OPN sustainable
There are brands that have already transitioned towards setting targets - and working to meet them - on their sustainability plans. Image Credit: Shutterstock

As conscious consumers become increasingly motivated to make changes through their purchasing habits, brands are trying harder than ever to promote their sustainability efforts and engage with audiences.

Brands need to be honest with themselves – are they genuinely committed to dedicating time, effort and potentially profit into delivering against their sustainability commitments? Or are they driven by self-serving motives and leveraging ‘brand purpose’ as a tool to tap into an audience they know value it?

When it comes to a brand’s sustainability claims – sincerity is the name of the game.

No token efforts, please

Savvy consumers can spot a tokenistic, box-ticking claim a mile off and we should know by now that they won’t let brands get away with it. We saw this with H&M when they launched their ‘Conscious Collection’ and became the centre of a greenwashing scandal. The collection, which represented a tiny proportion of its fast fashion offering, was marketed far and wide to give the impression that the brand was environmentally-friendly.

However, the claims were not only exaggerated, but in some instances completely false.

Similarly, Starbucks were quick to shout about their ambition to ban single use plastic straws in stores and alongside this launched a ‘straw-less’ lid. Very commendable - until it was found that the new straw-less lids actually used more plastic than the previous lid and straw combined.

True commitment to sustainable causes must go far beyond one-off marketing campaigns and stunts. It should be built into the brand’s values and live across all business units. If you’re in a room talking about sustainability and it’s only the marketing department there, then you’re in the wrong room.

The LEGO Group have been able to navigate this relatively effortlessly with full disclosure on their approach. For a company who produces plastic toys and had a 50-year partnership with Shell, this has been no easy feat.

Making change stick

With unified efforts across the business, they have looked at materials, production, supply chain, packaging, sustainable partnerships and launched a global ‘Build the Change’ initiative. They have pledged to make all their bricks from sustainable materials by 2030 and committed $150 million on efforts to achieve this.

What’s more is you can check up on them too; they are honest with how they are progressing, with a dedicated sustainability section on the website, keeping them accountable to the consumer.

Genuine brand purpose centres on responsibility and sincerity, prioritizing action over press releases. Do it, don’t just say it.

And treating brand purpose as an attention-grabbing ploy or occasional campaign for clout, only increases consumer scepticism and breaks trust.

That said, it’s important that brands do talk about the inroads they’re making; some brands are doing the hard work behind the scenes to take the right steps but reluctant to broadcast it for fear of a backlash, negative PR, and claims that they aren’t doing enough. While this is somewhat understandable, it’s worth noting that consumers aren’t necessarily demanding perfection.

What they do want is clarity on a brand’s long term strategic vision, and demonstrable examples of how they plan to achieve it.

Brands should be open about the challenges they face, their progress, and their process. Earlier in the year, Puma did that, with its announcement of the ‘Re:Generation’ programme, inviting young environmental activists to critique it’s sustainability strategy and provide input on how the brand should approach key social and environmental topics. It’s an example of how a brand can hold their hands up and say, ‘We’re making a start, we’re committed, and we want to be transparent’.

A Kantar sustainability study showed that 63 per cent of people think brands should take a lead on sustainability, but 64 per cent also worried that brands are involved in these issues for profit only. This highlights just how fine the line is when it comes to getting your sustainability messaging right.

Striking a balance involves skilfully defining your brand’s purpose and using it as a positive marketing tool to connect with the consumer, while wholeheartedly ensuring it is integrated into every action and decision the company.