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Let’s Talk: How small businesses can effectively market their green credentials

There’s no denying that we’ve arrived at a point where a clock exists solely to remind us that our world requires action, protection, and, most importantly, our attention.

Improving and communicating environmental performance ranging from environmentally friendly packaging, plastic recycling, and manufacturing with renewable energy to slightly more hazy advertising and promotion can help build customer trust in a brand’s commitment to environmental improvement. 

As climate change and a company’s impact on society and the environment become increasingly important, Dynamic Business discusses the green dollar and what businesses can do to improve their positive societal selling points. 

In this week’s Let’s Talk, we asked our experts to suggest strategies to market your company’s sustainability credentials.

Let’s Talk.

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David Walsh, founder and CEO at CIM

David Walsh, founder and CEO at CIM

“Accelerating Net Zero ambitions makes good business and brand sense. Energy costs are a significant and rising expense. In Australia, about a quarter of all energy use and 10% of carbon emissions come from commercial buildings. Buildings that are less energy efficient are more costly to operate and find it harder to attract new tenants. For example, government agencies will not lease facilities that are rated at below four and a half NABERS energy stars.

“Many organisations, large and small, list Net Zero emissions as a criterion for choosing a location. A recent survey by Savills, on what younger workers want, found that the environmental performance of their building was very important to them, ahead of free snacks, games rooms and a gym. Energy efficient buildings that emit less carbon are more attractive to investors, have higher value, and cost less to run. The shift towards Net Zero isn’t just a regulatory or political imperative – it’s smart business.”

Tim Clover, CEO and Founder at Glow

Tim Clover, CEO and Founder at Glow

“According to our research, two out of three Australian consumers rank social and environmental responsibility important when choosing a brand, while more than one in five has switched brands based on sustainability perception in the past year.

“Before businesses start marketing sustainability credentials, first you need to understand what is important to your customers. What social, environmental, and governance (ESG) issues do they care about? And how do they expect your business to be addressing those issues? Once you have that insight, you can build a strategy that will create impact.

“Next the key is communication. Our sustainability brand performance tracker shows that many Australian brands suffer from ‘green whispering’ – not talking enough about their efforts. Don’t be shy about sharing why you are on a sustainability journey, what your plans are and how you are progressing. Just remember to do it with the candor and transparency your customers expect.”

Danny Lessem, CEO at ELMO Software

Danny Lessem, CEO at ELMO Software

“There are three key things businesses need to consider before they start talking about their ESG initiatives:

  1. Firstly, they need to make sure they talk about their efforts in a way that encourages other organisations to get on board with sustainable business practices too. Each business is different and will be at a different stage in its execution of an ESG strategy. Regardless of their stage, all organisations need to be encouraged to do what they can to operate more sustainably. Talking about your organisation’s efforts in an honest and inclusive way can inspire more businesses to get on board with sustainability.
  1. Secondly, businesses need to be honest about what they are doing and where they are at in their journey. There is a lot of attention and interest in ESG from all areas of the community, if a business misrepresents where they are at it won’t take long before they are found out.
  1. Lastly, make sure your employees understand what you are doing on ESG. Australian workers are passionate about sustainability, in fact, our Climate at Work report found 84 per cent of Australian workers want businesses to do more to reduce their carbon footprint. Before speaking with external stakeholders it’s important your people are on board with your sustainability plans too.”

Kate Rourke Head of Creative Insights, the Asia Pacific at Getty Images & iStock

Kate Rourke Head of Creative Insights, the Asia Pacific at Getty Images & iStock

“Our VisualGPS data reveals that images and videos are an effective way for brands to communicate their commitment to sustainability. However, through image testing with consumers, we found that brands struggle to visualise sustainability in an authentic and relatable way, and often rely on abstract or stereotypical renewable energy symbols such as solar and wind farms to market their green credentials.

“To reach today’s modern consumer, brands should expand the scope of their visual content to humanise and personalise sustainability, such as using images that consumers can relate to, and by representing new sustainability concepts such as the circular economy or energy efficiency. Brands should also consider who they feature in images or videos, with our data revealing young white women are depicted the most when it comes to sustainability. It’s fundamental to visually represent people of all ages, genders and ethnicities.”

Ruben Rodriguez, PR and Consumer Marketing Manager of APAC at Lovehoney Group

Ruben Rodriguez, PR and Consumer Marketing Manager of APAC at Lovehoney Group

“When marketing a sustainable product, it’s important to think holistically about the journey from production to delivery. Sure, you might have an eco-friendly product, but does the packaging meet the product’s sustainable credentials?

“And what about delivery? Do your products need to rely on air delivery, or can you make changes to the method of transportation to make delivery more eco-friendly too?

