As sustainability continues to become an important consideration for brands, particularly in areas like high fashion and hardware, sustainability reports have become increasingly popular. They show a brand’s dedication to transparency — that the brand understands it owes its customers and the general public honesty when it comes to its environmental footprint.
But sometimes good intentions don’t carry over to good PR, and that’s because either a company isn’t specific enough or is blatantly misleading. The scenario where brands try to sound more green than they actually are is often dubbed “greenwashing,” which often leads to boycotts these days.
So how can brands more authentically convey their sustainability goals? Here are four practical ways brands can approach making their sustainability initiatives more authentic and where you can find sustainability consulting to guide you through the process. But first, let’s talk about a big challenge.
The Big Challenge: Consumer Trust At All-Time Low And How Sustainability Consulting Plays A Role
The truth is: people don’t believe brands when they make sustainability claims anymore. That’s because some brands are simply trying to trick their customers into thinking they are more sustainable. That might work for you in the short term, but it is obviously completely unethical and absolutely not the right way to grow long-term value.
Here are a couple of ways brands can look to tackle that big challenge.
1. Make Specific And Verifiable Claims
Claims that are specific and verifiable are really easy to make if a brand actually cares about sustainability.
Claims like “we’re dedicated to including recyclable materials in our products starting 2019” leave consumers with more questions than answers. They include:
- Which product lines will feature recyclable materials?
- What percentage of your products will be made from recyclable materials?
- Which recycled materials are being used?
Claims like these are verifiable but are too vague. To consumers, journalists, and pundits, they look lazy and disingenuous.
That is, if a brand actually cares to elaborate, it would include specific metrics that could be easily tracked. But these metrics are often a challenge to identify realistically.
2. Have More Bite-Sized Milestones
The other mistake that brands often make is dragging their initiatives on for long timescales. For instance, let’s say a brand were to claim: “We will achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.”
The brand may have amazing intentions, but if so, it should release smaller, easily-trackable milestones. Setting a goal for 30 years out leaves consumers in the dark.
Brands should, of course, prioritize being better citizens of the environment in their sustainability initiatives, but undeniably, they also use them to draw environmentally-conscious consumers in.
If that’s the case, your consumers should have a way of holding you accountable for your promises … in their lifetimes. And putting your brand out there in a way where it bears the responsibility of the claims it makes is critical in garnering consumer support.
3. Work With Independent Auditors To Verify Claims
With all the greenwashing going around, you shouldn’t expect your customers to trust everything you say.
If you’re truly doing something sustainable, you should have no problem working with independent auditors to verify your claims. This way, when you share your data with the world, a third-party that has no incentive to promote misinformation has vetted it.
But that’s also why you have to work with independent auditors. Leaving no doubt in your consumers’ minds about your dedication to sustainability is how you build trust.
Without trust, your sustainability initiatives are in vain, regardless of whether your intentions are true or misleading.
4. Publish Annualized Sustainability Reports, Including Both Successes And Failures
And with the results comes a possibility of publishing them. Brands, too often, only publish data that helps their brand. Of course, that’s the common-sense way of doing things, but part of being honest is telling the whole story, not just the part that helps you.
If you’re missing your sustainability targets, it’s more genuine to let your customers know that you’re working hard to get back on track than hiding those statistics under the rug. This way, when you’re making substantial progress, your customers are going to be rooting for you.
Your reports are going to be more about transparency than they are about making a sales pitch. And that’s what annualized reports are about anyway — transparency.
That’s why you have to include your failures in them in order to truly achieve what you claim to be going for. And further, doing so makes your brand vulnerable, and that is a pivotal part of building consumer trust.
How Sustainability Consulting Can Help
As consumer trust in brands is at an all-time low, sustainability is an area that is certainly no exception. And if brands want to get that consumer trust back, it doesn’t just come down to making commitments.
It also inevitably comes down to how you frame your initiatives, and that is where sustainability consulting can help.
The messaging when it comes to sustainability campaigns is critical. Your company could be running a genuine, heartfelt campaign, but without the right messaging, those efforts are in vain.
That’s why sometimes it’s worth having professionals by your side to help shape that brand messaging and guide you across the finish line.
We like working with brands who have a genuine interest to operate environmentally-conscious businesses to make their messaging authentic and personable. So if that sounds like you, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.