Focus on Progress, Not Perfection, in Sustainability Stories

Twice in the last week I’ve heard managers of major brands say, “You know, we’re not ready to talk about our sustainability efforts because they’re just not perfect yet.”

I completely understand and support the fear about laying claim to something before it’s fully baked. But in these two cases, both brands have a solid sustainability story to tell -- it’s not like they’re still figuring out the initial steps -- but they’re not telling that story. And that’s a wasted marketing opportunity.

We know that over 60 percent of the population is looking for greener products. And we know that some pretty simple actions register with consumers as green on the manufacturing front: recycling, reducing/minimizing waste in the manufacturing process and using renewable energy. Further, we believe that these items are becoming table stakes -- that more and more Americans just expect manufacturers to be taking these steps -- and we know many manufacturers are.

But not talking about them is the same as not doing them in the Land of Marketing and Advertising. Consumers will assume your packaging’s not recyclable, that you’re dumping waste in a landfill, and that you haven’t explored or installed renewable energy sources if you don’t tell them.

Consumers are human, just like you and me. They don’t expect you to be perfect. They simply expect you to tell them the truth. Seventy percent say they’d clobber you with a boycott if you lie to them/overhype your green creds, by the way. (They actually won’t all go through with that according to follow-up questions we ask…but the stat speaks to the attitude/suspicion that prevails about green marketing. You don’t want to incite that -- it’s bad for the brand.) 

So tell them the truth -- tell them what your vision is for your sustainability efforts, what you’re doing today and what your plan is to achieve the vision.  That’s real -- and it’s inspiring. And it gives you a reason to keep checking in with them -- to let them know you’ve actually accomplished the steps you said you would. And that gives consumers another reason to feel good about your brand and buy it. 

Suzanne C. Shelton is founder, president and CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency focused exclusively on motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices. The original version of her post appeared on the Shelton Group blog and is reprinted with permission.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user H@rpoon.