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Sustainable Business Credibility

Please welcome Ania Pitula, a devoted staff member of Sustainability Leadership, who is our guest blogger for this month’s post on “Sustainable Business Credibility”.

No matter what scale of business you’re in, small and privately owned or a larger corporate setting, maintaining long-term stability and financial success relies on gaining the trust of relevant stakeholders or partners and even more importantly, your consumer base. Trust is based on your level of accountability, reliability and credibility.

Accountability ensures your organisation takes personal responsibility and action for each of its claims. Reliability is based on trustworthy performance as an organisation and refers to showing up to or surpassing the level of required action your consumers expect. Credibility refers to your compliance with legal and ethical criteria and relies on accountability and reliability to ensure its potential is maximized.

Think of credibility as a type of ‘currency’ that can be used to establish a business by building (or ‘buying’ if you want to use the metaphor of a transaction) its positive reputation. Taken literally however, there is clear financial benefit to implementing credibility as well. The 2014 Nielson Global Survey on Corporate Responsibility found that “55% of consumers were willing to accept higher prices from companies deemed to have a positive social and environmental impact.” 

The true amount of leverage you can gain from becoming a credible organisation is ultimately based on the strategy you choose. When your focus narrows down to fully investing in building credible recognition and you step away from surface-level or temporary change, credibility becomes sustainability in action.

Accountability, reliability and credibility are equally based on the level of communication you maintain internally within your team and externally with your audience. It requires your organisation to be honest with all stakeholders involved and identify what areas you may need to take more responsibility in. There are several ways in which you can do this which we’ll take you through below.

Build Your Brand Image.

It’s necessary to reflect on what your true intentions are as an organisation and what goals you have or mission you want to align with. This is an exercise that should be repeated at a pace which helps your team understand its purpose and drives motivation to evolve over time. Your purpose as an organisation paving the path to sustainability should be reflected in your brand image. This can be categorised as the physical imagery you use on your products or advertising materials or the mental imagery you want to provoke through your written marketing message. 

As a sustainable business, how the public eye perceives you will directly reflect your business success. This is where transparency comes into play: how clearly you define and showcase your mission, values and goals. Sustainable initiatives you take should adhere to creating positive and fundamental change to society and the environment. It’s a balance of catering to human needs while also addressing and responding to large-scale global issues. When this is done, your brand identity becomes instantly associated with good morale building trustworthiness and integrity

Maintain Transparent Communication.

It’s also important to note that even if your business is struggling to keep up with sustainability practices or has a long way to go in comparison to others in your industry, simple acknowledgement of this fact is a step in the right direction. It’s understandable however, that you may initially feel resistant or reluctant to share your smaller successes, a concept known as ‘green blushing’. Shying away from these opportunities is typically driven by the fear of backlash coming from other companies. “Michael Dunn, director of OgilvyEarth at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide says that these companies prefer to talk about their environmental initiatives once the details are in place, reducing the chance that they will be criticized by green groups. The key to publicizing these projects…is to make sure that the right message reaches the public in a coordinated manner.” (Sustainable Business 360, 2010).

Sustainability is a continuously developing process that requires frequent reassessment. The simplest way to build your brand integrity is to identify where you are in your journey and explain how you are realigning the vision and goals of your business in a way that creates a prosperous future for people and the planet. Being in this reassessment stage is a vulnerable position to put yourself in, but it’s always the better option over ignorance.

Maintaining transparent communication means that your business should have both external and internal responses to any issues present. True sustainability and strong ethical marketing means your organisation looks at its own fundamental structures and shares what it’s doing to help directly solve the problem. Having frequent open discussions with your team helps build inclusivity and drives innovation. It’s not enough to post on social media and forget about it. True change requires active, honest and continuous responses.

Communicating Your Mission.

‘Greenwashing’ is a term which was created to describe the process by which a company intentionally advertises the environmental benefits of a product or service in a false or inaccurate way to make it appear more attractive for purchase. Just by creating green packaging or labeling something as ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘natural’ does not directly imply that a business has sustainable practices in place. Selling one ‘eco-friendly’ product and offering a plastic bag to the consumer is simply counterintuitive and not acceptable for long-term sustainability. 

Ethical green marketing and truly credible businesses make it their mission to avoid ‘greenwashing’ tactics. It may be convenient at first to find legal loopholes that allow you to use this form of suggestive marketing. In the long run however, credibility ensures you stay in a safer and more sustainable lane. To learn more about Canadian Environmental Claims, Consumer Packaging and Labelling laws, you can read the article below.

Your mission as an organisation should be clear and easy to find on any marketing materials and your company website. Keep a ‘Sustainability Goals’ section well visible in your menus or website footers. Sustainability Reports are also a great way to summarize your initiatives, actions, goals and successes. You can find our 2020 Annual Impact Report here. Reach out to your audience via surveys or social media and ask for feedback on what they want to see you do more of. Review your organisational policies and frameworks and ultimately, celebrate where you are in your sustainability journey and take accountability to get to where you’d like to be.