Communicating Sustainability to Our CustomersAug 16, 2022
Achieving sustainability initiatives requires a lot of hard work, collaboration, and commitment. Now that you and your team have achieved (or shall we say, made progress on - remember, it’s a journey!) your goal(s), here comes my favorite part - communicating these initiatives to your customers!
We bet you guys are excited to share all the work you’ve done and you definitely deserve some recognition, but we have to follow the guidelines when sharing this information with our customers. You know where I’m going with this… no greenwashing!
Most people think greenwashing is flat-out lying to the customer about sustainability initiatives, but this isn’t always the case. Greenwashing is also misrepresenting the work your brand has done. We strongly believe in collaboration between the product teams and marketing teams to ensure everyone is on the same page and has the same data on the sustainability initiatives.
Since marketers are one of the greatest resources we have for communicating with our customers, we need to make sure they know their stuff on all things sustainability within your brand. So, how can your marketing team best communicate sustainability to the public? Let’s find out!
Prefer to watch? Check our YouTube video on this same topic!
1. Do It Honestly
I mentioned data earlier in this post and believe it or not, data on our initiatives is incredibly valuable, but also frustratingly hard to pin down. This could be data on any number of things like emissions, waste management, and so on and so forth. Let’s use the example of materials - the gold standard of materials data is to have a verified LCA (we did a video on this too ;), or reference reputable existing LCA data. The LCA will measure that material’s impact from Cradle to Grave and since it’s verified through a third party, the data should be reliable.
Once you have your results, you can share this information with your customers so they have a better understanding of the materials you use and the environmental impacts it has or will have.
Don’t have LCA data? That’s okay, but you should share what information you do have available. Let me be clear - this is not information like “our bikinis are eco-friendly because they’re made with 80% recycled polyester.” That’s not data; that’s - as we’ve heard Maxine Bedat say - is Greenwishing Instead, provide information on the company you’re sourcing your recycled polyester from. Where do they get their polyester from? Explain why is recycled polyester better than virgin (see Textile Exchange) Use this as an opportunity to teach your customers. And please, ditch the word “eco-friendly” - it’s a term that never really did a good job of properly describing products with “more sustainable” attributes.
2. Be Humble in Your Approach
In the words of the oh-so-talented Kendrick Lamar, “sit down, be humble.” I never thought that advice would be applicable in sustainable fashion, but, here we are. Sustainability is not about bragging and it’s not about being trendy. This is a long-term approach to doing better business, genuinely.
While your sustainability initiatives are great for your brand today, you should also be thinking about the future. Like Derek says “there is no finish line.” There is always work to be done and we think this is a great opportunity to share this with your customers. Tell them (honestly, and humbly) what you’ve done and let them know what you plan on doing next.
The reality is your brand probably (likely) won’t be able to create an entirely perfect system, there are just too many factors at play along the entire supply chain. However, you can continue to work hard, keep learning, and continue to clean up your system as you go. Remind your customers that you’re not perfect. Spoiler alert: they already know that :)
3. Communicate Accurately
I know it sounds obvious, but making sure our information is correct can save your brand a lot of trouble.
Now more than ever, people are scanning through your information to see if anything looks fishy. Part of what we do here at The Underswell is just that - before we post anything about a brand, organization, or innovation, we scour through the website to see if everything adds up. If it doesn’t, you’ll often find Derek and me asking questions or asking for more information.
We’re not the only ones doing this either. NGOs, journalists, and other groups all do the same thing to try to hold brands accountable for their words. You’ve probably seen this, it seems like every week there’s a brand (or even now a “solution”) that gets called out for greenwashing. The best way to avoid this is to state what you know and share what you’re learning about.
Going back to being humble, nobody can blame you for learning something new and trying to be/do better.
4. Keep it Open-Ended
Sustainability is a journey! As we discussed, there is no finish line and there is always work to be done.
A great framework that we love and see a lot of brands adopting is the UN SDGs. If your brand has already started working on incorporating the goals into your business, share that with your customer! A lot of people are unaware that the SDGs even exist because, sadly, we’re not taught about sustainability in our common education or along our professional pathways.
Your brand can be a guiding light for customers who want to do better, but just don’t know where and how to start.
These were the 4 things your brand should be doing, so now let’s get into the things your brand should not be doing.
1. Don’t Over-Sensationalize
We talked about greenwashing, and I mentioned this earlier, but have you heard the term “greenwishing?” This is when a brand has adopted sustainable practices, but may be over-inflating its impacts or creating an over-hyped version of the initiative.
For example, a brand may be using 100% organic cotton in all of its t-shirts - which is a great initiative and goal to strive for - but if that brand claims that organic cotton is the best fiber out there or that it is the most sustainable option would be misleading. As Derek says, organic cotton is great, but so is recycled cotton or even biosynthetics.
The point is, every material has its impacts and its trade-offs. We have to consider water usage, emissions, chemicals, and other factors along the entire supply network.
2. Leave Room for Change
The last point on our list! This one is pretty straightforward - always leave room for growth and opportunity.
There are always new innovations coming out that your brand can adopt and new data that can impact how you address your sustainability initiatives. Keep an open mind and remind your customers that the world of sustainability is ever-changing.
Flexibility is key, so be ready for change and keep researching what options are out there!
So with all this in mind, what brands are really leading the way in the sustainability space, and how do they communicate with customers? Here are a few that we love:
Pay close attention to the words they use, their tone, and how they structure their sustainability pages - all this makes a difference in the world of communication!
Here’s a bonus too - HNST Jeans has a great blog called the Hall of Fail where they address sustainability issues they’re struggling with. I love it because while it’s great to share your successes with your customer, sharing your struggles or “failures” is incredibly sincere.
What do you guys think - how can brands best communicate sustainability with customers? As a customer what do you look for in a brand’s sustainability initiatives? Let us know over in our LinkedIn Group!
Don’t forget, we’re holding our open house tomorrow, August 17th at 11:30 AM PT. We hope to see you there and we look forward to hearing your thoughts!
#keeplearning #sustainablebusiness #sustainablefashion
Top 35 Things to Know if you're learning about Sustainability in the Apparel Industry. Have you downloaded the guide yet?
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