SME Sustainability Roadmap
Marketing is an important aspect of any business that ensures your customers are aware of your products and services and your brand. Communicating your story effectively is the key to effective marketing. You’ll want to talk about your social and environmental initiatives and integrate them into your messaging to enhance your brand’s image and attract customers to your environmentally and socially beneficial products and services. Few businesses do this well. Create an effective green and social responsibility message by communicating what you’re doing well and what you’re working towards related to your business’ specific impacts. Communicate the environmental and social benefits of your offerings through honest communication. For both the brand and the products, avoid sweeping statements and grandiose language.
Businesses are sometimes accused of “greenwashing” when they try to make themselves or their products or services look green or socially responsible without the action to back it up. An example of this is when a company spends more resources on advertising its sustainability attributes than resources spent on its sustainability programs. Other examples include vague and meaningless product claims like “environmentally-friendly” that are not explained, or claims that are not backed up such as shampoos and conditioners advertised as not tested on animals which offer no evidence or certification of their claim.
Gather Facts and Figures
In order to communicate effectively about your sustainability program or initiatives, gather any relevant facts or figures about your efforts. The best marketing includes concrete examples about how much water, energy or material you have saved, how much waste you have diverted, or greenhouse gases you have reduced through your environmental programs. On the social side, your marketing might consist of communications on your innovations to make your products more accessible to underserved communities.
To make effective product and service claims, pull together specific details of the environmental and social benefits of your product compared to others in the marketplace, or a new product or formulation compared to an old one. For instance, if a new product reduces packaging, an effective message might communicate “55% less packaging”. If a new product supports farming families in Guatemala your product profile might tell the story of how these families have benefited.
Greenbiz outlines a simple green marketing formula: create Credible, Relevant, Effective messaging that Differentiates your company and your products from your competitors:
Provide credible messages by backing up your statements with appropriate facts and figures. The level of information may depend on the image or social / environmental history of your sector, and the audience you are targeting. Your approach may be to provide different information if your message is for customers versus employees, for instance you may want to create a simple snapshot for the internal website for employees, and a more detailed report for other stakeholders like investors or your board.
A relevant message reports sustainability success that is in line with the company’s impacts. For example, if an automotive company focuses on advertising its efforts to green its facilities while not delivering on fuel efficiency improvements of its cars, its green message is not relevant to its key environmental impacts. If a business markets its strong community benefit programs yet has a weak health and safety record, its message will ring hollow.
An effective message translates the sustainability information to make sense of the magnitude of your achievements. For instance, you may have reduced a tonne of waste, but making that relevant to the audience often means translating it into “reducing our dumpster pick-ups from four to three per week” or something else that is easily understood. How the message is communicated also affects its effectiveness. The message should be expressed in a way that is appropriate for your business. For example, rather than a splashy PR campaign or press release, your message might be better spread through word of mouth, or a story in an industry association or local business magazine
To differentiate your company or your products make the message unique and distinct from competing products and services. Small and medium sized businesses have an advantage since there isn’t a lot of green or sustainability competition within the SME sector. They can often distinguish themselves as the environmental and socially responsible business of choice for some small unique efforts to green their operations or their product line.
See the Resources section for a link to the Greenbiz article and further background on their “CRED” marketing approach.
The many benefits of environmental management are found in the Business Case. Here are a few that are specific to green marketing:
Differentiate your Business and your Products
It’s important to distinguish your business based on your green and socially responsible products or services and/or your sustainability achievements. Communicating this to your customers is key, since Globescan’s CSR Monitor reports that 80% of Canadians say they are willing to pay more for products produced in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. If your customers are other businesses or organizations, the greening of supply chains and liability concerns will make your company’s offering stand out from your competitors..
Free Advertising (“Earned Media”)
Your social and environmental achievements are an opportunity for media attention referred to as “earned media”. Although not as targeted as paid advertising, earned media can provide free advertising to help build public awareness of your company as a green and socially responsible brand. For instance, Mountain Equipment Co-op’s green building efforts have earned the company considerable media attention, being highlighted as a green brand on prime time TV when similar advertising would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Industry Canada’s Marketing for Sustainability: Green Marketing Gets Real
- Greenbiz Green Marketing Steps
- Small Business Green Marketing
- The Six Sins of Greenwashing
- Industry Canada’s Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers
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