“Put your money where your mouth is and try to be as clear as possible about sustainability throughout your entire company, not just the finished product. Even if they’re a work in progress, communicating your company’s sustainability goals and work towards reducing carbon emissions can help to improve consumer trust, while also keeping your brand accountable.”

Anurag Vasisth, group chief executive officer at Loyalty Now

Anurag Vasisth, group chief executive officer at Loyalty Now

“Estimates show almost 90 per cent of Australian consumers are members of loyalty schemes, with the average Australian carrying four to six loyalty cards. However, as consumers increasingly look to brands to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly, the use of plastic rewards cards is questionable. 81 per cent of Australian consumers agreed that a demonstrated commitment to sustainability adds value to a brand, and 58 per cent would stop buying products from brands they were previously loyal to if the brand wasn’t committed to sustainability (BBC Global Minds, Sustainability Survey, February 2021).

“Brands can prove their commitment to sustainability by moving to a frictionless loyalty and rewards program that consolidates multiple loyalty providers and links them to a designated payment form factor, such as a digital card or a single physical card. This lets retailers and other organisations eliminate physical loyalty and rewards cards, while simultaneously delivering a more seamless, frictionless experience for consumers at the point of sale.”

Bruce Macfarlane, interim CEO at Energy Action

Bruce Macfarlane, interim CEO at Energy Action

“Net Zero is a solid commitment and an excellent achievement, so it’s important to showcase these credentials. At Energy Action, we have devised a 5-step plan to help other organisations achieve Net Zero for the least cost, focused on measuring, reducing, renewables, procurement and offsetting. The first step is understanding the size of your carbon footprint, and then looking at where reductions can be made.

“We recently became a 100 per cent carbon neutral company, meeting the requirements of the Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard for our business operations in Australia. Certifications are a great way of marketing achievements, and we recommend using government-backed certifications, such as the Climate Active program, which backs up an organisation’s credibility. Sustainability has become a key business differentiator, and it’s not just about lowering emissions and boosting PR, but also attracting new investors, clients, customers and opportunities.”

Lindsay Brown, Vice President and General Manager of APJ at GoTo

Lindsay Brown, Vice President and General Manager of APJ at GoTo

“Businesses who prioritise their green credentials may well see great success and social approval if they avoid greenwashing. Businesses need to have action behind their green promises, employing concise environmental goals, and actions to achieve them. Demonstrating results, not just promises, signals that the business is genuine about making change, which in turn adds to its green credentials.

“At GoTo, sustainability is intrinsic in our company DNA and we’re committed to reducing carbon emissions through provisions of software that powers flexible work. We achieve this by limiting our own travel and commutes in favour of virtual meetings and remote work, offsetting the estimated emissions of employees working from home or the office, and providing training through the creation of Green Teams around the globe.

“During this transformational time in our lives, it’s important for organisations to share best practices on where they’ve found success in adapting to this new normal. For example, sharing how your organisation is making a positive impact on their communities through charitable campaigns or pledges or ways to involve remote employees in virtual training around green practices can help other organisations facing similar challenges. Social media posts are a great way to reach a wider audience, and a great way to add a story and connection to a business’s environmental policies. Charitable marketing campaigns, such as ‘one tree planted for every product bought’ inspire a business’ audience to do their part too, and help build a community between both sides.

“However, marketing a business’s green credentials requires substance behind it. Leaders need to prioritise their sustainability practices for the good of the planet first, before publicising the message externally.”

Anu Sawhney, Founder at Bidiliia jewellery

Anu Sawhney, Founder at Bidiliia jewellery

“Customers are very environmentally aware, so it’s important to be honest and transparent about your business’s green credentials. Any hint of greenwashing can lead to broken trust.

“Our customers respect our approach – which is one of always learning and improving. None of us is perfect when it comes to sustainability – we can always do more. It isn’t set and forget but a continued work in progress. We’re learning all the time, and always looking for new ways to do things, to lessen our impact and remain ethical in our practice. And we’re always communicating these efforts with our customers, so they maintain their trust in us and our practices.”

Tim Glomb, VP of Content and Data at Cheetah Digital

Tim Glomb, VP of Content and Data at Cheetah Digital

“It’s important for marketers to remember that people now ‘use their wallets to align with their values. Last month, the strategic services team here at Cheetah Digital recently scoured the web for the best email, mobile SMS in-app wallet and other digital marketing communications and campaigns for Earth Month. We saw a couple of standout campaigns.

“One standout campaign we saw was metal display and printing business Displate, which launched an email campaign that said, “Ready, steady, draw!” The idea was you could take a picture of a frame, post it on social media and if you did, they would plant five trees. You could then go in and draw your own Earth Day inspiration and share it with your friends.

“Hear Me Raw also had great messaging around ‘save the planet, save some money.’ Again, compelling you to consider purchasing their refill pods, and also telling you about how their products and their packaging are reusable, educating you on not to don’t throw away as waste and use the packaging for other purposes.”

