The benefits of an authentic sustainability policy
10th July 2020
Sustainability is a major factor for consumers when it comes to doing business. Brands with a genuine commitment to sustainable practice can attract those customers whose values align with their own, and often perform better financially than their competitors.
As well as appealing to customers, businesses with a clear and defined purpose are more likely to attract and retain talent. Sustainability isn’t a passing trend; it’s important that businesses who want to grow and remain innovative show their commitment to the cause.
Clearly, it pays to be sustainable. We’ve got some advice below to help you create your own sustainability policy, while remaining authentic and credible in your approach.
Why is sustainability important to your business?
Before you commit to change, it’s important to understand what it means for you to become more sustainable, your reasons for doing this, and how it aligns with your existing brand and customer base.
Knowing why sustainability is relevant and important to your business helps to sharpen your focus, allowing you to stay true to your purpose and to deliver a clear message to stakeholders and customers.
Taking the leap without some early consideration can cause problems down the line; too soft an approach is likely to be criticised, for example.
Mapping out your journey to sustainability
Once you understand the reasons for becoming more sustainable, you’ll need to come up with a plan or roadmap to achieve it. This is a balancing act between ambition and pragmatism. How far are you willing to go and what is manageable in the long term? It’s better to have realistic, rather than overly ambitious sustainability goals.
Invest time in understanding what works for your business, whether that’s moving to a renewable energy provider, generating your own electricity on-site, or offering electric vehicles to employees as company cars.
Be true to your own goals and transparent with your customers, without over-promising. Public statements announcing sustainability commitments can easily be perceived as virtue-signaling. A lack of transparency could see you accused of green washing; a term used to diminish your sustainability plans as nothing more than a cynical reputational ploy. Make sure you communicate tangible details, as these are more likely to be well received.
Whichever actions you decide to take - reducing emissions to net-zero, for example, or eliminating single-use plastics - you should be prepared to answer questions about how you plan to achieve those goals. If you can answer them convincingly, it will be clear that your strategy has been well thought-out.
Clearly communicating your sustainability vision to your team
It’s essential to make sustainability part of your workplace culture. Your people live and breathe your brand, and they’re also often the first point of contact for your customers. Consistent messaging is important, both internally and externally.
Make your employees aware of the direction and purpose behind your sustainability goals and involve them in the process. Everyone can bring valuable ideas to the table.
Try to do so at the earliest stage. By encouraging your employees to take responsibility, you can help them to form a personal connection to sustainable thinking, - making them more likely to get involved with sustainability within the business.
Honest communication with customers is essential
Consumers are increasingly savvy to marketing and advertising and are more capable than ever of doing their research to find out if brand messaging is misleading.
There are countless examples of companies getting caught out. This year, Ryanair was accused of greenwashing after its ad campaign was banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Ryanair had falsely claimed it was "Europe's low CO2 emissions airline". Similarly, Ancol Pet Products also had an advert banned by the ASA after research showed its ‘biodegradable’ dog bags were no more beneficial than standard dog bags.
These companies tried - and failed - to leverage consumer demand for sustainable products, which demonstrates the importance of transparency, , even if it means talking about your shortcomings. Customers respond well to honesty and openness, and are loyal to value-driven brands.
Make sure your approach is consistent, and that you carry this thinking through across all external messaging, including website and social media.
Not just a passing trend
Sustainability has become an imperative for all businesses. As government regulations across a range of environmental policies become more rigorous, there’s little room left for procrastination. A strong and dynamic sustainability policy will provide your businesses with a blueprint for future growth, in line with the UK’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050.
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