Tips to Communicate Your Commitment to Sustainability Without “Greenwashing”

 

If you wonder whether clients are asking for more sustainable products, wonder no longer. It’s no longer a debate. And businesses that respond to this demand by sharing authentically their journey to a more sustainable future will reap the rewards in growth.

Luxury consumers ASSUME the brands they purchase are adhering to the highest standards in this sphere as well as others, and expect the brands they choose to not just speak to shared values of environmental preservation and social justice, but to live them as well.

When evidence to the contrary is discovered, the results can be damning and may permanently damage that brand’s reputation – and their business overall. As with any relationship, building client trust takes time, effort, and consistency. It’s hard-won, and easy to lose. In an era when the consumer has so many choices at their fingertips, it’s just as simple to find another shop or site to purchase from. The erring brand may not get a second chance. The client may feel not only disappointed, but even betrayed.

As consumers, we are more connected to information than ever before, and high-end purchases are often well researched in advance of the actual transaction. Customers want to not only have an item that meets their perceived needs, but also to FEEL GOOD about having selected YOU and your brand for their purchase. This extends beyond how you treat them, to how you treat your employees, the planet, and the sourcing of your materials. The Customer Experience now includes far more than thanks and offers.

Some of the well-worn blanket statements that have been used for years or decades to reassure clients are no longer sufficient. For example, only purchasing diamonds that are Kimberly Process Compliant in the US is not a sustainability commitment – it is simply the law. Abiding by the law doesn’t necessarily earn you the luxury consumer’s full trust. It just means that you are not doing business illegally. This falls far short of expectations for those who demand you do business sustainably.

So how do you build meaningful, trustworthy messaging about your company’s intent AND commitment to sustainability?

Make Commitments Your Business Can Keep

  • Pick sustainability goals that make sense for your business. Most companies can’t tackle all 17 Sustainable Development Goals at once. So first take time to learn about them all.
  • Consider them in relation to what your company’s infrastructure, skill sets and finances are.
  • Select at least three key areas where you can realistically make consistent steps towards implementing and making progress.
  • Keep in mind that some of your commitments may span across multiple SDGs – for example, Quality Education (SDG 4), Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10).
  • Balance your company’s internal capabilities with the issues that will have the greatest impact in and on your community. What social issues are especially challenging? What environmental conservation or preservation efforts can you contribute to locally, or at the source location(s) of your materials?

Clearly Communicate

  • If you’ve already been working on community projects for years, it may feel awkward to talk about the good your company inherently does. This is not a call to brag or claim special attention. It’s not about you.
  • Instead, use your messaging as a platform, an opportunity to raise awareness and create more momentum. Rather than talk about the company, shine a spotlight on the volunteerism your employees give, and the progress that has been made in partnership with others.
  • Make the story about how we are stronger together.

Progress, Not Perfection

  • If you are new to making a commitment to sustainable development, remember: every journey starts with a single step. The important thing is to be honest about the work you are beginning, and your plans to progress and strengthen the cause.
  • For example, it’s perfectly fine to say that “as of (this month, this year), our company has committed to introducing Fairmined Gold into our collections. Currently three of our collections are made exclusively with Fairmined Gold, with X% of the profits directly benefiting the local mining communities in Colombia.”

Share Goals Regularly

  • Share your goals and plans for achieving your sustainability targets on a continuous basis. Emails and social media posts are great ways to communicate your actions, your achievements, and even the next steps you are about to take next. Again, it’s about using your voice, and your actions, to bring others on board so we all can achieve progress toward sustainability.
  • Be honest with others, and also be realistic with yourself and your team.  The commitment isn’t “one and done.”
  • The ultimate goal is to grow your capacity to do business better.
  • To continue the example from above, you might go on to say, “We commit to developing all new collections in 100% Fairmined gold, and transitioning an additional 30% of our classic collections to Fairmined Gold yearly to reach 100% Fairmined sourcing by 2026.”
  • Communicating your progress means accountability. Your customers will be watching and you must stay committed to the actions that will lead to the goal.

Measuring = Moving

  • Finally, keep in mind that progress must be measurable. Your goals should be ambitious but also realistically achievable.
  • This can be a challenging balance to strike, but once you’ve identified your goals and where you believe you can make the most progress, the next step is to define the measures of your progress toward success.
  • How will you track that progress? Will it be measured in years? Units? Dollars? Number of lives positively impacted, or acres preserved? Gallons saved, or waste reduced?
  • These Key Performance Indicators – the data you must track, and be accountable to improve over time – are what you must measure and analyze.
  • Consider who will help you to stay on course to continue to improve your business’ progress. You may enlist internal team members, top clients, community leaders, or even trade organizations.
  • The critical task at hand is to take what the KPIs tell you, change your actions and choices as needed to continue to improve.
  • On a regular basis, share with your clients, employees and shareholders this information, your decisions, and your steps toward increasing sustainability.

The path to sustainability is a very long and often winding road – perhaps one that never actually ends. But there is no doubt that the rewards are great, and the importance cannot be overstated. Each monumental change in the course of history has started with people choosing the less easy path.

The commitment to sustainability will require work, but it is a non-negotiable for today’s luxury consumer. Pursuing it, even if one small step at a time, will enhance your reputation, grow your business, and benefit your community and our world. Begin with the first small step.

If you’d like help with this, DM me or email us at inquiry@hillandco.co

Be well,

Hayley Jeannel de Thiersant, G.G., C.G.

Sustainable Product Development & Sourcing Lead

 

PS: Would you like to see what over 150 businesses who have worked with Hill & Co. are raving about, including some of the largest retailers, brands, jewelry & diamond manufacturers globally from Blue Nile and Rapaport to fashionable newcomers like Futura and Cast?

Learn more about our Business Growth Game Plan by clicking here.

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