Greenhouse gas, climate change, out-of-season hot weather, devastating tornadoes, countries on the edge of disappearing swallowed by the rising seas,… our world is facing challenges unknown to mankind.
Some even argue that we already passed the point of no-return, and that it is too late for sustainability.
Apparently, we are now entering in a new era of resilience.
As those issues are making more and more often the headlines and people are witnessing their impacts almost on a daily basis on their everyday lives, companies understood that they must communicate and become more active on the Sustainable Development front.
Unfortunately, as a 2013 report from Accenture and the World Economic Forum demonstrates, consumers still do not fully understand what the concept of Sustainability entails:
Only 28% of those who responded to the poll were able to define words such as Sustainability, Eco-friendly, Responsibility or simply Green business.
44% of those believe that only a limited number of major corporations can only be trusted when they claim that they implement policies related to sustainable development.
They think that Sustainable Development is in most cases nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
"Businesses need to use a language that is more familiar, (as) insufficient consumer understanding contributes to a lack of trust. Consumers need to be more excited and motivated by sustainability," the report concludes.
Unfortunately, Sustainable Development is only presented in a very negative way:
We are bombarded daily by negative images and statements whenever we read an article or watch a TV report related to sustainability.
Most people may don’t really know what sustainability is; on the other hand, they all know that it is related to bad news.
And they don't want to hear about it!
We mentioned in previous posts that for a company’s Sustainable Development program to succeed, it does need the support and enthusiasm of its workforce.
To that end, they must develop not only a positive thinking culture, but also educate their teams so that, in turn, they can educate their customers.
Sustainability or resilience:
The ability to counteract poor understanding, missing trust or lack of motivation will come from within.
And only then will company’s green messages will go through.
A 2012 Ipsos report shows that “25% of respondents say that they always proactively take steps to green their home or lifestyle, such as recycling, driving energy efficient vehicles, weatherizing their home, using eco-friendly products, etc.
When it comes to their purchasing habits, just 3% say that they only buy eco-friendly products. An additional four in ten (40%) say that they buy green, eco-friendly products when they are readily available and there is no big cost difference. Yet a majority (51%) report that they buy whichever products suit their needs at the time, green or not, and 6% never buy eco-friendly products.
The report adds that “41% would pay a little more for a product or service if they knew it was environmentally friendly.
Still, a majority of respondents (59%) would be unwilling to pay a higher price.
While seven in ten are aware about the environmental impact of the products that they buy regularly, fewer (57%) say that they actually think about this when making everyday purchases. Four in ten (43%) report that they do not think about the impact that products have on the environment when making everyday purchases.”
In other words, everyone knows of the environmental issues that are dramatically changing our planet and eventually our living conditions, but no one is really enticed to do much about it.
It is therefore the responsibility of companies, small and big, to adapt their branding, tone of voice and story-telling to educate their workforce and customers, so to ensure our grand-children will not have to live in an environment such a those described in the late 20th century darkest science-fiction novels and movies – such as Soylent Green.
So what needs to be done?
1. Change your marketing angle
Studies prove that customers do not really grasp the green concept, and when they do, they don’t much care about it!
It doesn’t mean that companies should forget about going green altogether, but it means that they need to communicate differently.
Firms must market themselves – to their employees first before anyone else – as being efficient and quality-driven.
Take the example of Toyota:
The Kaizen program is aimed first and foremost at their employees and “is very much a matter of positive attitude, with the focus on what should be done rather than what can be done. “
Toyota went green a long time ago – the Prius being the perfect example of that strategy.
Through the Kaizen program they are perfecting their sustainability.
Nevertheless, their communication is not focusing on being green anymore, but on what matters to consumers: quality.
2. Make it simple
Besides being negatively perceived, Sustainability is usually seen as something very complicated:
Politicians, journalists and scientists always talk about it with very grave faces and hard to decipher statistics and graphs.
It always goes down to “We’re living a terrible time and it is only going to get worst.”
Companies that acknowledge that the world is going down the drain but that they will make it better if you buy their products are neither heard nor believed.
On the other hand, companies with a positive message where their sustainable involvement is underlined in the constructive way they conduct their business are well received by the general public.
Microsoft, Google, SurveyMonkey, Lego or Out of Africa are among the best examples.
3. Make it positive
There is no need to remind of tornadoes, hurricanes, landslides, etc. resulting from climate change that are killing hundreds if not thousands all around the world every year:
Everyone knows and is tempted to change channel when they see one more report about a hungry kid, an abused animal or worst on TV.
Who really remembers, cares?, of Aylan Kurdi who made the world’s headlines back in 2015 and was soon forgotten?
To really make a change and attract people’s attention, the message must be positive and talk directly to the targeted audience.
Remember the Crest message to help reduce poverty – “Bring a smile to a child”?
A positive message that goes with their line of business (toothpaste) and can make a real difference to the community.
4. Involve them
We said it before, and we say it again:
For your brand to really go green, you need to get your workforce involved and believe in it.
If they do, they will – in turn – involve your customers and make them believe in your label and in its sustainability message.
Virgin’s Richard Branson is certainly an example to follow with his master-handling of earned media technics!
5. Don’t talk about it, show it
There is no need to explain how green your brand is.
Just show it!
In our digital age, very few are reading long articles (such as this!):
They want to see by themselves without long talks.
If you really go green or actively support your community or the underprivileged, show it.
Don’t talk about it.
Simply follow the example of Tide and its 2005 ‘cold water challenge’!
6. Make it fun
We said it before:
People perform better when they work in a fun environment.
In the same way, employees and consumers alike will more likely get engaged with your brand, appreciate and take onboard your green efforts if your communication is fun.
Remember the Stonyfield ‘Have a cow’ campaign?
And what about the public service’ ‘No-shave November’ operation?
It is a fact that there is a real need for sustainable development, and companies must play their part:
The future of humanity depends on it.
Nevertheless, in order to get everyone on board – employees, colleagues, customers and suppliers -, we need to ensure that the message goes across;
This is where positive marketing is required!
And you, how do you feel about green business?