Sustainability Branding: How to Build an Eco-friendly Brand
Today, sustainability is more than just a buzzword. Customers are deeply passionate about it, and it's something that can - and will - inform their purchasing decisions.
With consumers increasingly seeking eco-friendly, socially responsible, and economically viable brands, sustainability has become an important criterion in brand differentiation. No longer a ‘nice-to-have’, customers expect retailers of all shapes and sizes to provide sustainable solutions that make a positive difference.
However, the sustainability landscape can be complex for brands to navigate. In a landscape where too much information can be overwhelming, communicating sustainability goals can be challenging. Branding sustainably goes way beyond just creating a positive image, and because brands have been greenwashing, customers expect authenticity, it can be difficult for brands to toe the line between overpromising and appearing uncommitted.
The truth is, building a sustainable brand requires a strategic approach that involves deeply understanding your target audience, setting clear sustainability goals, implementing sustainable practices, and communicating your sustainability efforts in a way that works for consumers.
Sustainability practices aren’t going anywhere, and every brand – from independent startups to global titans – needs to embrace sustainability in whatever way they can not only to stay competitive, but prioritise the welfare of our people and planet.
This article explores all things sustainable branding, including brand sustainability initiatives, how to integrate them into your brand strategy, and why they’re so crucial. So, let’s dive in.
What is sustainability branding?
Whether it’s offering sustainable products, reducing carbon emissions, using renewable energy, offering sustainability programs, utilising recycled materials or publishing regular sustainability reports, sustainable brands do everything they can to minimise their environmental impact and ensure economic long-term viability.
Businesses that are truly sustainable are those that incorporate green and socially responsible practices into their brand identity, messaging, products, operations, culture and communications. In essence, it should be inherent – every aspect of a company’s operations should be infused with sustainability.
By reducing environmental impact, sustainable brands inspire consumers to adopt sustainable practices. An integrated approach to green branding, it involves minimising a company’s environmental footprint, promoting social responsibility, and ensuring long-term economic sustainability.
But, what about the actual branding?
As a business that values sustainability, your branding is about conveying the right message to the world. It aims to establish a positive reputation for your business as a socially responsible and environmentally conscious company, while also attracting consumers who value sustainability.
Unlike more conventional business models that focus more on profits and bottom lines, eco-friendly branding emphasises a greater purpose. By tapping into environmental and social activism, sustainable brands improve brand perception, ethical core values, and brand value – as well as the world at large.
Why does sustainable branding matter?
Surely this is a question that doesn’t need answering, but we thought it was worth breaking it down anyway. Branding sustainably matters more than most things, and here’s why.
From a business perspective it can:
1. Attract environmentally conscious consumers. By appealing to environmental sustainability-oriented customers, you can vastly increase your customer base, boost brand awareness, and earn their trust and loyalty.
2. Enhance brand reputation. Sustainable business practices can enhance your reputation, and positively differentiate you from your competitors. Companies that prioritise sustainability are viewed as responsible and ethical, which only improves their relationship with stakeholders, customers, employees, and investors.
3. Open up new markets and revenue streams. Expanding into new markets and generating new revenue is easier when you’re transparent. Environmentally friendly consumers, government contracts and charitable partnerships are just a few of the markets that companies dedicated to sustainability can access. It’ll increase sales and revenue, and it’ll also open up new business opportunities.
In recent years, many brands and suppliers have been making efforts to become more sustainable by partnering with sustainable businesses. Being visible green increases the likelihood of businesses wanting to work with you.
4. Reduce costs. By improving resource efficiency and reducing waste, sustainable practices can reduce costs and improve the bottom line for companies while also contributing to a more sustainable future. It’s a win-win.
5. Improve brand desirability. Marketing your business with sustainable methods and implementing green initiatives is a great way to attract more customers – particularly millennials – to your company. Keep your desirability up by offering the right incentives, and your customers will be happy.
6. Increase brand visibility. With countless brands competing for that all-important top spot, it can be tough to stand out from the clutter and capture people’s attention in the midst of constant marketing campaigns.
Having a sustainable marketing strategy is essential for distinguishing your brand and communicating its values. As well as highlighting your eco-friendly initiatives and sustainable projects, you can reinforce this message through traditional channels such as blogs, newsletters, email, and social media.
From an environmental perspective it can:
1. Reduce environmental impact. By implementing sustainable practices, you can minimise your environmental footprint, contributing to a more sustainable future for generations to come. What’s more important than that?
2. Actively mitigate climate change. There’s no doubt that sustainable practices can reduce the effects of climate change. You can minimise your carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future by prioritising renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transportation and much more. In our eyes, this should be top of everyone’s agenda.
