In today’s environmentally conscious marketplace, businesses are increasingly aware of the substantial impact sustainability initiatives have on both their financial success and brand reputation.
The effective communication of these efforts holds the key to nurturing brand loyalty and winning the allegiance of environmentally conscious consumers. As the sustainability trend continues to gain momentum among businesses, it is now more crucial than ever for SMEs to effectively communicate their dedication to eco-friendly practices in order to enhance their brand image.
In this edition of Let’s Talk, our team of experts will unveil essential steps and strategies that empower businesses, regardless of their size, to fortify their brand image through sustainable practices. We’ll delve into the art of conveying sustainability efforts convincingly, establishing enduring connections with customers who prioritize ethical and eco-friendly values.
Kate Dundas, Executive Director at United Nations Global Compact Network Australia (UNGCNA)
“The businesses of the future will be the ones which build regenerative practice into their core purpose and operations. Talk about your reason for being, why does your company exist and what positive environmental and societal outcomes is it delivering.
“Transparency is important. Openly share the details of your sustainability efforts, from supply chain practices to product features. This transparency builds trust with your audience.
“Educate Your Audience and help consumers understand the impact of your initiatives. Provide clear, easy-to-digest information about your impact goals and achievements, emphasizing how they benefit both the environment and society. For example, Intrepid have recently introduced carbon labelling on itineraries.
“Craft compelling narratives that highlight your journey towards great outcomes for planet and people. Avoid broad and unqualified claims like ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’, be specific and use plain language. This recent advert for Icebugs, a Swedish footwear brand is an interesting example.
“Obtaining certifications or third-party verification can also add credibility to your sustainability claims. However, you should ensure that the certification scheme is independent, reputable and suitable for your needs.
“Set specific, measurable, and time-bound goals, allowing customers to track your progress and listen to customer feedback, and engage in conversations about social and environmental impact.
“The ACCC recently outlined 8 principles for trustworthy environmental claims. Be cautious of overpromising or exaggerating sustainability claims. Ensure that your actions align with your words to avoid greenwashing.”
Rob Malkin, Senior Regional Director for Australia and New Zealand at Bentley Systems
“In today’s climate, customers, employees and stakeholders aren’t just expecting more from companies on the sustainability front – they’re demanding it. The most effective way we as businesses can communicate these initiatives is through setting concise targets that are impactful, measurable and grounded by the Sustainable Development Goals framework.
“Clear targets are important to ensure all involved in the business are aware of the bigger picture, this extends to stakeholders and customers as well. Being as transparent as possible – particularly on issues pertaining to the environment is crucial as it shows an organisation’s commitment to its goals and allows for a degree of accountability where the business is held answerable.
“To further demonstrate commitment to sustainability initiatives, it’s vital to share regular updates on progress. We communicate this through a number of ways from case studies that demonstrate real-world impact, to publishing an annual report that tracks advancements year-on-year against organisational goals.
“This level of transparency enables an organisation to attract and retain partners who not only share in the commitment to minimising environmental impact but are actively contributing to global solutions that address the environmental challenges that we are faced with.”
James Johnson, Director, Technology Services & Enterprise (APAC) at Shopify
“While Australians are increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint, Shopify research shows it may not always be the primary driver for purchasing decisions. In fact, according to Shopify’s Australian Retail Report, 78% are prioritising value for money, but there is some nuance in how different consumers perceive value. What this means is that in order to effectively craft and communicate sustainability initiatives that build loyalty, it’s critical that brands understand their target audience’s values, and shape their strategies with that in mind.
“For example, one cohort we identified was the ‘Local Loyal’, comprising 24% of Australians. If your business’ sustainability initiative includes localising supply chains, it may be valuable to communicate this. However, if your target audience is a price-conscious ‘Savings Seeker’ (22% of Australians), perhaps a message highlighting that less wasteful production processes will save them money as well as helping the environment would be most effective.
“Ultimately, as consumer priorities shift amid the rising cost of living, it’s vital brands look to reconnect with their target audiences and ensure their sustainability initiatives reflect what their core consumers – need and care about – in order to make an impact.”
John McCloskey, Managing Director, ANZ at Lenovo ISG
“Lenovo’s 2023 Smarter Data Management Playbook Survey highlights the pressing sustainability priority for Australian leaders: reducing waste through improved resource utilization. This shift is driven by the conscious consumerism movement, underlining the importance of not only adopting sustainability initiatives but also effectively communicating them.
