5 Feb

How to get your sustainability story right

Have you left your business’s front door open to accusations of environmental and social injustice?

According to research by Retail Gazette, 75% of UK shoppers are modifying their buying behaviour due to ethical concerns. It also found that 85% of retail technology leaders will invest the same amount or more in sustainable shopping initiatives next year. So, it’s no surprise that as we move into 2021, marcomms will be awash with brands looking to acquire the green guinea.

But with the “woke left” on the prowl (rolls eyes), the stakes are high for over stretching your green credentials, which can leave you exposed to criticism and ultimately, damage your brand.

It’s not hard to find examples of companies who jumped on the bandwagon only to be exposed by hawk-eyed socially conscientious consumers. Take Lacoste’s foray into animal rights. The clothing brand created a limited-edition version range of the iconic logo polos and substituted the croc for a depiction of an endangered animal. Their newly found affection for God’s creatures was quickly extinguished by consumers pointing out that their handbags are most certainly made from cow skin. I mean ‘leather’.

Another whopper (not sorry) was McDonald’s’ unfortunate straw innovation project which sought to swap plastic for paper. Little did they know that the UK recycling infrastructure does not have the capability to process this type of paper thus it created more waste, not less. Perhaps more of a reflection on the UK’s recycling infrastructure than anything else, but you get my point!

One of the universally accepted fundamentals to sustainability storytelling is authenticity. Tell real stories from within your business that progress a particular issue in the right direction. But don’t, for the love of God, pretend that your brand is changing the world (an infinitesimally small amount of brands can truly argue this). Take an objective view of your brand and business and acknowledge your strengths but more importantly, your limitations. (no woke-washing!)

An archetypal sustainability story has got to be that of Absolut Vodka. The Pernod Ricard owned business has managed to keep its Swedish roots and create what they call “Planet Earth’s Favourite Vodka”. They smash one of the most fundamental components of sustainability communications – transparency. From its supply chain, to its packaging – they’ve left the door open and have invited everyone in for a cuppa (or a cosmo…).

While ensuring your story is authentic should be the first stage in your process, it’s undeniably important to tell that story in a creative and unique way. Cue BBH’s ‘The Vodka with Nothing to Hide’. The mark of a great agency client relationship is trust, and the trust between BBH and Absolut must be iron-clad  given they managed to get their VP of Operations and 27 other members of staff to bare all for the 2 minute 52 second clip.

I can hear your outrage from here: That’s not fair! Sweden was voted the most sustainable country in the world and even raised climate hero Greta Thunberg… they’ve got a head start!”. So, what can brands in the rest of the world do to develop their sustainability story?

We spoke to Maeve, Director at Charlescannon, the creative agency helping businesses like Nestlé, Bata and World Heart Federation tell their sustainability story in a way that moves the dial and cuts through the white noise. We asked her about the state of conscious consumerism and how her agency is helping drive the agenda forward.

“Sustainability is a journey that businesses need to go on. It’s not a nice-to-have anymore, if you want to be around for a long time. Some businesses are further down the line than others sure, but what’s important is that you’re honest with yourself and most importantly, your consumers. This transparency will help you identify where you can make the biggest difference and ultimately, build brand salience.”

“The sign of a great leader is someone who isn’t afraid of showing their weaknesses, it’s the same with brands. If you want to lead the pack, acknowledge where you could do better and own that narrative: what you are going to focus on and how you are going to get there. Nobody is perfect.”

Most European economies are now in recession and in times of economic hardship, sustainability often falls to the bottom of the agenda. We asked Maeve how custodians of sustainability fight to keep sustainability front of mind. She believes that you need to build a culture of effectiveness into your sustainability strategy.

“People care about this stuff. It’s got nothing to do with the “woke left”, the planet is critical and people increasingly show this in their buying behaviour. Brands often fail by dipping their toe in sustainability and not applying the same rigour compared with other brand projects. By positioning sustainability as a communications topic that adds value to the customers perception of our brand, it won’t be seen as a cost to manage, but an investment with a quantifiable return”.

If sustainability storytelling is high on your marketing agenda and you’re keen to meet some talent who can bring it to life in an engaging way and help drive your business forward, do get in touch with Director of Brand Services, Dario Pagani for a consultation.