3. Help with the conservation of resources. Conserving natural resources is one of the most important things we can do for the future of our planet. In order to ensure the future of future generations, it is vital to think long-term.
4. Reduces waste. Through waste reduction, companies can implement a circular economy and reduce their environmental impact. Choosing the right sustainability strategy is more than choosing those that work best for your brand and customers – it’s about protecting our planet.
Making a difference: eight steps on how to build a successful sustainable brand
1. Set your sustainability goals
The first step is always to define what you stand for. The more sustainable a brand is, the more likely it is to build a loyal and devoted customer base; however, that doesn’t mean you should feign environmental concerns. You need to show your customers that you truly care.
Meet with your key stakeholders to determine what you stand for and how you can contribute to a more sustainable future. What are your goals sustainability goals? Are you looking to reduce your carbon footprint, conserve natural resources, or promote social responsibility? How will you attain them?
Setting clear goals for your sustainability branding strategy will help you focus your efforts and make a real impact. The more specific and tangible your sustainability goals are, the better. The onus is on you to identify how your products, services, supply chains, and marketing campaigns relate to your green goals. In light of this, don’t forget to balance sustainability with your other strengths. Whatever you do, don’t greenwash your customers and overemphasise your sustainable efforts, and make sure that the products you provide are of a consistently high quality.
2. Build your brand image around sustainability
Whether you’re a major fashion brand or a restaurant chain, you want your brand image to reflect your sustainability values. Each and every interaction you have with your customers is an opportunity to reinforce your sustainable identity, so think about the various ways in which you can get creative with this.
Whether it’s using eco-friendly materials, refusing to provide plastic bags, offering biodegradable cutlery and packaging, donating money to charity, encouraging customers to recycle, or being transparent about your sustainability efforts and providing information and resources online – the possibilities are endless. In the end, it’s about choosing the green options that work best for your brand, your customers, and the environment.
However, if you claim something about your brand , make sure that you mean what you say. It is likely that your customers will be skeptical about your sustainability efforts if you decide to use landfills for old products, for example.
3. Understand your target audience
Developing an effective sustainability strategy and messaging means you need to know who your target audience is, what their needs, wants, and desires are, as well as where they fall in the eco-friendly spectrum.
The more you learn about your target audience’s needs, values, and behaviour, the easier it will be for you to tailor your messaging and products to align with their preferences, as well as their functional requirements and environmental concerns. If your target audience values ethical sourcing, for instance, then you might want to emphasise the fact that your products are made from sustainable and fair-trade materials.
With a better understanding of your target audience, you’ll be able to identify emerging trends and opportunities in sustainability, keeping you ahead of the curve. Ultimately, building a sustainable brand is all about creating products that align with your target audience’s values. Authentic and compelling brands start with understanding their target audiences preferences and behaviours – it’s that simple.
4. Be transparent and honest
When it comes to building a sustainable and successful brand, you have to be open with your customers. Today, global consumers are more informed and conscious than ever, and gravitate toward brands that are transparent in all aspects of business – especially their sustainability efforts. Be sure to keep your brand image aligned with your brand identity by making sustainable business claims visible and verifiable. Advertising false sustainability (greenwashing) should be avoided at all costs – claiming you do something you don’t will only result in backlash and could seriously tarnish your brand reputation.
Whether you’re sharing blog posts about the environmental issues you solve or matching your green marketing with tangible business practices, be upfront and honest about your efforts. Don’t just plaster eco-friendly labels on your products, but tell your customers what you’re doing to support sustainable efforts and encourage them to get involved.
5. Don’t be scared to innovate
Building a sustainable brand that thrives in a rapidly changing world requires innovation. You can always push the boundaries of what has already been done when it comes to sustainability, so don’t be afraid to do so.
Essentially, innovation creates products and services that meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.
The world is changing rapidly, and with it, consumers’ expectations are ever evolving. Innovative business solutions can help solve environmental and social challenges, distinguish you from your competitors, and open new markets for your business. However, don’t just copy what’s already been done when it comes to innovating. You can contribute to a greener planet and green products if you think about what you can do differently. Are there any causes that you’re passionate about? Is there anything you can do that hasn’t been done before?
Simply keeping up with the crowd will leave you constantly on the back foot, unable to make an impact that truly gets people talking. Keeping our planet’s future in mind, brands must constantly find new ways to preserve and protect what we have.
6. Use multiple communication channels
Communicate via multiple channels to provide updates, connect with customers, and tell real-life stories about your sustainable cause. Besides showing commitment to your target audience, this will also encourage a broader pool of people to consider sustainable options. Taking action to conserve the environment can inspire others to follow suit.
