Marketing and Comms
4 New Year’s Resolutions for Sustainability Marketers

A new year means four more quarters to pitch, market and advertise your sustainable product or brand to eager consumers across the globe. The world is shifting toward environmental consciousness whether you believe it or not, and reaching consumers in this product climate requires more than just a big marketing budget and hollow promises of greater social responsibility.

These four pieces of advice are my recommendations to sustainable brand marketers moving into the new year.

Be Transparent About Sustainability Claims

Questionable environmental claims abound in the products market. For example, there are indeed plastics that biodegrade, but many will only break down when processed in an industrial composter. A label touting a plastic product’s biodegradability may be scientifically accurate, but without any further explanation or direction on the package itself, many of these plastics will not biodegrade in any reasonable amount of time in a consumer’s home composting system. Any lack of transparency in this regard is a sure way to catalyze skepticism and criticism.

Instead, clarify sustainability claims for consumers in an accessible way — direct them to a web portal with more information, cite any peer-reviewed or third party-supported evidence for your sustainability claims, and perhaps most importantly, admit when and why you are wrong or have missed the mark. Outline the series of events that led to the failure of a sustainability claim or promise, and explain how the company plans to refocus its efforts in a more realistic fashion. Whatever you can do to engage more closely with your consumer base is a great way to bring them back to the brand again and again.

Focus on the Product, Not the “Green”

A product should first be defined by its quality and price competitiveness — any sustainability claims or “green” qualities should be the cherry on top. As I’ve said before, the green gap still very much exists in today’s product environment, and most consumers believe that a product claiming sustainability is going to cost them more at the register. Without a quality product to back up those claims, all you have is a product that makes nice, flowery environmental promises with few customers to actually support it.

This is especially true for smaller brands that have to compete with massive, multinational product companies. Without the capital, market share, budget and established consumer base of a huge corporation, your product has to stand on its own. Once that happens, any additional sustainable qualities will help to differentiate the product and give you room to claim your own share of the market.

Educate Consumers about Proper Disposal

Most consumers will not put forth any extra effort to learn how to best dispose of a product or product packaging. Knowing what forms of plastic are widely recyclable, for example, can be particularly confusing thanks to the unintuitive resin identification coding system — potentially recyclable plastics may end up in the trash, and non-recyclable plastics can end up contaminating the recycling stream.

The How2Recycle Label decreases confusion and educates consumers on the ground simply and effectively. Through simple graphics and concise labeling, it tells consumers precisely how to dispose of each component of a product or piece of packaging. If a material’s recyclability depends on the region, the label tells consumers to “Check Locally.” If residual product might present a contamination risk, it might say “Empty & Replace Cap.” It’s such a simple system that one has to wonder why it hasn’t been adopted sooner. Luckily, dozens of major brands have already joined the How2Recycle program.

Appeal to Conscious Consumers

Social responsibility means a lot to consumers, more so today than ever before. If they trust a brand and believe in its underlying approach to sustainability, they are more likely to become loyal, returning customers.

To start, establish your company or brand as one that cares about more than just a profit margin. Tom’s of Maine, The North Face, Patagonia and Clif Bar are just a few that come to mind. They provide in-depth outlines and overviews of their sustainability initiatives, approach them in a realistic and transparent way, partner with third-party auditors to improve manufacturing efficiencies and supply chain security, and admit where improvements can be made along the way. When you prove you care about more than just what is in consumers’ wallets, they are more prone to listen.

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