If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re already taking steps to address questions of sustainability within your company.
Maybe you’re using noissue packaging, perhaps you’re applying to become a B Corp, you might be planting trees. And if you’re taking a holistic view of impact, you’ll be looking beyond environmental sustainability.
Addressing issues of diversity within your industry, and taking a stand on social or political issues too. When it comes to impact, intentions are good but actions are better. And the responsible communication of both is essential.
Consumers want to make informed buying decisions, and understand where their most-loved brands stand on the issues of our day.
This isn’t to say you have to blow your own trumpet every time you do a good thing. Rather that your intentions and actions should be matched with clear and sincere comms that help your audience understand what you’re up to. Otherwise all the good work you’re doing behind the scenes will fall short.
To help brands seamlessly communicate their impact, words-first agency Sonder & Tell has teamed up with sustainability strategist Amirah Jiwa to create an interactive workshop called Beyond the Buzzwords.
The session looks at three main areas – sustainability, inclusivity and progressive politics – using interactive exercises to get you thinking about ‘how’ to communicate responsibly, rather than just ‘why’.
Here’s a handful of pointers from the workshop, outlining key cases in which you should check your comms.
When you're talking about sustainability practices…
You should KEEP IT SPECIFIC
When you're talking about sustainability practices, being specific shows both responsibility and accountability. There’s actually a name for companies who use certain words to convey a sustainable image that isn’t backed up by reasonable action. It’s called ‘greenwashing’ and a recent study by Edie reports that 40% of websites posted sustainability claims that could be considered greenwashing because they used terms like ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘natural’ without defining them.
Now let’s be real. There are some terms we have become so used to seeing, reading or hearing, that we rarely think to question its meaning. There are also some terms that are just hard to come by in everyday conversation, like B Corp.
Either way, your audience might not know their meaning or context, so taking the time to offer a definition, or a clear example, shows that you are invested in bringing value to your customers.
Athletic clothing brand Girlfriend Collective does a great job of outlining exactly what makes it a more sustainable option. Instead of using the word eco-friendly to describe its products, it gets more specific and says it makes ‘activewear out of recycled materials’.
And, it explains exactly how using recycled materials reduces waste and how its approach to packaging and even clothing care align with that same goal.The level of detail that it goes into shows that its commitment to the preservation of our planet is more than a tick-box exercise.
When you are featuring more diversity in your campaigns…
You should USE MORE INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE
When it comes to featuring or promoting more diversity in your campaigns, you need to make sure that your language is as inclusive as your imagery. That it doesn’t alienate the people that you’re seeking to represent.
A brand mindful of language is the period-care brand Thinx. It matches its use of inclusive models with inclusive people-first language. For example, its tagline addresses ‘people with periods’ to include trans and non-binary people who menstruate, meaning more people have access to period and hygiene products.
Using more inclusive language isn't only the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense. Google found that people are more likely to consider, or even purchase, a product after seeing an ad they think is diverse or inclusive.
When you are taking a stance on an issue...
You should CHOOSE A VIEW THAT ALIGNS WITH YOUR VALUES, and BE ACTIVE
According to a 2019 survey, 71% of consumers thought it important for businesses to take a stance on social movements. With stats like that, it can be very tempting to feel the pressure to speak on every issue that crops up. Be very careful though: if you stand for everything, you really stand for nothing.
We can learn from brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, which takes a clear stance on racial inequality with its bold and uncompromising copy. Avoid any language that comes across as wishy-washy and use the active voice, rather than the passive voice.
Without getting too grammar geek on you (because we could really go there) the active voice makes it very clear who is performing an action, while the passive voice hides it.
For example, Ben & Jerry’s saying “we must dismantle white supremacy” is in the active voice, making it very clear that it wants to be part of the solution; whereas “white supremacy must be dismantled” is passive, obscuring accountability.
On the other side of the spectrum, we can also learn from those brands that posted black squares on Instagram, as a status of allyship to the BLM movement, only to be met with a rally of boycotts and backlash. We definitely don’t want that.
Whatever you’re doing, OWN YOUR VOICE
Just because you’re addressing issues that lean more to the serious side, it doesn’t mean that your tone of voice has to be serious. You can learn to speak about impact in a way that feels authentic to your brand.
Take Lick for example. One of Sonder & Tell’s clients, they talk about their manufacturing processes and materials in a way that is authentic to their brand messaging.
Their sustainability report is enjoyable to read and they use playful language relevant to the industry they are in, interiors. For example, they say ‘Decorating can be a chore. Don’t let your paint be irritating’ to talk about how they use water based paints with less fumes and potential chemicals.
The trick is to know your tone of voice inside out so when it comes to issues that feel ‘serious’ you can talk about them in a way that feels like you.
So you’ve started the journey towards communicating with your audience more responsibly. And you’ve learnt the very basics of how to tell your audience about all the good things you’re doing.
Sonder and Tell and Amirah Jiwa run a workshop on communicating impact in a practical and meaningful way, you can learn more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A word from noissue: Our 2021 commitments
Noissue is on a mission to make sustainable packaging accessible to business, brands and makers no matter their size and to create a world without waste by offering packaging that is reusable, compostable or made from recycled materials.
This year we’ve been communicating more about our impact and progress towards our goals for sustainability. Progress to us means striving to always be better and for continuous improvement. We know our ambitions in some areas are ahead of where we are now, and we endeavour to be sincere and honest about that. We are going to showcase these updates on our new sustainability page that is launching soon.
We will continue to ensure our product pages detail the relevant sustainability properties of each product – for example, what materials and certifications they hold.
We’re creating communication guidelines and inclusivity and sustainability will naturally form a part of those guidelines. We’re going to ensure we articulate what sustainable packaging means to us and will be using the advice in this blog post to guide both our team and our communities going forward.