As you may have heard many a brand manager, marketer or even other brands say in recent years, the modern investor and customer increasingly cares about ESG and sustainability. Your business now has a duty to show how it gives back to the community, and how it’s doing what it can for the environment. 

But there’s always a risk – of doing too little, of doing too much without it being a though-through part of your brand strategy, or by doing the wrong things and facing a brand-ruining backlash. Here are some of the things you should be aware of when it comes to navigating brand awareness around ESG and sustainability issues.

ESG and greenwashing

Investing in ESG is no longer just a moral choice; it’s a financial necessity. For starters, many public and private sector contracts now include ESG criteria as part of their tendering process. Beyond that, financial institutions and lenders are increasingly incorporating ESG criteria into their lending policies. Then, of course, it’s been proven that many consumers are becoming more socially and environmentally conscious and prefer to purchase from companies that align with their values. 

To top it all off, companies that fail to align with sustainable practices can actually face significant financial penalties of up to 10% of their annual turnover, if found guilty of greenwashing. This is being enforced from 2024 by the Competition and Markets Authority, a body that can legally tackle greenwashing in order to enforce consumer protection, as well as to prevent businesses from having a market advantage based on untrue statements. 

So, what exactly is greenwashing? The definition is more flexible than you might think. 

Greenwashing is the act of misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or service. It involves practices such as overstating minor sustainability efforts, or failing to disclose less than favourable environmental impacts. To avoid this, brands must strive for full transparency. Be clear about your sustainability initiatives and ensure they are significant and impactful, rather than routine or negligible. 

Greenwashing can manifest in various forms: 

  • Direct greenwashing: Misleading claims by the company itself. 
  • Indirect greenwashing: Supplier actions that contradict the company’s sustainability commitments. 
  • Vicarious greenwashing: Supplier actions that are not aligned with the company’s goals, even if the company hasn’t committed to those goals. 

How to avoid greenwashing your brand

Firstly, your company needs corporate sustainability goals. Developing expertise in sustainability communications within your business can help you understand what these could be, and where your brand has strengths and weaknesses in sustainability. Using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide a comprehensive roadmap for your company’s sustainable development can also help guide your company’s overall strategy and operations.  

Once these are in place, publishing an annual sustainability report is a powerful way to demonstrate your commitment and progress to these goals. This transparency helps build credibility and trust with stakeholders. 

When it comes to boosting your branding in a more public manner, you might consider becoming a certified B Corporation (B Corp). Businesses receive this title when they prove they are exemplary businesses that balance purpose and profit, and it’s a respected title that carries weight, without having to craft specific sustainability campaigns.

Greenhushing

Interestingly, while greenwashing is a widespread concern, there’s also the opposite issue of greenhushing amongst marketers—where brands actually under-communicate their sustainability efforts due to fear of backlash and accusations of greenwashing. About 49% of marketers are hesitant to push sustainability campaigns for this reason. 

Having a marketing professional that believes in your ESG activity to lead your campaign is crucial to getting the positioning and messaging right, to support you in transparently communicating your sustainability ethos without the fear of backlash.

Looking for support?

If you’re interested in establishing a brand message or campaign around your sustainability goals or ESG efforts, look no further! Contact us today to hear how we can help you.

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Katie Sessions Account Executive
At Faith, Katie is responsible for helping to manage client accounts and deliver communications plans, alongside continuing to craft compelling stories that resonate with audiences.