Sustainability communication: share the good, the bad, and the ugly

Ellen Brilhuis-Meijer, Technical Analyst at PRé, shares her view on the importance of transparency in sustainability communication. How can you share your sustainability achievements and also show your prospective customers that you have nothing to hide?

Consumers are increasingly aware of some of the environmental problems that affect our planet and everyone on it. Sustainability communication around, for example, climate change and pollution have a wide reach.  People are starting to weigh sustainability in their purchasing decisions. Therefore, it is no surprise that companies are beginning to use sustainable activities and products to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

In stores and advertising these days, consumers run into many sustainability claims and labels. There have also been a number of scandals, where something turned out to be less sustainable than it was advertised to be. Consumers are starting to suffer from ‘label fatigue’ and are unsure what sustainability claims can and cannot be trusted. 

Regain consumer trust through transparent sustainability communication

Companies that have great sustainable products find themselves facing the challenge of how to communicate their message to the consumer in a trustworthy way. This is not an easy task, and the solution is likely to differ per company. For some sustainability communication guidelines to get you started, read this excellent article by Jacquelyn Ottman and David Mallen.

One of the points I find most important is transparency. Sharing not only the good but also the bad and the ugly shows consumers that you have nothing to hide. Transparency allows you to share the achievements you are proud of, while also showing a sense of realism, indicating you are aware that there is more to be tackled. Consumers experience this as honesty, which they appreciate. In return, they will give you more patience, understanding, and tolerance while you work to improve your products and offerings.

If your company wants to use sustainability communication to differentiate itself, make sure you tell consumers the full story and show it on multiple fronts. In the end, consumers will see through empty marketing statements. And they don’t like to be fooled.

Ellen Meijer

Senior Consultant

My background in industrial design made it clear to me that the current system of consumption and disposal cannot be maintained in the long run. I quickly became interested in quantifying sustainability, so that well-supported decisions can be made in our move towards a more sustainable world. LCA provides the ability to focus on the facts.

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