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Why Your Sustainability Comms Are Failing
Fox + Hare shines a spotlight onto the word ‘sustainability‘ and shows why it’s not a word to be thrown around lightly when communicating your strategy in this space.
As the global conversation around sustainability grows louder, it’s more important than ever that fashion brands communicate their efforts in this area effectively. Indeed, a survey commissioned by the Changing Markets Foundation found that only 11% of UK consumers agreed that the fashion industry informs them about the environmental and social impact of clothes manufacturing, while two-thirds said that it’s difficult to know which brands meet higher ethical standards. Having a solid strategy isn’t enough – you have to make sure that communicating it doesn’t fall foul of these all-too-common pitfalls, as well.
1. You’re not telling the whole story
Transparency is critical in sustainability communications, so it’s vital that you’re completely truthful in the overall picture you paint of your operation. This means being upfront and honest about areas that need improvement and making it clear that you’re taking steps to address the issue. Conscious consumers recognise that sustainability is an ongoing journey and they value the honesty of brands that express humility in this process. They dropped the ball: In a move warmly welcomed by environmentalists, Starbucks pledged to eliminate single-use plastic straws from their stores by 2020. However, it soon became apparent that the new lids introduced to eliminate straws actually contained more plastic than the straws themselves. The company could have avoided a lot of backlash if it had made clear from the start that its new lids were an interim measure while it explored other plastic alternatives.
2. You’re not adequately backing up your claims
Consumers are well-versed in the concept of greenwashing, and are more inclined than ever before to ask questions about the products they’re being advertised. Any sustainability claims you make need to be verifiable from the get-go, which means having the right stats and data readily available to anyone who might want to see them. Any difficulty in obtaining this information gives customers a reason to be wary of your assertions.
They dropped the ball: H&M launched its ‘Conscious Collection’ back in 2019, claiming that the organic cotton and recycled polyester in the range made it a ‘more sustainable choice’. But the company didn’t actually explain how these materials are better for the environment, and the brand was widely condemned for greenwashing.
3. You’re ‘othering’ sustainability
Sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – consumers increasingly expect it to be built into brand identity, and to include vibrant, distinctive and proactive narratives. Companies that view sustainability as a corporate bolt-on are liable to use tired clichés to communicate the basic efforts they’re making to fulfil minimal obligations, making it clear that sustainability is not really a priority.
They dropped the ball: Research shows that 98% of organisations on Forbes’ ‘50 Most Valuable Brands’ list repeatedly use the same green clichés on their sustainability sites. One in particular, Louis Vuitton, has also been called a sustainability communications ‘sleeper brand’ in the Lundquist 2020 .future study. Despite a number of promising initiatives in the works, Louis Vuitton’s sustainability efforts are communicated in a way that remains at odds with its luxury status, and the company has struggled to position sustainability within its holistic brand identity.
4. Your best initiatives are flying under the radar
A good sustainability strategy comprises many moving parts, and undoubtedly each will be attractive to different audiences – investors, stakeholders, consumers – in different ways. Creating a wider sustainability conversation around your brand largely depends on bolstering your image among consumers, though, so you need to shout loud and proud about the initiatives you’re running that affect them directly.
They dropped the ball: A number of clothing brands including H&M and Marks & Spencer run take-back recycling schemes, which offer customers a discount for donating used clothes. So-called ‘fast fashion’ brands such as BooHoo and PrettyLittleThing also run incentivised recycling schemes. However, these initiatives are not well-communicated to the public, meaning the brands in question are missing the opportunity to engage customers with their wider sustainability efforts.
5. You’re not saying anything of substance
There’s greenwashing and then there’s wishy-washy. Consumers expect brands to have a sustainability strategy of some description – what’s frustrating for them is an inability to identify the more responsible brands from others. Brands need to communicate bold sustainability action thoroughly and consistently to stand apart from others.
They dropped the ball: Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index 2020 scores the sustainability communication efforts of major apparel brands across five key metrics, including policy, governance, traceability, ‘know, show & fix’, and spotlight issues. Bally was criticised by the report for its overall score of 0%, which inevitably threw the brand’s sustainability strategy into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
As evidenced, there’s more to communicating a sustainability strategy than simply putting a report together. Conveying your message to the consumer in the right way is absolutely vital if you’re to take advantage of all the benefits your efforts stand to bring. Enlisting the help of an experienced sustainability communications partner will ensure the right message consistently hits the right channels, audiences and tone.
If you’d like to chat more about how to leverage your sustainability communications, or even to ask how those in the know have built a more impactful social strategy, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to come and have a coffee (IRL or virtual)