Sustainability, as championed by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, becomes the keyword at a seminar examining how the world is coming around the idea.
Father's Day, birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is a good time to consider the way global business innovators and marketing strategists are interested in building brands that give the world more sustainable economies.
It was a concept championed by the late monarch, who applied his philosophy of a “sufficiency economy” to the 4,000 Royal Projects initiated in his name.
The third “Sustainable Brands Bangkok” seminar last week had as its theme “Redefining the Good Life”. On the first of its two days, Khunying Puangroi Diskul Na Ayudhaya, deputy secretary general of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under the patronage of Her Royal Highness the late Princess Mother, spoke about “The Good Life according to Thai Royal Wisdom”.
She recalled how the Princess Mother initiated the Doi Tung projects to address chronic illness and poverty among the rural population. “Doi Tung is located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, which used to be a hub for growing opium, and more than 26 hilltribes were involved,” Puangroi said. “Their lives were hopeless.
“Somdej Ya believed that no one sets out to be a bad person, but instead simply never gets the chance to do good. So she initiated projects that allowed people to help themselves and to live more harmoniously with the environment, which is at the heart of sustainability.
“His Majesty King Bhumibol identified the ‘3 S Model’ – Survival, Sufficiency and Sustainability – to raise people’s quality of life. He said people needed to have a sense of ownership before they would be interested in solving a problem at its roots. The forest in those areas was improved and the area even began attracting tourists.”
Khunying Puangroi noted that the United Nations adapted the late King’s ideas into its 15-year global development strategy. “The Mae Fah Luang Foundation is responding to the UN goal of sustainable development in accordance with the wishes of King Bhumibol and the Princess Mother.”
In an address on “How Food Can Sustain Life”, Pipatpong Israsena Na Ayudhya, managing director of Doi Kham, defined “good food” as “anything that has health benefits for the consumer”.
Doi Kham is an experimental farm initiated by King Bhumibol to develop alternative crops for the hilltribes. Its processing plants near the plantations ensure freshness in raw materials and tastier produce.
“His Majesty wished to develop social and environmental entrepreneurship and improve the quality of life of farmers and consumers on a fair basis,” Pipatpong said. “So the emphasis is on sustainable development. After more than 40 years of business, Doi Kham remains determined to continuously innovate and develop international-standard products for sale at reasonable prices.
“Since we are a small-scale company in the food industry, we’re able to operate differently. We know that if everything remains sustainable, we will succeed. If not, no matter how much profit we earn, it would never be enough.”
INSPIRATIONAL speaker Thomas Kolster, another featured guest at the seminar, likes to play with words. He talks about the power of advertising in making people cry or buy, and says marketing is from Mars while sustainability is from Venus.
The author of “Goodvertising”, one of the most comprehensive books to date about the world-bettering power of advertising, Kolster examines the responsibility of advertising and why its role must change.
“My mission is to change brands, to help them focus and play a much bigger role in social contributions. However, so often it is difficult to get that story right. When people talk about a ‘good life’, usually they are already living a good life. They are preserving nature resources already, they’re perhaps even growing the food they eat today. So can sustainability become simpler? For instance, why are food labels so difficult to read? The goal is to make it simple. Wouldn’t it be great if McDonalds said ‘One burger is equal to one hour exercise’. That’s something everyone can understand. So making communication exciting is important.”
Kolster expounded further on this theme in a sit-down interview with The Nation. Excerpts:
TODAY WE ARE TALKING ABOUT ADVERTISING AND SUSTAINABILITY, HOW DO YOU BALANCE THEM?
My background is in advertising and I became very frustrated with the development of the ad industry. It was out of touch with the real world. Sustainability is complex but marketing needs to be simple and emotional. It needs to move you. There is no obvious solution other than to bridge the complex and simple, the rational and the emotional, and measurement versus excitement. Brands are not good enough at creating those bridges. So things had to change.
IS THE TREND OF BRINGING SUSTAINABILITY IN ADVERTISING AIMED AT ATTRACTING
Definitely, marketing must do more than just promote brands. Future success depends on how these brands behave across the whole marketing mix. I think the next evolution is going to be sustainable transformation. There are five mega trends that that shaping how brands behave today, namely climate change, resources, urbanisation, population growth and economic change. And some brands are already looking at marketing in the much more holistic way. For example, Phillips no longer sells light bulbs, it sells lighting as a service. Car companies too have moved from selling cars to selling mobility in getting from A to B.
But agencies and clients are still telling us what we need rather than showing us the way to a sustainably abundant future. Agencies should be better at adapting but they still stick to the old styles and stories that have been already been told. That’s the challenge.
CAN CONSUMERS DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE COMPANIES WITH CSR PROJECTS AND THE BRANDS ACTIVELY IMPLEMENTING SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS?
I think people are much cleverer than we give them credit for. We can see through what some of the brands are doing. I don’t know to what extent the “Paradise Papers” have been covered in Thailand, but the leaks have obviously damaged brands and led the public to question how supposedly secure companies can be breached. Brands we once thought we could trust have seen that trust eroded. On the other side of the coin, social entrepreneurs are focusing on sustainability and in many cases, practising purpose-driven marketing.
WHICH INDUSTRY YOU THINK FACES THE GREATEST CHALLENGES?
The obvious one would be energy. Everything starts with energy and when you transform the energy system, you change all the surrounding systems. Construction is another challenging industry and developers have to showcase sustainability and energy efficiency in their advertising. Unfortunately, some of energy industry still seems to be in denial.
HOW ABOUT FASHION?
Fashion is a tough one. One of the really important points here is that it is not the responsibility of the company alone. This is a two-ways street. As individuals, we are just way too wasteful, so pointing fingers at the fashion industry is the wrong approach. Sustainability is really between you and I. It’s about changing how we behave and changing how we buy clothes. The same applies to ‘fast furniture’. And that’s why advertising is at the heart of this. If we don’t get better ads that understand and promote responsible consumption. I don't think we are going to succeed.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE A “GOOD LIFE”?
It’s a philosophy that I've lived with for quite some time. It’s about pursuing what makes me happy. Because too often you get caught up in convention and you are never challenged. Good life is about daring to aim for what you want at the personal level. It's about maximising happiness and minimising resources usage. King Rama IX's sufficiency philosophy is inspiring. In terms of responsible consumption, the company can only do so much, we as individuals also need to think about it.
MAKING DO WITH LESS
- Organised by SustainableBrands.com, the “Sustainable Brands 2017” seminar aimed to show how innovation can change the shape of business, and with it, the world.
- Guest speakers included Khunying Puangroi Diskul Na Ayudhaya of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, Pitpatpong Israsena Na Ayudhaya, chief executive oof Doi Kham,Yuthasak Supasorn, and Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Auttapol Rerkpiboon of PTT Group.
- Research conducted in June and July sampled 2,000 people aged between 15 and 65 and revealed that Thai people define “the good life” as happiness both inside and out. Thirty-seven per cent said good health was the most important, followed by a simple life (28 per cent), successful career path (22 per cent), family (21 per cent), own house (21 per cent) , and balanced life (19 per cent). Yet 68 per cent were unable to name products or services that responded to their good life, and 87 per cent pointed out that that they have power over manufacturers and can influence the production of goods and services.
- For more information, visit www.SustainableBrandsbkk.com or Facebook.com/ sustainablebrandsbkk.