Saturday, May 11, 2013

3 steps to grow brand equity through sustainability

By Jacob Gregus

As a marketing executive, your company must communicate an environmental focus to attract and build relationships with current and emerging markets.  As an undergraduate student in Northwestern's Medill IMC marketing program and developing a major in journalism, I found several articles that stress the important relationship between sustainability and brand equity.

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Sport and tradition are two words almost synonymous with each other, but what about when  it comes to sustainability? Events such as Major League Baseball’s Opening Day highlight this connection when teams across the country come together, line up, sing the national anthem and play their first official baseball games of spring. I noticed something missing, however, when I attended the Chicago White Sox April 1 game against the Kansas City Royals: The usual “flyover” I was expecting never occurred.

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This could have been due in part to federal budget sequestration in February, but for the amount of fuel those planes burn, one has to wonder how the elimination of flyovers might affect the way sports properties promote sustainable efforts as part of their marketing. The NHL is already attempting to make an impact by teaming up with Sterling Planet, a retail environmental assets provider, to reduce the impact of carbon emissions produced by the playoffs. According to, teams will avoid more than 22.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions with these new initiatives in place, which is equal to removing 2,100 cars off U.S. roads for a year. This “power” move by the NHL will allow it to retain membership in the EPA’s Green Power Partnership Leadership Club, a voluntary program that the NHL joined as the first professional sports league to do so.

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Sustainability is an issue in Europe as well, where Sustainability in Sport (SIS), a group committed to putting environmental issues “at the heart of all sport,” held its first-ever fundraising event at a preseason soccer match between the Forest Green Rovers and Manchester United XI. Gary Neville, one of the founders of SIS, said that “sport itself has a big environmental impact that cannot be ignored.” He hoped to raise money and awareness with the event, and it wasn’t the first time Manchester United got involved in sustainability issues. According to the SIS website, Manchester United played Juventus in an all-wind powered game in May 2011. With one of the world’s most valuable sport franchises and the NHL taking steps to promote sustainability, sports marketers need to evaluate their teams and clients’ efforts before they fall behind and lose favor with fans.

From my analysis of these articles and other work on sustainability at Northwestern, here are three action items you should consider implementing immediately. They are:
  • Analyze – What green initiatives have worked for your teams or clients, and how were you able to measure the success of those projects?
  • Calculate – How much would it cost you, and how much would you benefit from implementing more energy efficient systems over time?
  • Communicate – Which media channel is the best medium to communicate your initiatives and projects to your fans and consumers?

As a marketing executive, sustainability will become a central issue as sports properties adapt to the marketplace.  You need to address these three areas now to position your organization or client(s) to show them the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives when the are looking market their product or invest in your services.

Jacob Gregus is a journalism, business and marketing-communications student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL working towards becoming a thought leader and influencer in the sports, food and music marketing industries. Continue the conversation with him on Twitter @jacobgregus.

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