Published at 2020, March 3rd
Nowadays, becoming more sustainable is an increasingly important concern and a challenge for brands. Here are some tips on how companies can get started.
When the time comes to transform a brand so it becomes greener and more sustainable, there is too often a tendency to go in any direction and to start wherever. However, instead of launching marketing and communication operations right away, organizations should first ask (themselves) the right questions.
Becoming “sustainable” in a way that organizations can proudly share what they are doing requires time and method. Here are some tips that may help those responsible for this transition get started.
1- Understanding Consumer Expectations
Too often, all of a sudden, brands start a sustainable development, a CSR or a responsible consumption approach thinking they had a great idea or thought of a remarkably original initiative to be developed about these topics.
A partnership with an NGO or an association? A reforestation program? A technical label or a certification? Good ideas, no one is saying otherwise – but what if organizations learned about their consumers’ expectations first?
This would help them truly understand what is most important for their consumers and guide them on what they first tackle and try to be better at in the first place. Because planting trees may be nice and efficient, but perhaps people would rather see improvements in how materials are sourced or whether they are eco-designed to be easily repaired and reused.
To find out consumer’s concerns, surveys are generally the preferred method of collecting information. Mixing the information collected about the main concerns of the organization’s most engaged stakeholders with the issues identified to be priority by the company is a process usually referred to as a materiality analysis. Once the top matches are identified, it’s time to find levers for action.
2- Put Sustainability At The Heart Of A Larger Project
Becoming a more “sustainable” brand does not happen overnight neither over a “one-shot” project. It’s a long process. In recent years, consumers have lost the confidence they had in businesses, and this is even truer when it comes to their communication on issues related to sustainable development or health. To put it another way: they no longer believe in corporate speeches.
Regaining people’s confidence is hard work where evidence needs to be well communicated. Organizations need to embark on a global brand identity renewal project. They need to refocus, find what broke that trust in the first place and then repair it.
In the food industry, for example, too many consumers doubt, because of the lack of transparency, how products are made, where ingredients are sourced and at what cost, what’s the impact on their health… That’s why transparency, authenticity and slowly explaining (with facts and figures into perspective) how things are done is very important. In the end, a sustainability strategy is one that’s global, cross-departmental and touching organizations’ business models.
3- Talking About The Bottom And The Heart Of Business
Companies need, therefore, to be able to speak about their core business. Does an organization produce high-tech equipment? Then how is this equipment made? Where? Who makes it? Under what conditions? Using how much energy? How much CO2 is burned in transportation? What guarantees are offered in terms of traceability, durability, and repairability?
A company that sells textiles? The same questions and different ones need to be asked. What raw materials are used? Where do they come from? Are they organic, ethical or fair? What work is being done to go in the right direction on all these criteria? How is this work being carried out? What evidence is there about this transition?
Organizations need to be able to speak sincerely and in-depth about the actions that are being carried out in the products and services that make up their core business. Of course, recycling cups at the office, encouraging employees to have eco-friendly gestures or to take public transportation when possible are, for instance, important objectives. But without doing things differently at the core business, a true strategy won’t come to live and greenwashing rumors will likely be around.
4- Guilty? Admit It
For the reasons already mentioned, it is also fundamental to adopt a posture of humility when trying to create a more sustainable brand identity. There is no point in pretending to be “green” before having implemented significant actions. Before claiming big labels like “circular”, “green”, “sustainable” or “responsible”, organizations should first show they deserve it.
It is much more productive in terms of image and reputation to be able to admit flaws, to be able to say “not everything is perfect, but we are working on it and if it does not go faster, it is for this and that reasons ”. It is easier to forgive a transparent and humble organization than one suspected of not walking its talk.
5 – Create A Dialogue
For all we’ve been talking about, the key may be to create a dialogue with consumers. As we have seen, it is at the foundation of their expectations that a sustainability approach must be built.
However, it is also thanks to them and to their feedback that a CSR strategy can be built in a way that better serves all. It is by seeing how different stakeholders are receptive to change over time that a viable transition is built. It is then via associating it with shared values that a community of interest can be built with a sense of trust, loyalty, and cooperation.
That’s why more and more, companies are using dialogue techniques to guide themselves: knowing what is right, what is wrong, where to go, how to do things. These tools, which have always fueled marketing, are more than ever necessary at a time when consumers are more critical than ever, including on social or environmental issues.