“Such communication serves a dual purpose: 1) Reduce their environmental impact, and 2) Foster strong brand loyalty. To achieve this, businesses can employ several strategies:
- Customer-Centric Focus: Start by understanding the evolving priorities of your customers. This approach ensures that your initiatives align with what your audience values most.
- Collateral Communication: Utilize tools like whitepapers and market announcements to reinforce your commitment to sustainability. These materials provide tangible evidence of your sustainable practices in action. For instance, Lenovo ISG’s 17th annual ESG report proactively informs the market about the company’s focus on building a sustainable planet, promoting inclusivity, and bridging digital divides. It showcases transparency and progress.
- Sustainability Services Consultancy: Engage with customers through Sustainability Services Consultancy. This enables productive discussions about your sustainability journey, simultaneously guiding and supporting them in their own sustainability endeavors.
“We must recognise that the path to a greener future is a long-term commitment, requiring well-executed strategies and effective communication to keep diverse audiences informed about these initiatives.
“By adopting best practices, businesses can effectively convey their sustainability efforts, reduce environmental impact, and build enduring brand loyalty rooted in shared values and progress.”
Elise Balsillie, Head of Thryv Australia
“According to a recent NAB report, one in three Australian consumers believe businesses have a responsibility to operate sustainably. If your business is doing something worthy of mention, then you should scream it loudly from the rooftops.
“To do this, create a brand story that aligns your goals and mission, and also clearly articulates the role you and your organization play in contributing to a greater good. For example, if your packaging business recycles the products you create, your mission could include a statement that you’re working toward 100% recyclability. Whatever your product or service, it’s important to show your customers that you care and that your business delivers true sustainable outcomes.
“Making your story relevant to your customers is just as important. If your sustainability initiatives align with why your customers buy into your business, this will help to build trust and loyalty – and in the long term, a sustainable business model of growth as well.”
Torrell Fernandes, Premium Client Team and Brighter Future (ESG) Lead at IG Australia
“At IG, we understand the profound responsibilities that come with our position as a global leader in online trading. Not only do we recognise our obligations towards our clients, employees, stakeholders, and society at large, but we also acknowledge the vital role we play in safeguarding the environment and the communities we operate in.
“Instead of solely focusing on communicating our ESG strategy, we are doing the work that’s required and amplify the impact with our broader community. This allows us to share the results with key visuals that show our impact – something that resonates better with customers.
“To keep clients across our latest sustainability news and actions, we have utilised both our LinkedIn account and website which allows us to not only inform our clients of the various initiatives we’re engaged with but also to let them know how they might get involved. The purpose of sharing our work and updates on socials allows our customers, partners and stakeholders to follow along with our ESG journey.
“Providing avenues for client engagement in these activities has been instrumental in building our program’s profile and strengthening favourable client association with IG and ultimately contributing to increased loyalty to our brand.”
Julia Hoy, Associate Partner and Sustainability Communications Practice Leader at Sefiani
“The last few years have seen a significant shift in the way organisations communicate about sustainability. Sustainability is now far more embedded in operations, but organisations still need to communicate about it effectively to inform, empower, engage, and achieve their goals.
- Define an authentic narrative that is unique to your organisation and meaningful to your stakeholders. This allows you to bring complex activities and initiatives under one umbrella.
- Claim and explain: There are no more shortcuts. Green claims will have to be earned and evidenced.
- Empower and collaborate: We won’t achieve any sustainability-related goals in siloes. Listen to and empower teams and partners, collaborate with the industry and civil society, and demonstrate conviction to not just tick the ESG boxes, but genuinely drive positive change.
- Level up your knowledge: We all need to level up our understanding of sustainability to communicate about it authentically, understand what is important, and ensure we’re always asking the right questions.
- Storytelling: A bit part of enacting change is helping people feel motivated to be part of it. Segment your stakeholders, understand them, and use insights to create compelling, authentic, and engaging communications that are relevant, inspiring, and honest.”
Louisa Sumagui, Brand and Communications Manager at Nectr
“‘Sustainability’ has become a buzz word recently and while many brands are taking positive action to make a difference, consumers are increasingly cynical about brands claiming eco-credentials. The key to communicating a brand’s sustainability initiatives and developing a meaningful connection with customers comes down to:
- Authenticity: Customers appreciate brands that are transparent. This may take the form of acknowledging that you have to do better on the sustainability front and outlining actions for change or providing updates on initiatives that have been implemented.
- Consistency: If you talk the talk you have to walk the walk. All communication mediums such as a brand’s website, eDMs, advertising, PR and customer communications, should share consistent messaging around the brand’s sustainability initiatives and actions. Inconsistency leads to customer confusion and can erode loyalty for the brand.
