To become a ‘green brand,’ start as a ‘green journey brand’

To become a ‘green brand,’ start as a ‘green journey brand’
Oct 13, 2021

It’s not easy being green, but brands that include the customer in their journey to becoming green stand a better chance of winning consumer favor.

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The Green Transition is the challenge that industries, companies, and society as a whole are facing to boost the economy through green technology, creating sustainable industry and transport, and cutting pollution. In order to make the goal of turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities for a better future work, this transition needs to be just and inclusive for all.

The Green Transition is a challenge that consumers are willing to take with the brand—but only if the brand is genuinely pursuing progress. Creating trust in the brand’s longer-term efforts and results over time is more effective than overselling half measures that create a green facade.

Consumers expect responsible brands

The potential benefits of green branding are huge, but so are the risks. Consumers hold companies more responsible than governments or themselves for a host of environmental and social targets and standards according to the Mintel Sustainability Barometer. Consumers don’t just hold companies accountable for their products and business—86% of consumers expect brands to speak out on societal issues beyond their business.

In other words, brands are now expected to act responsibly. But like in true leadership, displaying courage and integrity is preferred over just telling people what they want to hear.

It’s time to reconsider the customer-brand relationship and the brand’s role from a mere commercial exchange to a joint effort to change the world for the better.

Green branding arms race

Brands often feel pressure to use environmentally friendly slogans and punchlines to differentiate from, and in some cases keep up with, competitors. Marketing extended its superlative mantra to “be first, be better, or be greener.” For new product lines, brands sometimes position themselves as the green alternative to a competitor that was first to market.

This green branding arms race has led some companies to overreach in their claims. If not outright greenwashing, they may oversell their level of sustainability or hope that use of green just as a color will curry favor with eco-minded consumers. The practice of misleading consumers into thinking products are more environmentally friendly than they are can turn loyal customers into skeptics at best; it can cause serious damage to brand reputation, bottom lines, and complete sectors at worst. For example, climate activist Greta Thunberg is using her platform to take brands to task for environmental stances she views as disingenuous: She recently criticized the fashion industry for making sustainability claims around fast fashion, calling them out in her Vogue Scandinavia interview, and on Instagram, for “pure greenwashing.”

But what do consumers think? Research shows 56% agree that too many brands use societal issues as a marketing ploy to sell their product or service and nearly half (47%) stopped buying products in response to a moment of brand disappointment. This is one instance where “fake it till you make it” doesn’t work. Quite the opposite in fact.

The answer is simple

Consumers clearly want brands to take their ecological responsibility seriously, but they don’t want these brands to hype it into a sales promotion or product innovation. They want brands to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.

So how can brands that are investing to become greener companies communicate their progress to loyal customers without turning them into skeptics? The answer is simple: honesty. Consumers are willing to travel with the brand on a journey to become more environmentally friendly and won’t blame the brand for not being 100% green. It is time to reconsider the customer-brand relationship and the brand’s role from a mere commercial exchange to a joint effort to change the world for the better. And the intensifying effects of climate change make this more imperative than ever before.

Transparency is key

Essential for “green journey brands” is their level of transparency. When the owner of a glass house was asked why he opted for this much openness for prying eyes, he claimed that “transparency keeps the house clean.” The more people can see into the kitchen, the more effort will be made to keep it nice and clean.

Even with a long path to walk, the more open a brand is about its green efforts, the more its customers will trust it.

Invite consumers to join your green journey

Not every brand has the possibilities or outside-the-box spirit of established brands like Patagonia, Lush, or TOMS. The road for brands in markets like aviation, construction work, or food retail—to name a few—isn’t as obvious.

Consumers are willing to cut brands in these markets a little slack. They don’t expect brands to stop business as usual and shift to a full-green approach on the turn of a dime. In fact, they relate to brands that show courage and effort to achieve a joint purpose in the face of big and complex challenges.

Producing chrome-free paints, using HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oils) in compressors, and donating unsold foods are just some lesser-known examples of companies’ efforts that are building consumer confidence and customer loyalty by making real progress with unwavering perseverance.

For consumers, whether they are considering a brand that makes cool clothing or a paraffinic bio-based liquid fuel like HVO, it’s ultimately about the green journey— not the destination nor just one green stop on the classic road.

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Meet the author
  1. Geert Stox, Head of Strategy, ICF Next

    Geert is a strategic communications and brand management expert with more than 25 years of experience in global brands, innovation, and consumer behavior. View bio