We have a problem. Generations ago, it seemed like we had access to endless resources, and we are now starting to see just how incorrect this was. Sustainability is at the top of the public agenda, and eco-friendly companies are quickly becoming some of the most popular (for very good reason).
Like never before, there is a real opportunity for brands to do better. They need to support their customers with their green goals and authentically wrap proof around their own sustainability promises. But how? I believe one approach is through science.
If brands work with consumers to provide sustainable options and are transparent in their actions, we can drive sustainable behavior and eco-friendly choices become habitual. Following this six-step checklist is a good way to start.
1. Commit to a positive approach.
Rather than the often-tactical scaremongering, let’s shift to something practical. Instead, drive sustainability effort by data to understand customers according to where they are in their sustainability journey, and use behavioral science to analyze their needs and, as such, work with them rather than against them. A recent survey from my company, Walnut UNLIMITED, about sustainability in the U.K. demonstrated a positive approach would have a greater impact than the “doom and gloom” to effect behavior change.
2. Understand customer segments.
The next step is to understand the approach necessary for different customer types, as, of course, there will be a whole host of similarities and differences in segments’ attitudes to sustainable living. Brands need to understand the profile of the main three groups (adopters, planners and deniers) and then take different actions to fit with the different stages of the journey that their customers have reached.
3. Take a multilayered approach.
Looking at the different profiles of the three groups and their beliefs, concerns and attitudes, it’s clear that brands need to take a multilayered approach that draws on behavioral science to ensure that their sustainability strategy has something to appeal to all groups and doesn’t alienate loyal customers. I recommend that brands develop a positive sustainability strategy that focuses on how to support the adopters, inform the planners and engage the deniers.
Adopters want to be provided with lots of green opportunities to support them in achieving their own sustainability goals. Planners are the people who want to be informed and given more information, tips and hacks to help to cut through the confusion. And finally, deniers need to be engaged with to connect around their values first—and expect to make small, slow gains.
4. Work with positive role models.
Research by Walnut UNLIMITED shows that 77% of respondents agreed that trusted public figures providing information and direction is important. This suggests that there are real opportunities with brands to work with positive role models to help draw people into their messaging around sustainability and engage them with the topic. Brands must ensure, however, that they are thinking strategically about any partnerships to ensure they aren’t seen as “jumping on the green bandwagon” and implement any campaigns with trust and conviction to build credibility with customers in the long term.
5. Be open about the costs.
An almost unfathomable stat discovered from the survey showed that, overall, nearly half (44%) of respondents believe that sustainable products are just a way for brands to make more money. To tackle this cynicism head-on, brands must be transparent about any added costs to the price of a sustainable product and be clearer on how buying a sustainable purchase will make a difference. It’s not just about clear labeling; additionally, brands should be clear about the entire supply chain: how the products are sourced, who is employed and what the employment conditions are like and so on.
6. Check for greenwashing at every stage.
Any sustainability initiatives and messaging a brand decides on must come across as authentic, which means checking at every stage that what is being done is backed up by the organization’s wider approach to sustainability. Practice what you preach! Transparency is key in terms of your motives for the initiative, the information you give to your customers and the information you seek from your suppliers.
Consider the human impact.
It is time for brands to take a new approach to sustainability, as scaremongering will only serve to entrench people in their existing behaviors. The good news is that we are seeing a real willingness that people are ready to change and are looking to brands to help them. The future is bright if we work together, and brands should embrace this opportunity now.