The future of sustainability communications for CPG brands
By Rebekah Mays
2024 is right around the corner. If you’re a CPG brand wanting to retain customers next year and beyond, then it’s time to make sure you’re showing a genuine commitment to sustainability.
We know that 80% of shoppers are changing their purchasing preferences to brands that value environmental sustainability.
The problem is, navigating green claims can feel like walking through a minefield. We find ourselves in a highly competitive retail environment where greenwashing is rampant. One European study found that 53% of green claims were ‘vague, misleading, or unfounded.’
Shoppers know that greenwashing is a problem, and they suspect a disconnect between what brands say and the reality behind the products. Understandably, they’re skeptical of green claims — 70% of shoppers in the UK don’t believe that environmental claims are credible.
In this challenging environment, how can brands embrace a sustainability story that’s both genuine and on-brand?
Sustainability is becoming integral to brand story
For some brands, the goal of sustainability might mean not doing harm to people or planet. For others, it will mean pursuing a regenerative future where we actively repair the damage that’s been done.
Whatever your brand’s particular approach to sustainability, it’s now integral to brand story. From 2015 to 2019, 55% of growth in consumer packaged goods came from sustainability-marketed products.
So how can brands incorporate sustainability into their brand story without greenwashing? Focus on transparency and matching claims with action.
For instance, Nue Co incorporates sustainability into their brand by focusing on the traceability of their supplements — and integrating the story of ingredients and production into how they sell their products.
Cult Beauty, meanwhile, considers environmental sustainability as one of five brand pillars — alongside DEI and community. By partnering with Mental Health UK, they show how their actions match these values.
Both brands use Provenance’s platform to verify sustainability claims for their products.
For brands prioritising quality ingredients, this type of transparency will actually engage customers.
At the end of the day, the customers engaged in your brand story are going to be the most loyal customers – and will be excited to advocate your brand with others.
The packaging problem: verify and simplify
Packaging is one of a product’s most visible expressions of sustainability – and as such, it’s often a primary tool for greenwashing. This is where verified claims help shoppers feel more confident and informed about their purchases.
With plastic waste such a huge problem, brands need to take their packaging seriously. But sometimes, simple solutions are the best.
‘We can sometimes be at risk, particularly within beauty, of overcomplicating. You don’t need to complicate packaging,’ says Flo Glendenning, VP of Product and Sustainability at Nue Co.
‘There’s a lot to be said for simple materials, [and] working with other people to bring those designs to life.’ She points out that glass and aluminum can be recycled indefinitely and are great options for brands.
Cosmetics is a particularly challenging area for packaging due to safety concerns. Thankfully, there are many exciting solutions emerging in packaging – beauty brand SBTRCT have been an innovator with fully compostable packaging.
Software start-up Reath, meanwhile, have developed a solution that creates “digital passports” for physical packaging so brands can safely track and reuse their packaging.
How brands can prioritise sustainability when it feels overwhelming
Making progress on your sustainability journey can feel like an enormous task, particularly if you don’t have a full department of sustainability professionals to move your mission forward.
So where do you start?
For one thing, don’t feel you have to start with the largest, most impactful area.
‘People say “start with the biggest impact.” I couldn’t disagree more strongly, because I feel you look at that and you’ll just be completely terrified,’ says Alicia Hickley, head of sustainability and social causes at Cult Beauty. ‘I think you can start with something smaller, something more manageable, something to get your momentum up, give you a little confidence boost.’
Instead of starting with the most complex task, both Flo and Alicia agree that it makes sense to begin with what’s most meaningful for you as a brand and as a team.
It can be helpful to take off a day from work, or take members of the team on a brief retreat to reflect on brand values and pinpoint a project to tackle together.
Another great way to start your journey is by creating a sustainability roadmap. This way, you can see what you can do in the short and long-term.
No brand will ever accomplish a perfect sustainability record, and so it’s best to divide this large mission into smaller tasks.
Ultimately, your community wants to see progress, not perfection. And the best way to build this trust is to share your journey, honestly and openly.
More likely than not, this transparency will only engage your customers and help them see the value and care that you put into your products.
‘To see how something is made is to see how valuable it is,’ says Provenance CEO Jessi Baker.
Support on your sustainability roadmap
About this piece
This piece was written on spec for Provenance, a sustainability marketing technology platform. The content was based on their excellent panel discussion “Building a trust brand.”
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