How to be a truly sustainable business (and prove it!)

Sustainability is a hot topic right now and justifiably so. As consumers’ eyes have been opened to just how big an impact businesses and our individual choices have on the environment, brands have rushed to show off their green credentials in a bid to win customers over.

Recent research from Deloitte reveals that nearly one in three consumers say they have stopped purchasing from particular brands because they have ethical or sustainability related concerns about them.

But ‘greenwashing’, the practice of using marketing spin to overstate just how environmentally friendly your business is, is fast becoming a problem. Here in the UK, the government is even setting up a new panel to tackle the issue and define what green really means.

“We have to be super tight with our claims, because our customers are becoming more discerning, they're becoming more savvy,” explains Lisa Whalley-Smith, Head of Brand and Marketing at Ecoegg.

So how can you make sure your business isn’t greenwashing? Here are five ways you can be a truly sustainable business – and prove it to your customers!

1. Be honest with your customers

Any business can claim to be ethical, but nowadays consumers want more information than that. Don’t be afraid to share your vision with the world – what is your business hoping to achieve and by when? What steps are you taking to fulfil that goal? Why is this so important to your brand and your customers?

Be honest with your audience. It’s okay to acknowledge that your business isn’t perfect right now but it’s taking steps towards a greener future. Be open about he challenges that lie ahead, but know that it’s not an excuse not to change.

2. If you’re making claims, back them up

Awards, certificates and proof you’re working with ethical partners and organisations, are a must if you’re going to claim your business is sustainable.

“[Sustainability is] definitely something that's been driven more by the consumer. They're asking for sustainable credentials,” notes Karen Waddilove, Head of Communications and Collaborations at Amara Living. “I think it's a really positive thing when a brand that we're working with, whether it is an interior designer who wants to open a trade account, or whether it is a brand or an agency that we want to work with, come back and say, right, I want to see your credentials, I want to see where you stand on this viewpoint, and actually make us sign agreements and state our vision and where we are today.”

However you choose to prove your products and services are sustainable, use this proof within your marketing, on your website, on your product packaging, and wherever your customers may need that extra bit of confidence that your brand can back up its claims.

3. Create a sustainable department and job roles

Put real resource behind your goals by making sure you have people dedicated to your sustainable efforts. That’s exactly what the team at BAM Bamboo Clothing did.

“It makes it so much easier when you have a CEO or a founder, or an executive team that are absolutely behind everything you want to do,” explains Merryn Chilcott, Sustainability & Technical Manager at BAM. “I joined the brand and went from Garment Technologist through to Sustainability Manager because the senior team realised that we needed to put some real resources behind this.”

Whether it’s just one person or a whole department, you need someone to begin to drive sustainable initiatives across your entire business and identify areas where sustainability can be improved.

4. Champion sustainability throughout the entire business

While it’s important to have someone dedicated to driving sustainability within your business, every person, in every department, needs to care about your green goals. If even just a few members of your team aren’t on board, change won’t happen, and your company will come across as disingenuous.

“As well as having a department or people that are leading and driving projects around sustainability, it's just as important for that to filter through to the whole rest of the company and for every single department within the company to be engaged in the process,” says Merryn. “One sustainability manager is not going to change your whole business on their own; every single person has to do it and buy into it and take responsibility for their aspects of the brand, which in a massive organisation that's been around for years, is used to doing things a certain way and has a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, it can be really difficult to change.”

There’s so much to consider when it comes to being a truly sustainable business. You can’t just change one small thing, you need to look at everything, from where the materials for your products are sourced, right through to how the products are delivered to your customers. Do you use electric vehicles, for example? Are the product materials sourced ethically? Are the workers throughout the supply chain paid and treated fairly? Lots of big clothing retailers have been caught using less-than-ethical supply chains, and whilst claiming ignorance may have once been an excuse, consumers are unlikely to accept such slip-ups in the future.

5. Use your great customer feedback to shout about what you do

Collecting customer feedback plays a bigger role in being a sustainable business than you may think. It’s the best way to understand what your customers think about your products and service, but also your brand as a whole. For example, customers may complain about your plastic packaging in a review because they don’t know it’s not actually plastic and can be recycled, which means you need to be clearer in your labelling and marketing.

Another example is Iceland, who used Feefo’s Performance Profiling technology to discover that a portion of their shoppers have strong environmental beliefs following a bagless delivery trial. Read the full case study.

Customer feedback is also one of the best ways to back up what you do and persuade other consumers that you’re a truly sustainable business.

Ecoegg told us they started using Feefo feedback on their site to show their products work as well as they claim they do, as there is sometimes scepticism around the effectiveness of eco-friendly products.

“We get customers who say: I love the fact that I can use this on my son who has eczema and I'm not buying any more plastic bottles,” says Lisa. “That's there and comes from the mouth of someone that's purchased our products, and it does a great job for us. Because people trust what other people say, they don’t trust what brands say. We’ve spent a long time building that brand trust.”

Sustainability is here to stay

Sustainability is more than just a trend, awareness is growing fast and consumers are expecting businesses to help them become greener. From limiting their use of single-use plastic, to choosing brands that have ethical practices and values, there’s so much consumers now consider when they shop. If you want your business to stand out from the crowd, it’s more important than ever to be able to prove you truly are sustainable and ethical.

For additional helpful tips and to hear more from Ecoegg, Amara Living and BAM, download our sustainability in retail episode of the Feefo Spotlight podcast. If you’d like to find out more about how trusted customer feedback can help you shout about sustainability more, get in touch with our experts today.

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