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Does Supporting Sustainability = Buying Sustainable?

With their voice, wallet and within the workplace, Gen Z and millennials are dictating their desire for brands and companies to demonstrate sustainable practices. The evolving role of these individuals as consumers, employees and even as shareholders is holding companies accountable by impacting their profitability and reputation as to how that organization is opposing climate change and addressing environmental concerns.

According to this report, “73% of Gen Z consumers surveyed were willing to pay more for sustainable products, more than every other generation.” “Nearly half—49%—of Gen Zs surveyed by Deloitte said that their personal ethics have played a role in their career choices.” “41% of millennial investors put a significant amount of effort into understanding a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices.”

These groups are not only demanding action, but are holding the products they buy and the businesses they work for accountable to institute change. Gen Z, for example, are demonstrating their concerns around sustainability with Amazon, whose online sales in 2021 were down by 1%.  As per this Forbes article, “Consumers—especially millennials and Gen Zers—increasingly feel uncomfortable about sustainability issues such as wasteful packaging and the thousands of vans needed to be able to deliver your tube of toothpaste within 24 hours.”

“Notably, “58% of organizations that currently have a strong and clear sense of purpose experienced 10 percent or more growth during the last three years.”

That being said, how can businesses respond with relevance and real purpose, which are demonstrated through experiences that are transparent and genuine, while aligning with these groups’ values, views and behaviors?

What You Say Versus What You Do

For too many companies, having environmental messaging or adding eco-friendly labels to their product isn’t enough and, in most cases, is perceived by these audiences as  “greenwashing,” which is defined here “as the deceptive practice of branding a company as environmentally-friendly without adopting legitimate sustainable operations.” If what a company says differs from what it does, there can be backlash from marketing from consumers as well as shareholders.

“If what a company says differs from what it does, there can be backlash from marketing from consumers as well as shareholders.”

This Chartered Institute of Marketing study shared this when it comes to promoting sustainability and the fear of being associated with greenwashing: “Every marketer should remind themselves that their job is not just about driving click-throughs or marketing a product. They are in a unique position to influence social change, mediating the relationship between brands and their customers. They should act as a catalyst for positive change and have an important role to play in making sure that brands have sustainability high up on the priority list.”

Have a Clear Sense of Purpose

How does the CSR initiative elevate your purpose or mission as a brand? Notably, “58% of organizations that currently have a strong and clear sense of purpose experienced 10 percent or more growth during the last three years.”

An example of having a clear sense of purpose is demonstrated in this video for Timberland, wherein ScheinerInc. was asked to underscore Timberland’s commitment to giving back to the global environment. To do so, the company developed a CSR program built on planting infinite good by showing how planting just one new tree can make an impact on the environment. The “Infinite Good” social advocacy program exemplified the company’s belief that one new tree can impact the world in unexpected, awe-inspiring ways, while starting a ripple effect of social and environmental good.

Focus on Creating Sustainability Stories and Experiences

Storytelling for CSR can humanize a company and help to rally a community emotionally around your cause. This article points to three attributes sustainability storytelling shares: “They are personal, they connect to the big picture and they paint a positive picture of the future.”

Take, for example, how Corona USA leveraged its beach environment DNA by helping to build awareness about plastic pollution and guide actions that are part of the solution. The program is explained here: “Timed with World Oceans Month, Corona has committed to removing 1 million pounds of plastic from beaches and its business by the brand’s 100th birthday in 2025, through its “Protect Our Beaches” initiative in partnership with Oceanic Global! To kick off the initiative, Corona hosted a high-impact cleanup, coordinated with the experts at United by Blue, in the environmentally endangered lands of the South Dade Wetlands within the Biscayne Bay near Miami. The Biscayne Bay is home to some of the Atlantic Ocean’s most unique wildlife, but it falls victim to marine debris and litter from the city. The cleanup successfully yielded more than 30,000 pounds of plastic waste!”

With Puma’s Re: Jersey project, it has developed a production process to recycle existing soccer jerseys to produce new ones. “This initiative is aimed at reducing waste and paving the way toward circular production models. While Puma’s soccer kits on the market today are already made from 100 percent recycled polyester, Re: Jersey kits are made with 75 percent repurposed soccer jerseys. The remaining 25 percent comes from Seaqual marine plastic.”

As mentioned earlier, CSR programs need to be relevant to the brand or category and to provide real purpose to the company’s audiences, employees and shareholders, delivered through experiences that are transparent and genuine. Anything less places the company or brand at risk, resulting in consumer backlash or the company’s sustainability efforts being labeled as greenwashing and baseless.

Questions about your CSR strategy? Let us know how we can help by emailing us here. As always, thank you for reading.

Photo by Don Kaveen on Unsplash