As the world’s attention focuses on Glasgow for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, ‘sustainability’ and ‘action against global warming’ will be the news agenda’s buzzwords for the foreseeable future.
This isn’t just the case for Glasgow though. Sustainability has been on everyone’s radar for a while now and the spotlight is shining ever more brightly on how businesses are doing, or not doing, their bit for the planet both here in the UK and further afield.
As communication practitioners, we want our clients to be taking part in this new, green revolution. Not only does it show that our clients care and are doing their bit for the environment, but it allows us to mine for relevant stories and worthwhile pieces of content that will garner column inches, likes and shares.
However, when a business pays lip service to current trends, it not only makes our job harder, it also self-sabotages the work that goes into highlighting just how businesses are forging their own path to saving the world.
Now more than ever, a company’s half-hearted attempt at riding the crest of a good cause wave will splash back - not only on themselves, but those entrusted to shout about their endeavours.
A quick Google search doesn’t just show who is doing it right - it is a given that businesses are trying hard to mitigate against their environmental impact - instead it is a who’s who of companies that have promised the earth and have then gone on to literally let it down.
Whether it is a company which has vowed to reduce its carbon footprint, but then sends a delivery 500 miles across the country, only for its product to be delivered five minutes down the road from its headquarters, or, another which spends a huge amount of money on research and development of a green product, only to be let down by its non-environmentally friendly packaging - there is a fine line between good publicity or a PR firefight.
As communications consultants, it becomes ever clearer that we need to guide our clients to not jump half-heartedly into the green revolution. If we are to shout about the good that they are doing, then it needs to be fully backed by both a cultural and structural change within a business.
Paying platitudes to sustainability through vague buzzwords, without showing tangible actions or results, just won’t cut it. Likewise, making a meaningful change, rather than being sustainable ‘for the sake of it’ will be much better received by a client’s target audience.
The public are now much savvier when it comes to sustainability and the environment - especially the younger generation.
According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, 59 per cent of those aged 18-34 are much more likely to buy products or services from a brand that promotes sustainability compared to just 31 per cent among those aged 55 and over.
To reach such an audience, businesses must differentiate themselves from their competitors through showcasing the clear sustainability benefits that their customers will enjoy by interacting with the business.
What’s more it must be authentic. The last thing needed is for a business to be accused of greenwashing - championing environmental causes for commercial gain rather than ethical reasons.
By having a clear understanding of the ever-growing importance of minimising the impact that a business’s operations have on the world around us, by instigating real change, it ensures that customers and the reputation of a business will be viewed favourably in years to come.
A number of businesses and sectors have already pushed sustainability to the top of their overarching strategy, having had the foresight to see it becoming a global issue and one that must be addressed. However, that doesn’t mean those who have not considered their environmental impact until now will be left behind.
Demand for sustainable business practices will continue to increase exponentially. By considering how you can make a meaningful change, put in place measures to counter your effect on the planet and demonstrate that you are committed to making a difference - then you can build trust with consumers through educating them on your sustainability efforts.
Through traditional media and social media platforms, and simple, concise examples highlighting why you are placing an emphasis on going green, your customers will join you on your sustainability journey, remain loyal and it can even help you to win over a new audience.
By putting in place a robust strategic communications plan to support your sustainability efforts now, it will help future proof your business as the fight against climate change continues to gather pace for generations to come.