Climate Change Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

Sustainability marketing: how to leverage a socially conscious audience

By Margo Waldrop, Content Writer

February 15, 2023 | 9 min read

While the younger generations may be top of the pack for social change, all demographics are taking more responsibility for their environmental footprints and expect companies to do the same.

Climate protest

How to market sustainability / Markus Spiske/Unsplash

Millennials seem to be leading the charge in climate responsibility but Gen-Z isn’t far behind. As the climate crisis intensifies, consumers are opening their eyes, and their wallets, to brands that practice green initiatives. Potential employees have also taken a stand, with a recent study showing that 64% of Millennials won’t even consider taking a job unless the company has a strong social responsibility policy.

Marketing to the socially conscious can be a delicate road, and brands must be able to back up their claims with proof and sincere intent. Here's how to market to environmentally conscious consumers.

Concentrate on industry-specific issues

Choosing sustainable pathways can’t be a random practice. Companies need to focus on specific industry causes and challenges. If the cause makes sense to their company’s products and consumer base, then it’s easier for customers to get on board. A willingness to transcend your industry’s environmental problems can go a long way to prep your company for the future.

Beer brewer, BrewDog found a way to help mitigate the beer industry’s carbon footprint by becoming the first carbon-negative global beer company. In doing so, they purchased 2,050 acres of land in the Scottish Highlands with the intention of planting one million trees, as well as restoring 650 acres of peatland. They named it BrewDog Forest, with co-founder James Watts urging other brewing companies to step up and reduce carbon emissions. BrewDog even managed to replace the plastic in their multi-can packs with recyclable cardboard.

If your company is working actively to practice more environmental or ethical production methods, then don’t be afraid to share that with your audience. Social media allows you a multitude of channels to communicate your journey and invite consumers to add their input. Dive behind the scenes and create posts that show the struggles and the successes.

Don't greenwash

Greenwashing is the attempt by companies to falsely promote themselves as sustainable and has become commonplace as the world half-heartedly attempts to ‘go green’. Many companies have been called out for making unproven claims.

Starbucks, for example, heavily promoted their straw-less lids to show they were making strides in their sustainability efforts. The problem? The new lid comprises more plastic than the previous lid-straw combination. In response, Starbucks reiterated that the new lid is made from polypropylene, a more ‘recyclable’ plastic. However, only 9% of the world’s plastic is actually recycled, thus leaving Starbucks lids once again, as a single-use, unsustainable plastic.

If your brand is promoting itself as sustainable, make sure your claims are accurate and backed by solid proof. Consumers have no problem calling out false claims and once you’ve fallen into a hole of lies, it's extremely difficult to climb out and repair your reputation.

Transparency is key

Upending years and years of production practices is not an easy task. Companies are on the hot seat to help reduce climate change and protect their revenue at the same time. While the challenge may seem insurmountable in the beginning, becoming transparent in your endeavors is one of the keys to success. Consumers want to know that you are trying, that you are doing something to help the future of our planet, and if you take them along on your sustainability journey, they will be more willing to maintain trust in your brand.

If your company has previously contributed to environmental problems, don’t be afraid to take responsibility. Everyone makes mistakes, but when a brand makes them, it can often lead to big news. Own up to any mistakes your company has made concerning sustainability. Even better, point out subpar industry practices and demonstrate the lessons you’ve learned and how you are making changes in a more positive direction.

Dedicate a page or more on your website to show your environmental journey and make sure to include your employees. Consumers are more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you show real people doing real things that truly make a difference. They need to see the ‘humanness’ behind your brand to understand that you are all in this together.

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Make friends with the watchdogs

Environmentally conscious watchdog groups are everywhere, in an attempt to support companies that work to protect climate change while also publicly calling them out for their lack of effort.

Good on You is a perfect example of a group that challenges companies by rating their current sustainability practices. This Australia-based company is comprised of retail industry experts (fashion professionals, scientists, developers, and campaigners) who aggregate information on fashion-specific brands and assign a rating based on their data. Their aim is to force apparel companies to take a hard look at their environmental and ethical impact and find ways to do better. Actress Emma Watson, a prominent supporter of earth-friendly causes, also lends her voice to Good on You’s global reach.

While some watchdog groups have oftentimes had a nefarious reputation, it is the parting of ethics that has driven their rise. Do your research and reach out to groups that are industry specific and work positively within the law. Ask them how to do better and how you can support their cause. As an official supporter of environmental causes, you can demonstrate to customers that you are intentional and sincere in your change.

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and help protect the planet. If you can create sustainable practices that continue to make positive changes then make sure to take your customers along for the ride. Often, your customers are the best voices to inspire and promote your hard work. As long as your marketing is sincere and honest, they will most certainly take the sustainable journey with you.

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