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How should brands market their sustainability efforts?

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

In the age of growing environmental awareness, consumers demand more from the brands they work with than offer a good product and sizable discounts. They also demand sustainability.

According to a recent study, 64% of consumers are ready to pay premium prices for sustainable products, and 78% of people are more likely to buy a product if it’s labeled as eco-friendly. Taking a strong sustainability stance has almost become a requirement for modern businesses, which have a better chance to build trust if they show that they care about the environment. But being sustainable is one thing and communicating sustainability to your audience is another. The same study found that 74% of people don’t know how to identify sustainable products, and one of the reasons why this happens is because brands aren’t doing a great job at communicating their stance to audiences. At the same time, marketing sustainability can backfire when it’s not done right, so it’s important to know what strategies to use:

A sustainability certification can help you boost credibility.

Brands know that consumers care about the environment, and there’s no shortage of brands that are leveraging that without necessarily doing anything specific to help the planet. In the past few years, there’s been a flood of new brands whose names include words such as “honest,” “conscious,” “nature,” or “green,” but while they might sound good, these words don’t really mean anything. For customers, researching which brands are actually doing something to help and which are just exploiting marketing tricks like greenwashing can be exhausting. One study showed that the top three reasons why consumers don’t shop more from sustainable companies are:

  1. It takes too long to research if the brand truly is sustainable

  2. They don’t trust the company’s claims

  3. They find the claims to be confusing

A surefire way of addressing these obstacles is to get a certification for your sustainability efforts. This not only validates your claims but also makes it easier for customers to understand your environmental practices. A few examples of sustainability certifications you apply for include B Corp, Certified Carbon Neutral, Fair Trade, GOTS, and Energy Star.

Localize your marketing depending on what your audience cares about the most

Sustainability is an umbrella term that may mean different things to different people, depending on where they are from. Understanding what branch of sustainability your audience cares about the most is key in drafting relevant and effective marketing messages.

For example, in Denmark, customers associate sustainability with zero waste, so it might be a good idea to focus your marketing on the containers you use to reduce waste during production or recyclable packing. In North America, customers are also interested in recycling, whereas, in Africa and the Middle East, they associate sustainability with fair prices and responsible use of natural resources. In Latin America, consumers tend to trust the brands whose products are made with alternative sources of energy. Of course, sustainability is not linked only to these values. Sustainability also means fair labor conditions, donating to charities, and investing in community development. Depending on their age and background, your customers may care about these different aspects, so it’s important to target your advertising accordingly.

Be transparent

When talking about sustainability, transparency needs to be at the core of your marketing campaigns. The days when customers would buy whatever product was on offer without worrying about how that product was made and what impact it had on the environment are gone. As the buying power of Millennial and Gen Z shoppers is growing, so is the concern for environmental impact, and your brand needs to be ready to answer questions like:

● Does your manufacturer offer fair wages and humane working conditions?

● Where are you sourcing your ingredients from? Are they ethically sourced?

● What is your factory’s environmental impact?

● Do you give back to the community? What social causes do you contribute to?

● What are your sustainability goals, and how close are you to achieving them?

A good example of transparency in marketing is Patagonia, which details every one of its supply chain steps on the website and explains the environmental impact of each one.

One of the biggest mistakes brands make at this point is trying to be perfect. Becoming 100% sustainable is not an easy mountain to climb, and customers are alright with that, as long as you are transparent. For example, when fast-fashion label H&M started an aggressive marketing campaign showcasing their conscious label, they still got backlash for failing to address waste, worker abuse, and inhumane working conditions. But when Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky published an in-depth, heartfelt blog post explaining why they’ve had to make the difficult decision of laying off 25% of the company’s staff due to COVID-19, the public response was much better because, at the same time, the company was still making great efforts to ensure that there were no hidden fees and back charges on the platform.

Educate your audience on the benefits of sustainability

The purpose of sustainability marketing isn’t just to promote your company and how superior you are. Good marketing is also about education and working to achieve a goal bigger than yourself. People will buy eco-friendly products because it’s the cool thing to do, but, many times, they may not know exactly how their choice benefits the environment.

Showing them exactly how your company helps not only strengthens your image and boosts trust but also reinforces the idea that they’ve done something good and encourages them to make other sustainable choices in their daily life. For example, you can show your followers how you use old packaging to make new products or how your team took part in a tree-planting campaign.

These real-life examples are easier to understand than scientific data, and there’s a bigger chance that customers will relate to them. When making sustainability-focused marketing campaigns, remember that it shouldn’t be all aggressive self-promotion; remember the bigger goal, and audiences will be more likely to trust you.

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