Brands Must Commit to Sustainability to Survive. Here’s Why.

Caitlin Lemon
4 min readMar 6, 2021
A view of a circle of trees from the ground.
Brian Garrity via Unsplash.

You’ve done countless hours of research, poured your heart into product testing and development. Everything is going according to plan.

You launch. And wait. Your sales aren’t where you want them to be. And somehow, your competitor is moving ahead, even though you know your products are even better. So, what gives?

Your product sales (or a lack of) may have nothing to do with the quality of what you produce. It might have everything to do with your branding. Specifically regarding sustainability.

“But we care about the environment! And going green is so expensive!”

A 2018 survey by Futerra found that 88% of consumers in the US and UK want brands to be more environmentally-friendly.

This creates a compelling business case for focusing on sustainability: your brand’s long-term survival depends on it. Because consumers don’t mind paying a little extra for a competitor who’s more mindful of environmental impact. And you can start moving your brand towards more eco-friendly practices without busting your budget.

The Consumer Isn’t Stupid.

As Ogilvy, the king of advertising, once said, “The customer isn’t a moron; she’s your wife.” And nowhere is this more true than sustainable branding.

It’s not enough to post a cute social graphic on Earth Day. Or to say, “We’re sustainable and eco-friendly.” Consumers are going to differentiate between lip service and genuine commitment by brands. And that will affect their buying choices.

People want to know how your business is going to realize these goals. That you’re walking the walk. They don’t want clever jingles or taglines; they want transparency. How are you sourcing your products? Are the places your source from also engaging in sustainable practices?

People Want to Read the Fine Print (Yes, Really!)

Everlane is an excellent example of this. On their homepage, you can see their commitment to “radical transparency.” You can read their site to learn about their commitment to not sourcing new plastics. And sourcing organic cotton from producers who use natural crop rotation, reducing water contamination and health risks for the farmers.

They provide their pledge and details on sourcing with the planet in mind, creating trust with consumers.

Alter Eco, the California-based chocolate company, tells the consumer to “Ask more of your chocolate.” They provide educational resources and photos from their trips so consumers can learn about their commitment to Agroforestry. They also supply information on the chocolate industry and child labor, with their pledge to always be child-labor-free.

Don’t Fib

Don’t even think about “greenwashing” your brand’s products. This means intentionally misleading customers (usually through deceptive marketing tactics) about how sustainable your products are. Don’t do it.

In our digital age, consumers can directly interact with brands in ways they never have before. They can ask for details about your brand’s sustainable initiatives in a public arena where millions of others are watching.

Social media is a powerful tool for brand awareness. And you should use it to talk about your values and highlight the company’s commitment to realizing them.

But in a year of “Cancel culture,” it can also lead to a PR disaster if it comes to light your brand has been less than honest. And contrary to the famous saying, there is such a thing as bad press. Be transparent about your values and steps to realizing them.

Start Small

If you’re new to sustainability, don’t panic. It can seem overwhelming “Omg, my brand must save the entire planet!” But there are lots of simple, baby steps you can take towards a more sustainable business.

E-Magazine recommends starting by focusing on one thing versus trying to make radical changes to everything at once. Solitaire Townsend of Futerra says you can also focus on changing consumer behavior, drawing on Colgate’s example of encouraging people to turn off the water while brushing their teeth.

And don’t forget about starting at home. What can you do at your office or with your team to implement it in your company’s culture? Do you have a composting bin or actively encourage employees to recycle? What are some small steps you can take?

Steps towards sustainability don’t have to be radically expensive or time-consuming. Small changes, over time, add up to make a big difference.

The Bottom-Line

The future of long-term brand success is sustainable. Demand for more green products is already high, and that’s only going to continue to grow. Businesses that refused to respond to this consumer demand are at risk of being left behind, with the environment being a top concern for many people.

And that means going beyond simple statements on social media. Consumers want to see real commitment and authentic values. Luckily, there’s plenty of easy ways to start your brand’s sustainability journey.

Now, over to you. Does your brand emphasize sustainability? How have you begun your journey to being more environmentally-friendly?