Communicating sustainability practices is an expectation. 71% of UK consumers believe that without change from big businesses, the planet cannot be saved, so businesses have both a moral and commercial expectation to deliver on this.
Then why are so many brands still getting it wrong? From ASA investigations over false claims (like Lipton Iced Tea’s 100% recyclable claim) to an increase in greenwashing (a recent report found 60% of sustainability claims by fashion giants are greenwashing), many are still missing the mark. And with consumers increasingly choosing with their wallets when it comes to sustainability if you can’t get this key issue right, you’ll get left behind.
But getting it right doesn’t look the same for everyone as sustainability is not “one size fits all”. Efforts need to be authentic to your business, which is something you need to determine when setting sustainability goals.
Whenever I’ve needed to set goals whether in education or my career, they’ve needed to be SMART. That is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. And there’s no reason sustainability goals should be any different. For me, measurable and achievable is most important. If the impact can’t be measured or you won’t achieve the goal, you could be seen as making empty promises and are in danger of being called out for greenwashing.
Whilst you do need to get it right, you’re not expected to be perfect when it comes to sustainability. Maybe you misjudged a goal or can’t completely eradicate an issue from your supply chain – this is where transparency is key. According to Ernst and Young, 80% of global consumers believe brands must be transparent about their environmental impacts in the production of their goods and services.
Whether explaining why you’re not using 100% plastic-free packaging like your competitor, or why you fell short of your carbon goal, communicating where you’ve gone wrong or are trying to do better is vital.
A great example of a business being transparent with its sustainability choices is Nestlé. Nestlé have been the face of many a scandal, not least when it comes to sustainability. However, they’re aware of their imperfections in this space and instead of trying to sweep issues under the rug, are open and honest about them.
For years Nestlé’s use of palm oil has been criticised and whilst the company pledged in 2010 to ensure its palm oil supply chains were 100% deforestation-free by 2020, only 70% of its supply chain met that claim. Not only have they admitted their shortcomings, they’ve also invited consumers on the journey to find out why it’s happened. In their interactive platform “Beneath the Surface” they put consumers in their shoes to show the difficult decisions businesses need to make when it comes to ethics and sustainability. It’s such a simple yet effective way to highlight the complexities involved that consumers aren’t aware of and help them understand that sustainability looks different for every business.
This transparent communication shows how a company can learn and adapt to increasing expectations around sustainability but also take consumers on the journey generating a deeper level of understanding. This is key to gaining trust and ultimately long-te
 Mintel, Everyday Sustainability – UK – 2022
 Changing Markets Foundation, Synthetics Anonymous, June 2021
 Ernst and Young, The CEO Imperative: Make sustainability accessible to the consumer, June 2021