Startup Coffee Meetup: Align marketing with sustainable development with Andreas Granath

Marketing guru and author Philip Kotler, famously said, "A good company offers excellent products and services. A great company also offers excellent products and services but also strives to make the world a better place”. These lines only echo what our friend from the startup community and marketing genius Andreas Granath emphasized in our last edition of Startup Coffee Meetup in collaboration with Goto10.

Meet Andreas Granath

With a decade-long experience in advertising and marketing, he started his marketing adventure with an internship at the multinational advertising group Publicis Media. He continued a successful streak in the field by joining Oatly AB and worked with the famous oats drink brand for over 4 years.

Later, Andreas served as an interim Chief Marketing Officer at Finland-based Meeat, a plant-based meat alternative startup. With the ambition to create impact through marketing campaigns, Andreas gave birth to his passion project, Waerna, an advertising, and marketing consultancy focused on sustainable marketing.

About Waerna

Waerna is a Malmö based advertising and marketing consultancy that focuses on the execution of marketing campaigns with an emphasis on sustainability. Waerna integrates sustainable development goals (SDG) in the brand’s corporate strategy. Waerna aims to partner with brands that think differently and want to make a difference in the world with their business. Team Waerna is excited about working with companies that are not just seeking measurable profits but are focused on making a difference in the world. The thought is to help brands with their marketing communications strategy by aligning with SDG goals.

Q: Tell us about your motivation behind Waerna?

In 2011, Jeff Hammerbacher, one of the then Facebook employees quoted, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” There was a time when everyone wanted to do the same thing – join big companies, deploy run-of-the-mill ideas and limit to the purpose of people clicking on ads. This is an irony to the world we are in.

We need to move to a world where the greatest minds of our generation are focused on doing the right thing. And the right thing is that we have a big problem to solve. From my experience in marketing, I have no interest in working with traditional companies that are just trying to make money. That's a big dose of naiveté, but I felt like I had an opportunity to try it. I felt compelled to do so.

There are very few companies left that are taking the sustainability route. This means that these companies are either climate neutral or climate negative. This leads to another problem in communication. If a company claims to be sustainable, it may be greenwashed. This means that they are not sustainable, but rather emit more. That's why I rephrased my narrative. When it comes to communications, I focus on brands that are willing to take environmentally friendly actions and can become sustainable. SDGs are a global framework, and laws will be aligned with that.  

From a legal perspective, they are going to force companies to follow the SDGs and think about these pressing issues.  Not only big companies but also a lot of startups and scaleups are getting into this space and saying, that they know problems are waiting to be solved. Traditional companies have difficulty aligning with SDG goals and of course, cannot say ‘NO’ to clients with huge marketing budgets. That's the biggest risk I take with this. I have narrowed down the kind of companies that I accept and want to work with. There is a risk, but I hope there's a market for it so I can survive. So, the motivation is more on the personal front.

Q: Can you elaborate on the assessment criteria you have set for the clients you take on?

Now it is arbitrary; besides, it is still in its early stages. I prefer to understand the product offering, have a conversation with management, and understand the brand philosophy, and then comes the critical part - alignment with the SDGs. I have broadened the scope to look beyond climate and environment. I focus on one of the 17 SDG goals. Take the example of Mojo- a male fertility brand focused on sperm analysis. I think this is an untapped area that needs to be spoken about. Unfortunately, this is a taboo subject. Male reproductive health remains a disparate industry. Mojo's mission was to raise awareness and educate men to take responsibility for their reproductive health.

Thus, one can also target customers beyond the environment and climate, because creating social awareness of lesser-known areas can be just as critical and go together with changing perspectives. For us, the focus remains on sustainability, but everything else should lead us to any of the SDG goals. And there is still a lot of work to be done because we have not yet achieved any of them.

Q. What is the difference between traditional and sustainable marketing?

There are several focus areas that we study. One of them is marketing, where we have broadened our scope, as I said earlier. Honestly, there is not much difference when it comes to the actual activations. The brand must hit the right emotions compared to the competitors. Next comes brand identity - understanding the brand, what's at the core of the brand philosophy, who you are as an entity, what you identify with, etc. Next is the product, distribution, and meeting customer expectations. The true differentiator is brand identity, not marketing.

Q: What are the key things a startup should think about in creating its brand identity regardless of the sustainability factor?

I would say transparency is critical because the market is not transparent. It becomes easier for companies to hide their stories behind many aspects. So, the decisions depend on what is cheaper in the market.

For example, Salomon's products from Norway are shipped across the globe for packaging, then come to Germany for other reasons, again shipped to Norway, and finally end up in Sweden. This process was chosen because it was cheaper to ship to another part of the world.

For startups, being transparent is as important as putting everything out there in a social media post. Not that you would do that, but you should remember to post and be transparent with consumers. I would also add that as part of being transparent, startups should also think about the journey they have been on or possible factors that will hurt the business if it does not scale up as planned.

I would also ensure to map the business to the SDG goals. Thinking about what kind of business model a startup wants to pursue is critical to me. It's acceptable if not all companies can think along, but if they can, I think it's important for startups to take responsibility that their businesses can save the planet. Millennials are going to account for 35% of the global workforce by 2025. According to a survey by American Express, 72% of millennials want to be associated with companies that are aligned with their values. That’s how crucial the SDG goals are.

Q: What are some of your learnings along the way?

To begin, I want to dispel the myth that people think rationally while consuming a product or service. No, they think emotionally. Oatly is a great example of how brands should turn information around and reach out to consumers.

Marketing is all about playing on emotions. At Oatly, we have followed a golden rule: It's good to think emotionally when it does not become mundane or boring. Even companies can take the "belly flop" approach, where consumers are teased or feel annoyed, but if it generates the attention they want and gets results, it's acceptable.

After an insightful session on learning how to integrate sustainability into marketing strategies, we understand that it is acceptable and advisable sometimes to say ‘No’ to traditional approaches.

Let’s mingle

We met a diverse group of professionals from both sustainability and marketing backgrounds.

Karl-Fredrik Hagman, a programming enthusiast currently studying python programming.

Dadmehr Berahmandzadeh, data science student and music producer.

Louise Jönsson, brand and communications manager at Innovayt A/S, innovation consultancy operating in innovation strategy, policy, and programs.

Per Hedén, marketing at FInReg Solutions AB, a consultancy offering products and services in Regtech and fintech.

Anna A, marketing coordinator at FinReg Solutions AB.

Joakim Johannesson, marketing manager at FinReg Solutions AB.

Mikael Eskilsson, brand strategist at Plan V, a consultancy helping startups develop brand strategy.

Coline Scharfenberg, consultant and founder at FlowCup AB, a sustainable menstrual cup company.

Thea N., content marketing manager at Debricked, a Micro-Focus Group company.

Joanna Qvarnström, Head of Marketing at Debricked, an IoT startup offering cyber-security solutions.

Rowan Drury, a sustainable communications consultant at Purple IVY, integrates sustainability into businesses for a better future.

Anna Blitz, gender and inclusion expert at, helping women and non-binaries find jobs.Katja Fjellström and Dennis Åström, business coaches at MInc, the startup hub of Malmö.