- Showcasing change: It is important that when communicating your brand’s sustainability initiatives that they are backed up with real actions. Tree planting to offset carbon emissions, steps to improve energy efficiency and more can be measured and assessed for effectiveness. Don’t be afraid to speak about your brand’s sustainability milestones and areas for further development.
“When it comes to discussing the sustainable initiatives of your brand, use your brand’s voice and values to communicate authenticity, consistency and a desire for positive change to secure long-term customer loyalty and brand reputation.”
Sam Riley, CEO at Ansarada
“Step one of building brand loyalty in relation to sustainability, amidst inherent chaos, is to develop a framework. Trust comes from demonstrating honesty, transparency, and even vulnerability. Your board needs sustainability goals, a plan to achieve those goals, and then ongoing voluntary disclosure that maps your company’s progress, irrespective of whether you’re starting from a low base, or whether you already have mature sustainability practises embedded within your operations. The emphasis should be on progress.
“Once your sustainability framework is in order, you can accurately communicate progress toward your goals, future objectives, and the material outcomes these practises result in. Being honest about where your firm sits in its sustainability journey, and, more importantly, what are you doing to improve, are key factors in building trust, authority, and ultimately, brand loyalty.
“For listed companies, this is often even more critical. Beyond meeting regulatory requirements, managing and communicating sustainability issues proactively has become an important tool in creating long-term value for a business and its brand, particularly among customers and investors, who will vote with their wallets.”
Kristin Austin, Managing Director at KAMCT & Opportunity Delivered
“When it comes to sustainability, or any other ESG, initiatives the best way to communicate is to have the brand live and breathe it. I’ve frequently heard of ‘organic’ or ‘enviro-sensitive’ consumer brands asking their warehouses to use only sustainable packaging, but only after removing the plastic polybags the goods are shipped in because the plastic is ‘not on brand’.
“If your brand is truly aiming for sustainability, factor that into your supply chain – all the way through – from the people doing the making/production to the end packaging. Then you can walk your customers through each step of your process, telling them why what you’re doing is different and how their purchase makes a difference. Introduce the people in your chain – either through social or your website. If you’re B2B, make your sustainability credentials part of your pitch package – really show what you’re made of. We’re now at a stage where people want to know you’re the real deal.”
Greg Taylor, Founder of Step One
“I founded Step One knowing that sustainability was always going to be at the core of whatever I work on. The environment means a lot to me as I love being out in nature, and I want my son to be able to explore it too. Therefore I wanted my brand to reflect that. We decided to take the enormous step of getting FSC(R) Certified. The process took a long time, however earlier this year we became the first clothing and garment company in Australia to achieve end-to-end FSC(R) certification. We were the first fashion company in Australia to sign the Fashion Forever Green Pact.
“By partnering with FSC(R) Step One is making a commitment to zero de-forestation, fair wages & work environments, plant and animal species protection & supporting local communities. We communicate it by pushing out messaging via social media, EDMs and through PR. We also use the FSC(R) logo on our website.”
Alice Johnson, Head of Sustainability at greenHorizon
“The first thing every business must do before starting to talk about sustainability is get their facts straight. Greenwashing, or the practice of making false or misleading environmental claims for commercial benefit, has been the talking point of 2023, and investors, employees and regulators are increasingly on the lookout. All sustainability communications must be backed by credible, science-based information.
“The next step – make it easy! Research shows Australians want to do the right thing environmentally, but often don’t know how. Consider options to communicate your sustainability information in practical and useful ways that help your customers take action on the issues that matter to them. That could be as simple as providing easy recycling instructions on your packaging, or investing in creating apps or calculators to help them better understand their own environmental impact.
“Lastly – make it fun. Climate anxiety is on the rise. Customers are worried about the world around them – and in some cases it’s causing them to switch off. Sustainability is a serious issue, but it doesn’t always require a serious communications approach. Engaging and interactive campaigns can cut through the noise and keep your business front of mind.”
Mike Halligan, CEO and Co-Founder of Scratch Dog Food
“Nice work building sustainability into your business. Whether it’s from the good of your heart, because you’ve identified a need in the market, or a bit of both, it’s important to communicate it effectively if you’re going to get commercial benefit from it.
“While I’m sceptical of sustainability being the primary reason for buying (in most cases), it does undoubtedly help loyalty.
“So when it comes to communication, effective sustainability recognition requires simple, powerful and consistent messages.
