Ideas and insights > 5 strategies to build a strong sustainability brand.

5 strategies to build a strong sustainability brand.

Our thought leader:

Martha Marchesi
Martha Marchesi

Published on:


Sustainability isn’t an option for companies today—it’s an expectation. But how you communicate that commitment is key to building trust.

Today’s customers are increasingly scrutinizing a company’s stance on issues that impact people and the planet, making sustainability more than a nice-to-have. In fact, 60% of consumers place a high priority on sustainability in their buying decisions.

Sustainable businesses also gain advantages, ranging from the ability to command higher product prices to better employee recruitment and retention.

But realizing those benefits means doing more than committing to sustainable business practices, policies, and processes. Sustainability also needs to live at the heart of your brand identity—the key elements that communicate who your company is and what you stand for.

Here are five ways you can integrate sustainability into your brand identity, helping you connect more deeply with customers and employees, setting your company apart, and making a positive impact on your bottom line.

1. Analyze your brand DNA.

The fundamental elements of your brand—such as your vision and mission, values, personality and voice, and brand position—work together to characterize your brand and differentiate it from competitors. They represent an important opportunity to weave sustainability into the identity you are communicating to the world.

Incorporating sustainability explicitly in these brand elements sends a clear signal that your company has fully embraced it and is holding itself accountable by making that commitment public.

A company we work with, Caterpillar, which serves the construction, mining, energy, and rail industries, states on its website that sustainability is one of its five “Values in Action” and that it is committed to “building a better world in a sustainable way.” By making sustainability one of its brand values—and backing it up with measurable data and a strong, consistent story—Caterpillar sets itself apart in its space (and was recognized as one of the 100 most sustainable U.S. companies).

2. Build a focused foundation. 

To be seen as a truly sustainable brand, you need to tell a clear and focused story.

Homing in on the most important themes of your sustainability messaging—rather than taking an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach—helps people understand and engage with it. It also helps everyone at your company communicate it consistently and effectively.

To keep your story focused, connect the dots among the key pieces of your brand identity:

  • Align your sustainability messaging with your core brand elements.
  • Explain how your culture, programs, and processes support your sustainability strategy.
  • Provide proof of how your sustainability efforts are impacting your customers, employees, communities, and the world.

Global flooring company Interface is a great example of a brand with a powerful and focused sustainability story. Its “Sustainability is in our DNA” webpage makes a clear connection to its brand identity, noting that “From making our products to building customer relationships, how we work is driven by our mission to help restore the health of the planet.” And its mission, vision, and values are all underpinned by its commitment to sustainability, creating a strong platform for cohesive messaging.

3. Build trust through transparency. 

To tell a convincing sustainability story, your customers and employees need to trust what you’re saying. From announcing your achievements to acknowledging where you need to improve, transparent communication fosters trust with customers and employees by showing that you’re willing to be open and honest with them. It also helps avoid the perception of greenwashing, which can destroy that trust and even shatter your reputation.

Also, don’t be afraid to share your setbacks. Being open about where you’ve fallen short in meeting your goals can actually increase trust and promote greater engagement.

Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has long been a leader in sustainability. When the company realized the “pure and natural” cotton it touted actually had major environmental impacts, it was upfront about the mistake and how it led to a switch to organic and recycled cotton sources. That has helped it cultivate a deeply loyal following among environmentally conscious consumers.

4. Ensure consistency across all the right touchpoints.

Your commitment to sustainability should be echoed across all your brand touchpoints. Identify the places where people are most likely to engage with your brand. These likely include your website and social media as well as your internal comms channels—but don’t forget in-store communications, product packaging, customer service, and trade shows and other events. Then, ensure that company representatives understand how to convey your sustainability story in a clear and consistent way at each touchpoint.

Tools such as messaging playbooks can help everyone make your brand’s dedication to sustainability an integral part of your identity. For example, IKEA equips its people with a comprehensive “People and Planet” sustainability strategy—and it weaves that messaging through every aspect of its communications, from its website to events that highlight its sustainability goals. These efforts help ensure consistency and demonstrate that sustainability is at the heart of their business.

5. Share your sustainability stories.

Research shows that people connect more powerfully with stories than with facts and figures. So, sharing employee and customer stories can be an effective way to make sustainability a relatable part of your brand identity. Ask customers to post about their experiences with your sustainability efforts. Profile employees participating in your sustainability programs in your blog. And host events where they can engage in real-time discussion.

REI, the outdoor equipment and clothing retailer, often shares stories of both employees and customers on its social media platforms as part of its #OptOutside initiative, which involves closing all stores on Black Friday and paying employees to spend time outdoors instead. It’s an effective way to highlight REI’s sustainability ethos.

By making sustainability as fundamental to your brand identity as it is your business strategy, you’ll be in a great position to differentiate your business, engage your stakeholders, and drive positive impact in line with your environmental and social good commitments.


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