Last week I read a Fast Company article that discussed the changes in how brands market their sustainability efforts. In the article, Marc Stoiber contends that touting sustainable efforts can result in mixed reactions from consumers, saying that when you mention green “50% of Americans run away, while the other 50% cringe and wonder how much more it will cost.”
Companies, predictably, are eagerly trying to figure out how to balance the death sentence of greenwashing against the sunny pastures of positive brand awareness that accompanies a well-executed sustainability strategy. Nike seems to have figured out a way to get the message across by building sustainability into their brands, as opposed to using it as a primary selling feature.
What’s the catalyst? Stoiber says brands used to be “displayed in metaphoric show windows,” but now, brands “are like fishbowls:”
Established brands (and their agencies) have had a difficult time with the transition. There’s still a yearning for control, for proper presentation, for giving consumers only the good news. Complete transparency is a frightening thing. But transparency and honesty is long overdue. If brands have been harming the planet or people, it’s time to come clean. Unsettling changes may be needed to make brands more virtuous. Is that a bad thing?
Stoiber’s commentary was thought-provoking for me, as a consumer who is the recipient of these marketing strategies. It made me come up with the following four questions that I think we should all be considering as shoppers:
1. Do you think it’s better for brands to shout their sustainability from mountain tops, or just let products show for themselves?
2. If brands don’t “shout from mountaintops,” how will we know what good they’ve started to build into their operations?
3. What about smaller brands that don’t have money to shout from mountaintops?
4. What role do corporate sustainability reports play in all of this? Have you ever read one of these reports (or a summary of one)?