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In the early 2000s, sustainability and corporate social responsibility emerged as some of the most-used buzzwords in corporate culture. But in too many cases, the companies using those words didn’t have the action to back up the buzz — and consumers noticed. Brand authenticity in sustainability messaging matters.

These days, consumers have moved sustainability to the forefront. That’s especially true for Gen Z consumers, who are more likely to make purchasing decisions based on personal values such as diversity, social impact, and sustainability.

A global survey from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network revealed just how concerned young people are about sustainability solutions. More than half have adopted practices such as recycling and reducing energy consumption, and their concerns influence their purchasing behavior. Nearly half — 49% — are willing to spend more on products if the company practices sustainability and 31% have boycotted companies that aren’t perceived as sustainable.

The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey also found that environmental issues drive the purchasing behavior of younger consumers. About 28% said they have started or deepened relationships with brands offering products and services that are environmentally friendly in the past year. And, reinforcing the USDN findings, nearly one-third have ended or reduced relationships with brands they believe are not good for the planet.

That push for sustainable practices is influencing brands to try new approaches to attract and retain young consumers. Walmart, for example, has partnered with the online thrift store ThredUp to offer its customers pre-owned fashion, footwear, and accessories from big names. And Allbirds, an eco-friendly shoe company launched in 2014, is collaborating with Adidas to create high-performance sports shoes with the world’s lowest carbon footprint.

How Brands Can Promote Sustainability

Becoming more sustainable as a brand isn’t something that happens by accident and it doesn’t happen quickly. Brands that haven’t been sustainable but are changing practices need to be open and transparent, including being honest about previous non-sustainable practices. 

Consumers will be more forgiving toward brands they perceive as making changes in the right direction than brands they believe are trying to “greenwash” their products or disguise non-eco-friendly practices.

It’s important to open a dialogue with customers to show them the changes and share the journey with them. Practices such as ecolabeling, using more sustainable materials and eco-friendly packaging, or measures to offset or reduce carbon emissions can all become points of interest that should be shared with consumers to help shape a new perception of the brand.

It’s also important to talk about internal measures being taken to promote a more eco-friendly environment. Whether that means launching a companywide recycling initiative or encouraging a work-from-home strategy to reduce emissions, sharing progress, promoting accomplishments, and celebrating milestones all help reinforce a brand’s sustainability transformation.

Using Influencers as Agents of Change

Starting a dialogue about sustainability with consumers begins with embracing it as a core value and finding the right platform and messaging for it. One of the most effective ways to create a relationship with consumers is partnering with like-minded influencers who can help present that messaging to their followers. While social media users will have an adverse reaction to anything that feels insincere or dishonest, the right influencer can help share the right message in an authentic, engaging way.

Sustainability influencers that are genuinely interested in promoting environmental solutions and eco-friendly companies are great for providing the kind of transparency consumers want. They can talk about issues today’s buyers care about, such as where the products are sourced, what sort of environmental impact they have, and what kind of sustainability measures the brand promotes.

Not only is influencer marketing less expensive than traditional advertising, but it’s also more accessible. Influencers with a devoted following will amplify a brand message in ways that advertising cannot and hitting the right tone with the right influencer can help change the perception of a brand while boosting its bottom line.

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