Sustainability – Brand Communication and Reputation

While sustainability marketing may have succeeded in getting people to buy new products in the past, this is no longer the case. These days, having a good product is not enough to win over consumers.

Demand and preference are shifting as more consumers, specifically, Gen Z, look for brands that best align with their lifestyles and values. This group is not only the trendsetter, it is the driving force behind the sustainability movement.  According to a 2020 report by First Insight, 73% of Gen Z consumers surveyed said they are willing to pay more for sustainable products – more than every other generation.  At the same time, they will not hesitate to boycott companies that do not meet their expectations.

Brands have no choice but to incorporate their demands into their business plans. But this is just the beginning. Brand sustainability has to be authentic and actionable. Consumers can see through the “green-washing” and actively seek proof that the products are not only made in a sustainable way but that companies are expanding their sustainability efforts to reduce their planetary impact.

In today’s marketing landscape, sustainability needs to be embedded into the very heart of the brand and the way the business runs. Sustainable brands that create an emotional connection with consumers are likely to exert a positive influence over their purchasing decisions and brand loyalty. More importantly, this will also open doors for brands to involve consumers in their sustainability initiatives.

Brand purpose and messaging

When brands adopt sustainability as a core pillar of their business, their actions and communications strategy will drive organic marketing.  After all, people want to be associated with brands that play a meaningful and direct role in their lives and make the world the world a better place.

Communications must be multi-stakeholder by design, from investors to the board, management, employees, and ultimately consumers.  Impactful sustainability messages go beyond commitments – they must integrate with the media and experiences to keep consumers informed and involved and strengthen the emotional connection between the brand, environment, and the consumer. For marketing communications personnel, there are key areas and best practice examples that brands can leverage to create opportunities that deepen consumer connections while providing authenticity and accountability around sustainability values.

Sustainable communications

The idea of a circular economy is simple. It is to make better use of resources (including fully recovering materials), prevent waste and pollution by investing in better design of products and packaging materials. Highlighting your company’s circular work and sustainable solutions is key to building your brand.  To help consumers understand the different actions and intentions behind company decisions, be upfront in all your communications.  Share your brand story and its journey, including fails or pitfalls along the way.  A simple and accessible announcement, from the outset, will help consumers understand why certain decisions were made and what steps are being taken to ensure the integrity of the product or business. Remember, consumers, want reassurance as to what their preferred brands are doing, and if they are staying true to their promises.

Think about the different actions and intentions first before pushing them in your communication – so as not to risk any greenwashing.

Not so clean greenwashing

When it comes to ingredient transparency, packaging, or health claims, we have seen many that don’t fit the bill.  From blurred lines between compostable, biodegradable and recyclable, to avoiding certain ingredients, many brands have been known to make claims (sometimes unintentionally) that do not reflect their achievements or brand promise, aka greenwashing. You just can’t fool this Gen Z generation of digitally native consumers. Exaggerating the sustainability work of a business can result in a thunderstorm of negative response that will backfire, and in some cases, cause irreparable damage. The best thing is to be open and transparent with the public.  If there are areas in your sustainability efforts that need improving – communicate effectively (via the right channels). This way, you not only promote engagement and encourage feedback but also show that you value their opinions and welcome them to become part of your shared journey towards positive change.

So, in a nutshell, when developing an effective sustainable communications strategy, bear these points in mind:

  1. Embed your sustainable communications strategy: in the core purpose of the business.  Climate change affects every industry, and companies must act as responsible stewards of the planet.
  • Share your brand story:  When sustainability and business strategy align, communications will have a greater impact. Through innovative product development and sustainable designs, brands can discover new avenues to create business value while ensuring a positive impact on the environment and society. 
  • People before strategy: Begin at the top. Catalyse leadership around a bold, ambitious plan of action and commitment for change. Employees want to see the leadership team act and communicate, and how each of them can contribute. Organisational transformation requires empowerment and participation at all levels.
  • Performance metric:Connect your company’s actions with a recognized measurement framework to ensure transparency and stability.  For example, the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), created in 2015, helps companies to incorporate climate-related risks and opportunities into their risk management and strategic planning processes. It is aimed at empowering markets to channel investments to sustainable and resilient solutions, opportunities, and business models.

Both sustainability and communications teams already have their fingers on the pulse and are good at spotting trends and changes in public attitudes and motivating their target audiences to buy into change. Applying these skills to climate change and sustainability will help the world stand up and take notice.  

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