Andrew Sparke, Executive Chairman at QMines

Andrew Sparke, Executive Chairman at QMines

“Mining is historically seen as quite a dirty business and since QMines was listed in May last year, we’ve come at it from a different angle. There’s this fantastic energy transition going on throughout the world and we need more copper, zinc, lead, and other metals to really fuel that transition, and there’s a nice synergy between what we’re doing as an exploration and development company trying to find enough minerals to support that transition and approaching it in a more sustainable way.

“We kind of flipped the whole mining and exploration business on its head and said we can do this in a more sustainable way, we can do this in a cleaner, greener way. We’ve rolled out several initiatives recently and while most companies are in the strategy phase, we are well and truly past that, we’re in the implementation phase.

“I think one of the big impediments is the perception that it will cost a lot to implement, but we’re demonstrating that even at the smaller end of the market we can become carbon neutral. For example, the first solar system that we installed on site cost us about $36,000 but now our site at the Mt Chalmers project in Queensland is completely off the grid and we haven’t paid a power bill in 18 months. So there is actually a long term financial benefit to the company as well.

“We also signed an agreement with an Australian company for the long-term supply of renewable fuel, which is a new innovative initiative that until now has not been used in the mining space, and particularly not at the small cap end.

“The key is to be very transparent about your commitment to becoming a more sustainable business, keep the market regularly updated on the steps you are taking and most importantly not just talk the talk but also walk the walk. QMines has demonstrated this by attaining Climate Active Certification – the government-backed rubber stamp in Australia for being carbon neutral. We are one of only three ASX-listed companies that have attained this certification.”

Carolyn Butler-Madden, Founder of The Cause Effect and author of For Love & Money

Carolyn Butler-Madden, Founder of The Cause Effect and author of For Love & Money

“Societal change is now a core expectation of business. As a result, Sustainability and Purpose are high on the agenda of marketing departments. The two often go hand in hand, as businesses navigate how to best meet the demand for purposeful and sustainable brands.

“Risk comes with this territory.  Greenwashing is rampant and consumers are wise to it. Here are 5 steps businesses can take to market their business’ green credentials authentically and impactfully:

  1. Set ambitious goals that scare you – the times demand us to be courageous, not cautious
  2. Innovate –  allow the goals you set to drive much-needed innovation
  3. Action – always prioritise your actions over words
  4. Collaborate – invite your customers to be part of the change
  5. Make others the heroes of your story – your customers, impact partners; anyone but your brand! Your brand is the facilitator for change, not the story’s hero.”

Veena Harbaugh, Director of Sustainability at Sendle

Veena Harbaugh, Director of Sustainability at Sendle

“When it comes to sustainability issues, consumers care more about what brands actually do rather than what they say. Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to take your business green:

  • First, do the work to understand and measure your environmental footprint. There are various tools like Eco Cart that can help to measure your carbon emissions from manufacturing to shipping to even your digital presence! This can help you set environmental goals and report on them annually via your website.
  • Second, find credible partners to help you move to more sustainable options. For example, many small businesses partner with Sendle to offer carbon neutral shipping and recycled or reusable packaging options.
  • Finally, be independently vetted by third parties. Receiving a B Corp certification can ensure you uphold high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency while building trust with consumers and your communities. Sustainability-focused industry awards can also help to verify and market your impact.”

Grant McDowell, Head of Commercialisation and Strategy at Enosi Energy

Grant McDowell, Head of Commercialisation and Strategy at Enosi Energy

“Sustainability in business is not only about looking like doing the right thing but delivering on this commitment. Technology now allows us to identify when we are using clean energy sources and when we’re not. This simple transparency of energy traceability allows us to choose and promote our green credentials and buy energy smarter and cheaper.  Sustainability in energy is not only the new black, but it’s also smarter, cheaper and ultimately marketing that differentiates the brands of the future from the brands of the fossil fuel past.”

Jude Blankfield, Chief of Staff and Head of Marketing at Slyp

Jude Blankfield, Chief of Staff and Head of Marketing at Slyp

“Consumer consciousness around the future of the planet is rising. Our report, The Rise of Gen “Re”, found nearly nine-in-ten consumers now take into consideration the social and environmental efforts of a brand when making purchasing decisions. In response, retailers are rolling out various initiatives to minimise environmental impact, including the removal of paper receipts.

“To validate their green credentials with consumers, marketers must prioritise transparency. There is a fine line between celebrating progress and perpetrating greenwashing, and marketers must take care not to mislead their audience with overtly opaque marketing materials. Instead, they should opt for explicit communication of sustainability benchmarks, goals and progress.

“Some companies already doing this well include Nike, Officeworks and Ampol, whose continuous disclosure of sustainability progress — be that reducing water use, making sustainable products more available, or reducing emissions — drives credibility. Going forward, companies must increasingly marry sustainability and transparency to ensure consumer expectations are met.”

