Consumers are thankfully finally breaking away from the tired misconceptions that sustainable products are either a gimmick, or an expensive luxury that the average consumer can ill-afford.
While it’s true that sustainable products are often priced slightly higher than average, studies have shown that this is no longer as much of a barrier as it once was, with consumers, millennials in particular, increasingly willing to pay a small premium if they are ensured that a company is committed to its social and environmental responsibilities.
As a generation millennials are far more environmentally and ethically astute than any before, and display an impressive vigilance in researching products before they buy to make sure that a company’s values align with their own.
This means that they’re going to be casting a critical eye over every aspect of your business; simply flying a green flag over your company HQ won’t cut the mustard. Customers will be looking for proof that you practice what you preach.
For instance, Apple like to make a point in shouting about how all of their buildings around the world run on 100% renewable energy. That’s all well and good, but consumers shouldn’t be duped into believing this makes them an ethical company; their factories still operate under sweatshop conditions and they utilise tactics like planned obsolescence to ensure their profits remain obscenely huge.
Similarly, vegan food companies can say all they want about being environmentally friendly, but it will mean little if their products are packed with ingredients like soya and palm oil, two of the chief culprits in the global decimation of biodiversity through deforestation.
These are the kinds of things that consumers have become far more aware of, and will thus be compelled to do that extra bit of sleuth work to be sure that what they are buying is truly ethical. Simply ticking one box and ignoring the others won’t do.
Whether we’re talking about a potentially planet-saving new innovation, or simply a household product that will help reduce individual carbon footprints, the principle of transparency must remain as the common factor in order to build consumer trust, from the sourcing of raw materials and paying fair wages right the way through to logistics and manufacturing.
Transparency is increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception, and so if you leave your customers in the dark about any aspect of your business practices, they’ll soon start to get suspicious.
So be open and honest. Even if your company isn’t yet entirely environmentally friendly, make a point of showing how you intend to deal with these issues. Are you running a waste reduction initiative? Are you looking to source more of your materials locally to cut down on transport miles? These are the kinds of things that consumers will be looking for as confirmation that you’re not simply cashing in on the green movement.
Even if these plans are only in their embryonic stage, at least you’re taking steps in the right direction. So don’t leave these conversations in the boardroom, let the public know and keep them updated with the progress as often as possible.
Also, don’t expect consumers to take your words at face value. Millennials have a healthy cynicism in regards to business integrity and will be looking for external markers to be sure you’re not just spouting bullshit.
Gaining a sustainability certificate from an independent third-party is a great way to offer reassurance, so be sure to mention these prominently in your marketing if you have them.
Arguably more effective, though, is to gain the seal of approval from sources trusted by consumers. These days there are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs and websites that focus exclusively on sustainability and environmental issues, many of which hold a huge amount of social influence.
Consumers will be far more likely to trust the opinion of somebody that they know definitely has no ulterior motive (i.e. profit-grabbing), so reach out to these sites and invite them to come and see for themselves how you operate.
And finally, don’t make the mistake in thinking you can cut corners and deceive people into believing you’re greener than you actually are. Global social and environmental issues are something that millennials are EXTREMELY passionate about, and they have a habit of making a hell of a lot of noise when something rubs them the wrong way.
Hopefully, the days of shady business practices by profit-hungry companies are finally coming to an end. The ideal future is one in which companies operate as much as ethical enterprises as they do traditional businesses. This is what consumers want, but it’s ultimately up to you to make it happen.