Having green credentials is an increasingly important factor when it comes to managing a brand’s reputation. Some companies have actively taken steps to become more sustainable and ethical, while others are yet to see its value. We have seen a global rise over the years surrounding ethical practice, with more jumping on the bandwagon.
Having good ethical practices really started to gain momentum a decade ago with the release of Nobel Peace-winning film The Inconvenient Truth.1
The film documented former US vice-president Al Gore’s work to raise public awareness of the dangers of global warming and calls for immediate action to curb its destructive effects on the environment.
Initially, some companies began by simply taking some small steps to become ‘environmentally friendly’. But brands have begun to move away from the empty rhetoric and have started to have more of a social, economic and cultural impact.
The movement has been particularly popular with millennials, who see sustainability as a shopping priority according to Nielsen 2. Igniyte picks out five key benefits of sustainability below:
• Beat competitors and increase brand image – Being ethical can give your brand a USP ahead of industry rivals and could encourage good consumer habits, as well as customer loyalty with a reputable brand. Sainsbury’s recently implemented a sustainability plan 3 which is credited with increasing its first quarterly growth since 2014 earlier this year.
• Save costs, reduce waste and improve productivity – In the short term, it may seem like it’s more expensive to ‘go green’, but you’ll find that overt the long-term, your company benefits. Streamlining efforts and employee efficiency including small steps such as energy conservation and wall insulation can have a direct impact on reducing costs.
• Comply with regulations – Governing bodies are clamping down on companies and are enacting regulations to protect the environment. In order to pass new rulings in a timely manner, without incurring a penalty, you’ll need to be ahead of the game with sustainability. Research government policy to ensure you’re equipped for any incoming research changes.
• Attract good employees – Top staff want to work for a sustainable, reputable brand. People like to be associated with positivity, especially younger generations who are statistically more committed to environmental protection strategies.
• Benefit the Earth – The main benefit of an ethical approach is to help the world become more sustainable. It benefits the next generations by helping to protect the environment and ensures the world’s resources are better used.
Strategies to communicate commitment to sustainability
Sustainability requires investment, as well as a clear strategy. Companies such as Unilever, Marks & Spencer, Nike and Levi have recently reviewed their businesses models in terms of sustainability.
• Rethink your product – By reducing packaging and rethinking how it is sourced, you can change the perception of your brand and communicate a new social consciousness. There is not always a need to reinvent the product – just a shift in branding can help. Ikea has a large emphasis on making its products sustainable, while maintaining its quality, function, form and price.
• Having a second purpose aside from sustainability – Consumers are unlikely to switch to your brand based on your ethical decisions alone – particularly if it’s more expensive to do so. A second USP will encourage healthy habits from consumers and allow them to buy into the new message. Nike was one company which failed to provide a USP with its Considered boots – which are no longer in circulation as they didn’t have an alternative purpose.
• Switch consumer habits – Easier said than done, a major benefit to your brand is by switching consumer habits. Unilever attempted to encourage people to take shorter showers in order to reduce their own carbon footprint in 2011 4 , a goal which currently remains unfulfilled. Meanwhile Asda has made a conscious and successful effort to increase recycling through its packaging and car park banks 5.
• Charity work – Teaming up directly with a charity or cause can have a direct impact on brand perception to the wider public. Skittles gave up its rainbow for this year’s Pride festival 6, ditching its colourful packaging for black and white in honour of the Pride celebration. Meanwhile in 2011 Coca-Cola worked directly alongside WWF and produced polar bear-style cans 7 to raise awareness about the environment.
• Consumer participation – Perhaps the most important part of communication of your brand message and sustainability, is by harnessing consumer participation. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia is striving to achieve a “benevolent economy” where all products are recyclable and built to last. The company’s working conditions are “safe, fair and humane” while they even encourage consumers to send worn-out garments for repair.
It is a real challenge for commercial brands to become sustainable, while also continuing to grow despite potentially extra expenditure, time and effort.
There is no doubt that responsible business strategies will continue to take on an escalating role, as will communicating these activities to consumers.
Gaining clarity of what you want to be known for (and what you want your responsible business plan to say about your company) will allow for a long-term approach to responsible reputation building.
1. http://www.wired.com/2016/05/wired-al-gore-climate-change/ ↩
2. http://www.nielsen.com/uk/en/insights/news/2015/green-generation-millennials-say-sustainability-is-a-shopping-priority.html ↩
3. http://www.j-sainsbury.co.uk/responsibility/our-sustainability-plan/ ↩
4. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/gallery/sustainable-shower-ideas ↩
5. https://sustainability.asda.com/ ↩
6. https://www.creativereview.co.uk/skittles-gives-up-its-rainbow-for-pride/ ↩
7. http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/beyond-water-coca-cola-expands-partnership-with-wwf-announces-ambitious-environmental-goals ↩