Clancy Clarke, Head of Marketing and Analytics at DesignCrowd and BrandCrowd

Clancy Clarke, Head of Marketing and Analytics at DesignCrowd and BrandCrowd

“As lockdowns lift, the shift in consumer priorities is palpable. Shoppers are opting for quality over quantity, purpose over price and sustainability over all else.

“No longer just a ‘nice-to-have’, the nationwide behavioural shift of ‘20-21 has cemented sustainability as a key component of any marketing strategy worth it’s salt. One way to communicate your company’s sustainability goals in an authentic and transparent way is through branding.

“Our recent analysis of logo evolution over the last year revealed that green logos are on the up. Demand for logos depicting grass, forests and leaves has spiked by 60 per cent, plant pots by 158 per cent and those featuring nature more broadly by a huge 188 per cent, demonstrating an intentional move from businesses to outwardly highlight their commitment to the environment to their customers.

“A business’ first interaction with its audience is its branding, so marketers should look at their website, logo and social channels and ask themselves, ‘does my branding accurately convey my company’s sustainable mission and vision?’ “

Garry Johnson, CEO at Steel Blue

Garry Johnson, CEO at Steel Blue

“Sustainability has long been the domain of big business and government. But with the SME sector making up 57 per cent of Australia’s GDP, we should be stepping up and not solely relying on large corporations or government to take care of our communities and our planet – we all have a part to play. From day one, back in 1995, making a difference, giving back, looking after the environment and doing things the right way has been part of our DNA.

“There’s no set blueprint for CSR and no company has all the answers but we can all commit to working with suppliers, the industry and other stakeholders to play our part. It was in this spirit in 2019 we set a series of goals aligned to the UN Sustainable Development goals. Most importantly, we made sure they were quantifiable so we could measure our achievements. We’ve also chosen to self-report on progress through the publication of a CSR report. At the end of the day, we do it because any business no matter how small can make a lasting impression.”

Blair Norfolk, Managing Director and Founder at Biome Australia

Blair Norfolk, Managing Director and Founder at Biome Australia

“At Biome Australia, we develop, commercialise and market evidence-based live biotherapeutics and complementary medicines to support some of Australia’s most common conditions, including asthma, acne, and depression.

“While our main mission is to prevent disease and ultimately benefit the health of our patients, we recognise that a sustainable approach to business also impacts the health and wellbeing of our community.

“As a B Corp company, we inherently and actively prioritise sustainability – something that we, as well as our customers and shareholders, value. Sustainability goes beyond marketing the recyclability of our packaging – we’re committed to acting in a way that benefits our people, our community, and the planet and we have been certified by B Corp to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and accountability to balance profit and purpose. We believe doing business with this lens ensures our green credentials speak for themselves.”

Marco Zande, Marketing & Digital Comms Executive at WLTH

Marco Zande, Marketing & Digital Comms Executive at WLTH

“We know sustainability is an important long-term strategy for businesses, and at WLTH we get this.

“Sustainability is not something we take lightly, we see it as the underlying foundation that helps our business determine what we do and who we work with.

“The best way to market a business’s green credentials is to collaborate with reputable organisations that align with the same core values. Businesses are able to leverage their expertise and showcase the brand to a wider audience.

“For us at WLTH, we demonstrate this through our partnerships with Parley for the Oceans and SailGP. By collaborating with these organisations we’re able to help make a positive environmental impact focused on removing harmful marine plastics from our oceans.

“It’s through these business initiatives that we’re able to ensure we’re delivering on our sustainability goals and promises, plus increase brand awareness amongst like-minded people.”

Carmel Zein, Senior Marketing Manager, APAC at Yotpo

Carmel Zein, Senior Marketing Manager, APAC at Yotpo

“Shoppers are more inclined to support brands that care about similar causes. Yotpo’s annual State of Loyalty report found 3 in 4 Aussies are more inclined to buy from brands whose values they align with, while a misalignment in values is the number one reason that would cause brands to lose customers’ loyalty (49 per cent) with the mistreatment of workers (51 per cent) and negatively impacting the environment (19 per cent) being top of mind as corporate no-no’s.

“If you can back it up, don’t just mention sustainability in the fine print, make it part of your outward facing identity. Providing customers with information on how you are approaching sustainability, implementing eco-friendly practices, or supporting charitable causes strengthens trust between your brand and your customers.

“Some ways you can communicate this information effectively include: adding a page to your site with your brand’s mission, values and transparency around efforts such as traceable supply chains (which can be linked to on product pages), communicating sustainability commitments in new subscriber welcome flows (via SMS or email) and regularly posting about brand values on social. We’ve seen brands also integrate charitable donations into loyalty programs and naming loyalty tiers after particular values or causes close to the brand, to bring customers into the journey too.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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