With social media, you can position yourself as a green leader. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are great platforms to talk about your eco-friendly initiatives, including energy-efficient practices, waste reduction, and eco-friendly products.
It’s not just about sharing your accomplishments – you also need to be open to getting feedback from your audience. Using social media allows you to communicate with your followers and listen to their ideas, concerns, and suggestions. In order to foster trust and loyalty, you can demonstrate transparency and accountability by encouraging an open dialogue with your customers.
You can also use social media to promote sustainable practices and educate your followers about environmental issues. By sharing informative and inspiring content related to sustainability, you can raise awareness, build a community of like-minded individuals, and encourage positive environmental action.
7. Evaluate your supply chain and audit existing processes
Investigate every aspect of your supply chain – from sourcing materials to manufacturing and distribution – to ensure sustainable and ethical practices are in place across the board.
Through an audit of your existing processes, you can identify areas for improvement and implement measures that will reduce waste, energy consumption, and carbon footprint. It’s no secret that your production process is at the heart of your business’ sustainability story. As a result, you should always be on the lookout for opportunities to make your company as sustainable as it can possibly be.
If you audit your existing processes, you’ll be able to identify where you have demonstrated an exceptional compliance with sustainability standards – and don’t be afraid to shout about it! Your customers will want to hear about what you’re doing to reduce the environmental impact of your business, so be sure to keep them in the loop.
8. Measure and evaluate
Every business should measure and evaluate its policies and procedures, even if they get tired of hearing it.
Building a sustainable business requires evaluating existing strategies, measuring impact, and looking for improvement opportunities. Ultimately, it’s virtually impossible to determine the impact of your brand’s sustainability practices on the environment, society, and the economy without measurement.
You can track metrics like carbon footprint, water usage, waste reduction, and social impact to make sure you’re on the right track. Metrics like these can also help you communicate sustainability to stakeholders, customers, investors, and employees, which can boost brand reputation and attract more environmentally and socially conscious people.
Three shining examples of sustainability strategies: brands who get it right
Patagonia is a world-renowned outdoor clothing brand that continues to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to sustainability. Having received the UN Champion of the Earth award for outstanding entrepreneurial vision in 2019, they have set an example for others to follow and have demonstrated that profitability and sustainability can be achieved simultaneously. When it comes to global responsibility, they are a true world leader.
Besides dyeing their denim with Advanced Denim Technology that uses 50% less electricity, using 100% renewable energy in the US, 94% of their lines are made from recycled materials, and 1% of their profits go towards preserving and restoring the environment. As a company committed to being carbon neutral by 2025, Patagonia has been at the forefront of sustainable business practices for a very long time and will no doubt, continue to the lead the way. We all have a thing or two to learn from Patagonia’s extraordinary example.
Among the world’s leaders when it comes to sustainability, IKEA is another shining example of a brand committed to reducing its environmental footprint. In addition to using renewable energy, reducing water consumption, and implementing sustainable sourcing practices, the company has implemented various green initiatives. By offering a Buyback & Resell programme, they successfully promote circularity and make it easier for customers to adopt.
To create new products with a lower environmental impact, IKEA invests in sustainable materials, including bamboo and recycled plastic, and with an emphasis on transparency, their advertising campaigns have focused on detailing how they embody sustainability, keeping their customers well informed. IKEA has demonstrated the ability to integrate sustainable practices into every day business operations while maintaining affordability and accessibility for the public.
Through transparency and engagement, Starbucks leads by example and engages customers with sustainability. By inviting customers to track their products and how they reduce emissions by 50%, they demonstrate integrity and flex accountability.
They have also committed to reducing carbon emissions, conserving water and promoting sustainable coffee production by sourcing 99% of their coffee ethically and purchasing 100% of their palm oil and cocoa from sustainable sources.
In addition, the company invests in renewable energy, with a goal of using renewable energy to power 100 percent of its stores by 2030. And it doesn’t stop there, Starbucks has also taken measures to reduce waste, including switching to reusable cups and implementing a circularity program for composting coffee grounds.
Branding sustainably: a summary
Branding sustainably means prioritising planet over profit, and integrating environmental, economic, and social issues into your business plans, ethics and processes.
Today, the need for green brands has never been greater in our era of rampant climate change; retailers that embrace sustainability branding will not only contribute to a better world; they will also enjoy a competitive advantage.
Customers like the option to shop sustainability in all areas of their lives – from the fashion industry to food products, furniture and beyond, and in order to meet consumer demands and pave a progressive and hopeful path forward, businesses simply must embrace green branding. Those who don’t act run the risk of becoming irrelevant, but more importantly, their inaction may also be extremely detrimental to our planet’s future.
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