“We take a really holistic approach to impact at Scratch, donating 2% of all revenue but across 9 regular donation partners. That’s a bit of a mess to get around, so we packaged it up into ‘paws for the planet’ – our program covering monthly donations to climate action and dog welfare.
“Putting a face to it and a simple way to communicate it consistently helps to reinforce your sustainability work and stand out amongst the greenwashing basics. And keep it interesting! Even the worst polluters are communicating their sustainability angles, so we’re drowned in so much communication that only the most interesting angles stand out.”
Matthew Endresz, Founder and CEO, XRii
“In the digital age, it’s all about leveraging the right technologies to push boundaries on what’s possible. When it comes to communicating sustainability initiatives and building brand loyalty, brands can shake things up with immersive experiences, using exciting technologies like augmented reality, geo-mapping and QR codes, for instance.
“Here’s what that might look like:
- AR Sustainability Experiences: Showcase your brand’s eco-friendly initiatives and practices through interactive AR campaigns. Users can virtually explore eco- conscious manufacturing processes, sustainable sourcing methods or environmental impact reduction efforts. This transparency fosters trust and brand loyalty among environmentally conscious consumers.
- QR Codes for Accessible Sustainability Information: Incorporate QR codes on product packaging or in-store displays to provide easy access to detailed sustainability information. When customers scan the QR codes, they can learn about the product’s eco-friendly attributes. This empowers consumers to make informed choices, fostering a sense of loyalty towards your brand’s sustainable efforts.
- AR-Powered Sustainability Challenges and Rewards: Engage customers in sustainability-focused AR challenges and reward them for participating in eco-conscious activities. For example, you could encourage users to recycle their product packaging by scanning QR codes that earn them virtual rewards or discounts on future purchases. This gamification approach promotes sustainability awareness and strengthens the bond between consumers and your brand.
“By offering tech-driven, immersive experiences, brands can creatively engage consumers in their sustainability journey, fostering brand loyalty.”
Suzanne Murphy, Brand & Team Growth Strategist at Exhale Moments
“In today’s conscious consumer landscape, sustainability is so much more than a buzzword, it’s a powerful driver of brand loyalty. To ensure brands are aligning with their customers and driving memorability, they must consider the following:
- Storytelling: Highlight the why behind initiviates and showcase your brand’s commitment to positive change
- Consistency: Communicate sustainability as a core brand value across all touchpoints of your brand to ensure this is top of mind to customers
- Transparency: Openly share your brand’s progress in becoming sustainable and the goals you have in place to show your aspirations to achieve positive change
- Engage: Create engaging and education content on all platforms showcasing your initiatives and the broader importance of sustainability
- Partnerships: Collaborate with sustainability advocates to amplify your impact and underline your dedication
- Community: Involve your community in sustainability efforts and encourage customers to participate in eco-friendly actions, to make them feel part of the change.
- Recognition: Incentivise sustainable choices with rewards or recognition programs and champion customers for making eco-friendly actions.
“Building brand loyalty through sustainability isn’t just about the products you sell and the packaging you use; it’s about shared values and a commitment to a better world.”
Harley Ramien, Director, Asia Pacific at Bonzai
“As the sustainability topic heats up and businesses look to engage, will your market see your initiatives as thinly veiled ‘PR hot air’ or a genuine attempt that builds trust and loyalty? Well, that depends!
“Before we start ‘synergising’ and jump into sustainability buzzword bingo, understand that your audience is probably already keyed in to expect a lot of talk and very little action. Here’s some ideas to build your message and earn trust from your audience:
- Transparency: Be open about the journey. Share the good but also the challenges. Help your audience understand why there might not be a feasible ‘magic wand’ solution today, but more of a series of conscious improvements on an individual and organisational level.
- Credibility: Flying your private jet to the sustainability summit? It might seem obvious, but there are quite a few who haven’t got that memo. Initiatives aren’t judged in isolation, so think about the larger message the business is giving out and try to make sure it’s not in conflict with sustainability initiatives.
- Measurable Impact: Remember to regularly share the tangible impact of your initiatives in terms your audience can comprehend. It’s hard to imagine what a tonne of CO2 looks like, but they can understand impact in terms of car trips, trees, daily household consumption or other relatable reference points to bring home the impact of your initiatives.”
Miriam Deliva, Director of Press Run
“Here are three ways you can help your business develop a creative way to communicate your company’s journey into sustainability:
- Be sincere and transparent about your efforts and goals: The digital community has a keen interest in learning about the journey of the companies, brands, and people that they follow. Share your goals and challenges openly via a press release, your marketing campaigns, and through your social media content on key platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
- Educate your audience: As you go through your content development process share your sustainability initiatives clearly with your audience. You can use this opportunity to share how your environment and social goals are a part of your company’s master plans. By educating your audience you are helping them understand you and your business better, which leads to brand interest and loyalty.
