lots of elements to take into account when helping a client develop their sustainability strategy. Of course, sector-specific challenges need to be taken into consideration, for example legislative and compliance changes or sector-driven expectations. But also important is assessing a client’s level of ambition (are they just looking to tick legislative boxes or do they want to be sector leaders in sustainability?) and corporate levels of confidence around implementing sustainable changes.

How do you integrate purpose into sustainability strategies to ensure they resonate with both internal and external stakeholders?

Rather than talk about ‘purpose’ I think it makes more sense to talk about ‘materiality’ i.e. what matters most to both internal and external stakeholders when it comes to what a company produces or offers and what is the potential positive and negative sustainable impact of those products / services? Of course, any sustainability strategy should also be aligned to a company’s purpose in that it should set the tone for how that purpose is implemented and amplified both within and beyond the business.

What are some successful methods you've used to enhance employee engagement and internal communications around sustainability initiatives?

Key is involving employees in a company’s sustainability journey from the outset. Only then will you ensure you have understanding and crucially buy-in for what will inevitably be change within the business. You must ensure first that there is buy-in and commitment from the leadership and that this is communicated clearly throughout the business, at every level. Employees need to also understand how and when they can play an active role in sustainable change and what it means for their particular job. Meet employees where they are – get to understand and utilise the ways in which they communicate within and across departments and peer groups. And finally, you need to be able to answer the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question. Most of us are uncomfortable with change so we need to know why we should care about those changes, how they will affect us personally, and how we can get involved in implementing those changes.

How do you manage change within organisations to align them with new sustainability goals, and what challenges have you encountered?

Change is only possible within organisations when everyone from the top down is invested in that change. So a lot of stakeholdering and advocacy is always needed. Getting buy-in from the leadership is usually the easy part as we tend to be invited in by C-suite to help them drive progress. Common challenges include getting middle managers on board who typically will have KPIs built around efficiencies, sales or productivity. And they are crucial to have on-side because it is usually through this layer of management that you can connect and engage with other employees. So you need to meet them where they are and talk about sustainable change in a way that resonates with them. How will it make their jobs easier? How can it help drive efficiencies? How will it make them stand out from competitors?

Can you share an example of a successful stakeholder management or consultation process that significantly impacted a client’s sustainability efforts?

We worked with a large electronics company on developing their regional sustainability strategy across Southeast Asia. The challenge was a lack of understanding and confidence around what sustainable changes they should be making and how to get started. Our strategy was to get under the skin of the business by spending a lot of time with business units and interviewing teams and individuals so we understood their challenges and could help identify possible opportunities for addressing those challenges in a sustainable way; we then involved as many employees as possible in the development of the sustainability strategy – brainstorming ideas, encouraging them to collaborate across business units and challenge each other. This approach meant that when we launched the strategy we had immediate buy-in – crucial to ensure that strategy turned into action – and actions that felt achievable, thus helping to build that much-needed corporate confidence to set them up for success and more ambitious actions in the future.

What emerging trends in sustainability do you believe will shape the strategies of companies in the APAC region over the next few years?

The APAC region is seeing sustainable change within companies at a slower pace than Europe or the US, as the legislation is not there yet in a lot of countries to help drive change. This will evolve over time. Many APAC countries are already witnessing the impact of climate change and the havoc that severe heat or rainfall can cause; so I am hopeful that in the absence of legislation that this exposure will convince more companies to take sustainability seriously.

We are an innovative region and the solutions to many sustainability challenges will be found via the way we innovate in products and services. Companies in APAC need to recognise the commercial and reputational benefits to be had by investing in innovative solutions to these challenges.

AI is already transforming the way many of us do business, and I see great opportunities for deployment within sustainability, not least because the biggest headache for most companies who are looking to comply with sustainability legislations or simply want to become more sustainable businesses is data collection and analysis on energy use, utilities use, etc. AI has the potential to make this process faster and more accurate.

How does Publicis Groupe, particularly MSL and Salterbaxter, differentiate itself in the sustainability consulting space within the APAC region?

Publicis Groupe is serious about both its own sustainability commitments and how it can help its clients on their sustainability journey. If we look at advertising first, the Groupe has developed proprietary tools and processes designed to help companies take a more sustainable approach to developing and executing campaigns which reduce emissions without negatively impacting consumer reach and engagement. For example, our emissions tool A.L.I.C.E. (Advertising Limiting Impacts & Carbon Emissions) can measure carbon footprint of campaigns from the shoot through to deployment. The data can then be used by Groupe agencies and clients to make informed decisions on where more sustainable approaches can be adopted for future campaigns.

The combination of Salterbaxter (our sustainability consultancy network) and MSL (our reputation and comms consultancy network) means we can offer clients end-to-end sustainability support and advisory, from strategic development, material assessment and ambition-setting through to narrative and messaging development and campaign development to amplify sustainability achievements. We are the only holding company who can offer credible sustainability expertise coupled with a creative approach to communicating sustainability to maximise competitive and reputational advantage. We believe that’s a pretty compelling and powerful proposition.