Freya Williams – Green is the new black
Next in the Sustainability Pioneers series, Gillian credits the inspiring Freya Williams for being a true pioneer in sustainability for business.
I’m sure everyone has heard the famous Henry Ford quote, “you can have any colour, as long as it’s black”, well maybe ‘green’ is the new black. That’s certainly something Freya Williams is passionate about and I happen to agree.
Freya Williams is CEO, North America of Futerra, the global sustainability change agency and author of Green Giants: How smart companies turn sustainability into billion-dollar businesses. Freya is a pioneer in the United States, championing sustainability, brand purpose and social impact movements. I’ve not been lucky enough to hear Freya speak in person but I have listened to many of her talks online and she comes across as truly inspiring. Not only does she talk in everyday language but everything she says is backed up with equal amounts of data and emotion. It is no coincidence that this perfect balance of head and heart comes through from Freya as this is, in many ways, the DNA of Futerra.
Futerra believe that every successful sustainability effort embraces four key elements; vision (big ideas), maps (robust plans), symbols (brands that change) and stories (killer creative campaigns). Vision and maps build strong, logical systems of change; head. While symbols and stories bring creative magic that moves people; heart. The balance between head and heart is key for me, some have over played the emotion and failed because they haven’t had the vision and commercial strategy to back it up. However, there are many more in the other camp, those who under-sell emotion and focus too much on only commercial details.
Image source: Futerra
Freya talks openly about the question she has been asked most often, “What’s the business case for sustainability?” There certainly has been a stereotype associated with sustainability in the past but we’re not all hippies and tree huggers. It’s also not a passing phase that we’ll all grow out of so business logic needs to be applied to the real challenges we all face; pollution, climate change and depletion of natural resources.
There is no question, businesses need to meet their quarterly sales and annual profit targets, but can they do this while also being sustainable? Freya has spent many years compiling evidence to support this and, I’m glad to say, brands can be both profitable and be a force for social good.
In her book, Green Giants and subsequent More Green Giants, Freya profiles companies that have succeeded in generating a billion dollars or more in annual revenue from products or services with sustainability or social good at their core. One company profiled back in 2015 was Walmart, for its sustainability index and the sustainable leaders program. It was selected not only for encouraging suppliers to continually improve their performance on KPI’s such as climate and water but also to improve their packaging sustainability credentials. This demonstrates Walmart’s desire to build sustainability into their strategy, every day. Walmart didn’t stop there; they are also sustainability leaders with programmes such as Project Gigaton. Through this project, Walmart aim to avoid one billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030.
Image source: Brian McMahon
Although I haven’t worked with some of Freya’s high-profile clients on sustainability, (such as Google, L’Oreal and the United Nations) I am however very proud to have worked with many other high-profile national and global brands and retailers. There are many similarities and the most important of all is that we work with people who believe they can make sustainability profitable. Our clients are building brands that have purpose, direction and are symbols of positive change. Freya has been actively leading the charge for many years in the United States and rightly deserves credit.
Freya, thank you for not only being inspiring but being a true pioneer in sustainability for business.
- Making complex subjects inspiring using everyday language, supported by data
- Balance is key: head and heart
- Achieving both profitability & force of social good, is possible
- Sustainability should be built in, not bolted on
- Successful strategic goals are everyday activities, not once a year
The Author: Gillian Garside-Wight - Sustainability Partner
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