In recent years, media has been replete with ubiquitous displays of sustainability initiatives, from ads highlighting brands’ eco-friendly ingredients to beach cleanup days and newsjacking campaigns on the back of Earth Day. This is hardly surprising: More organizations are painting the town green as they realize the long-term value of putting sustainability at the forefront of their overarching business strategy.
With more consumers and businesses inclined toward supporting organizations that champion ESG and purpose-driven initiatives, a growing number of organizations are maneuvering marketing communications efforts toward this direction. After all, with competitors joining the green bandwagon, organizations risk positioning themselves poorly in the eyes of key stakeholders if they don’t proactively take part in sustainability conversations.
The issue arises when sheer vanity—rather than the greater good, public awareness and stakeholder education—becomes the primary driver of such campaigns. Alongside the rise of sustainability initiatives is the rise of a marketing phenomenon: greenwashing, or engaging in the deceptive practice of exaggerating initiatives, products and policies as a means of winning public favor.
This blatant practice has only fueled skepticism, with greenwashers perceived as being pretentious and painting a bad image for the marketing communications profession. After all, sustainability, by all means, should be celebrated, but not at the expense of tastelessly tooting one’s horn.
It goes without saying that greenwashing erodes trust—the primal currency governing the business landscape today. How then should organizations walk the fine line and become more strategic in communicating sustainability efforts as they work on strengthening brand authenticity?
Employing Sensitivity Over Gaudy Sustainability Displays
Modesty remains to be a virtue, but driving sustainability in the dark won’t get organizations recognized in their relentless efforts in ensuring ESG compliance. Especially today, where stakeholders carefully consider ESG factors in their brand engagement decisions, organizations that are too modest are likely to lose out to competitors in realizing new partnerships and lead conversions. Approaching sustainability initiatives through the lens of tact and sensitivity—devoid of superfluous marketing showcases—is a step toward the right direction in cultivating trust.
In a previous Forbes article, I shared the value of ethics and transparency in public relations, with communications professionals having the moral responsibility to ensure the accuracy of information being shared with the public. Any communications campaign should be grounded in ethics, and purpose-driven communications campaigns should not be any different.
Being authentic necessitates being fully open and vulnerable while keeping the best interests of different stakeholders at heart. Any sustainability initiative borne out of self-serving interests can easily be sniffed out by discerning consumers and business leaders as a mere sales ploy, which can make an organization seem insincere.
Beyond the Horizon: Considering The Greater Purpose
Generating community impact and actualizing the greater purpose should be the root of all sustainability campaigns. Instead of spending copious amounts of money on marketing campaigns spotlighting environmental bona fides for the mere sake of vanity, organizations should focus on how the company’s sustainability initiatives mesh with their overall vision and mission. A failure to be consistent in the narratives they weave can present a significant dissonance and dilute an organization’s image.
At the end of the day, stakeholders are looking for integrity among organizations they support and are holding these organizations accountable every step of the way. This necessitates a higher level of conscientiousness when it comes to handling and sharing information. Organizations that present misleading information or exaggerate sustainability initiatives will have to answer the public eventually when their green cover is blown. The truth will always prevail, but organizations have a choice on whether they want to come clean from the very start on the true extent of their purpose-driven contributions or wait for cracks to be exposed. Current and potential customers, investors and business partners want transparency at every stage, and hiding beneath the grandiose facade of green campaigns will not do them any good.
In the age of greenwashing, it is up to us communicators to steer the direction of sustainability conversations, and ensure that brands’ sustainability campaigns provide value beyond mere aesthetics. In the greater scheme of things, communications—done ethically and strategically—is a great accelerator for community impact, and we communicators should hold ourselves accountable in upholding the values of authenticity and transparency as we work toward the greater goal of accelerating the green vision.
The article originally appeared on Forbes.
Make sure that your sustainability campaigns provide value beyond mere aesthetics. Reach out to our team of comms experts, who can help you strike the right balance between strategy and brand authenticity.