- The power of storytelling: Sharing your journey helps to humanize your brand which allows your audience to develop an emotional connection with your business and relate to you which also leads to brand loyalty. Consider sharing stories of ways you have been able to achieve your goals, the roadblocks you might have encountered, as well as any community initiatives you’re working on.”
Mick Spencer, Co-Founder of Gravity Seltzer
“We are very excited about our sustainability project, needless to say we shout it from the rooftops as much as possible. Gravity have partnered with Airseed, an Australian restoration company that is tackling climate change head on. Using drones and artificial and data-driven intelligence, they choose areas to drop seeds by drone to plant trees. Airseeds goal is 100,000,000 trees by 2024. With Gravity’s partnership In the past 2 months they have planted 4,200 seed pods across 102, 800.6sqm of land for us, and they have removed 716.1kgs of Co2 in the Snowy Mountains.
“We communicate this by including communicating real time data to our community of Gravitators and Retailers. It adds so much weight when a consumer can go ‘wow – the case I bought I actually planted a tree, that is amazing’.
“While our customers love that seeds are planted for every drink they they buy, we are also just stoked to be supporting such a great initiative helping protect the areas our future generations will play in like my son, and his friends.”
Gina Calder, Account Manager at BBS Communications Group
“In the current business landscape, sustainability isn’t just a trend, but absolutely critical for good governance. Businesses that effectively communicate their sustainability initiatives can create strong brand loyalty by focusing on:
Consumers today are more sophisticated, informed and conscious about the impact of their purchases than ever before. They value brand transparency about sustainability efforts and delivery and can quite easily see through greenwashing attempts. Organisations can build trust and consumer loyalty by sharing accurate and detailed information about their initiatives, the challenges faced, and genuine progress made.
Storytelling is a powerful tool through which brands can communicate their sustainability journey. Sharing real stories and incorporating stakeholders’ voices can demonstrate the positive impact of an organisation’s initiatives and create an emotional connection to important audiences.
Organisations can actively involve customers, stakeholders and likeminded organisations in sustainability initiatives, in order to further create a sense of ownership, influence and inspiration across the market.
It’s absolutely possible to involve customers in sustainability initiatives, like recycling programs or volunteering opportunities, or to utilise valuable customer feedback to shape future initiatives. Collaborating with other organisations can also amplify achievements, where there’s alignment of brand values and commitment to a shared purpose.”
Nikhil Daftary, Managing Director at Coral Healthcare Pty Ltd – MOMENTS
“Being clear and authentic is imperative when communicating sustainability initiatives. At Coral Healthcare, we outline our sustainability ambitions and goals on our website so that we’re held accountable. More often than not, the path to sustainability is one that consists of many different stages – it doesn’t just happen overnight. We like to communicate what is happening at each stage of the journey, and ask for feedback from our customers, staff and suppliers, to ensure that we’re doing enough and matching their expectations. Requesting feedback on our initiatives has really helped us refine our approach. The open dialog between our brands and stakeholders has also increased customer loyalty.
“Additionally, gaining official certifications to backup business sustainability statements is crucial when building brand loyalty. It’s not enough to simply state your goals, a business or brand needs to show what it’s doing and have evidence to support those claims. Having claims which are proven through certifications can result in a much stronger connection between a business and its customers.”
Felicity Heath, Associate Director at Daymark
“Today the intersection between profit and purpose has well and truly taken centre stage. Note the recent release of the federal government’s first national wellbeing framework Measuring What Matters, which further emphasises the need for corporations to reassess their impact on society and the environment. To ensure you are effectively communicating with critical audiences around sustainability, the important initial step is to develop a robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy that will steer initiatives.
“Consulting with both internal and external stakeholders stands as a cornerstone for developing an effective CSR strategy. Collaborative engagement will not only foster a sense of shared ownership, but it will also help to identify what the key drivers are within the business environment more broadly. Organisations must precisely define their sustainability focus areas and clarify how these areas will fit into their core business model. Ideally, strategic partnerships will need to be forged, both within the private sector and with government bodies, non-profits, and local communities, to maximise impact.
“Implementation, however, will always remain the ultimate litmus test. Strategies, no matter how well-conceptualised, need effective execution to yield results. Transparent reporting mechanisms, combined with robust evaluation criteria, are crucial for tracking progress and fostering accountability.”