The Risks of Telling the World Your Brand is Sustainable

The Risks of Telling the World Your Brand is Sustainable


And how to make your sustainable branding rock.

Aug 5 6 minute read

From recycled materials to environmentally friendly cotton to the reduction of “fast fashion”, green is the new black in terms of consumer demand. In fact, 72% of Gen Z’ers are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings - so if brands can get it right, sustainability is likely to be a very lucrative revenue stream going forward.

But in the noisy modern world, being sustainable and effectively presenting your sustainable credentials aren’t the same thing - and this is where the concept of “sustainability branding” comes into play. 

From a branding perspective, you need to clearly and honestly convey exactly what steps your business is taking to integrate environmental, social and economic issues into its daily operations.

It doesn’t matter if your brand’s been deeply rooted in sustainability from the get-go, or if you’re starting to develop distinctly branded sustainable lines to cater to the rising eco-conscious consumer. 

To be truly authentic, sustainable branding must start from within. Whether you’re launching a new brand from scratch or dipping your toe in the water via a single sustainable collection, the intention behind the branding has to be honest. 

I can’t overstate the importance of practising what you preach if you’re to avoid a PR nightmare, as clothing brand Everlane has recently discovered.

From the outside, Everlane had sustainability nailed. They coined the term “Radical Transparency”, and publicly checked all the right boxes. They sourced from ethical factories, used the best materials and openly displayed pricing breakdowns so that consumers knew exactly who they were paying when they purchased an Everlane t-shirt. 

But behind-the-scenes, allegations of a toxic workplace, anti-Black behaviour and union-busting were taking place. Once these allegations were made public, Everlane’s “empty marketing” campaigns were laid bare for all to see - they’d never publicly produced a corporate and social responsibility report, they weren’t tracking greenhouse emissions and there were no initiatives to ensure living wages. Essentially, they were using branding to “greenwash” their offering.

If you’re overpromising in your brand’s core message, then you’re going to fall short.

And, as the following brands have demonstrated, there’s no need to lie about your sustainability credentials. Honesty and openness to conversation and improvement goes a long way.

MUD Jeans

MUD Jeans are making great strides in their sustainable branding. Their main idea, as reflected in everything from their tagline to their round logo is ‘circularity’. 

So, how do they do it?

They actively promote circularity and ‘seasonless fashion’ on their social media channels, and you can find a rich source of resources and information in highlight form on their Instagram account, from a circularity Q&A with their co-owner and designer to ‘factivism’ about global warming. 

They’ve even created two sustainability reports to date, in which they research the impact of every single pair of jeans in their collection. And in true MUD Jeans style, they’ve repurposed their 2019 report into an easily-digestible Instagram story, making their findings as transparent and accessible as possible.

From their ‘Lease a Jeans’ program to clean, lab-made mineral dyes, MUD Jeans are putting sustainability front and centre of their branding, and customers are actively encouraged to take responsibility and ask questions about how their clothing is made.

Zara’s Join Life Collection

It’s been a few years since Zara released Join Life - their first-ever eco edit collection. Unlike MUD Jeans, they don’t have the luxury of having a brand that’s founded on sustainable principles, which makes sustainable branding a bigger challenge; especially if your brand is known for fast fashion.

So what did they decide to do?

Instead of completely reforming complex existing processes such as material sourcing, manufacturing and distribution, they chose to create a separate and distinctly branded sustainable line.

It’s a smart choice. It promotes sustainability without costing a fortune - or alienating their current audience.

As part of their commitment to increasing their sustainability credentials, Zara has also made a public effort to showcase new initiatives, such as used clothing drop boxes in stores, recycled cardboard in their packaging and a commitment to using organic cotton or recycled polyester in their Join Life items.

While these initiatives aren’t groundbreaking, they show that Zara is listening to its audience and keeping up with the latest marketing trends. And every step counts on the journey to a greener future!

So why should you weave your sustainable credentials into your branding?  

Having a clear and integrated sustainable mission isn’t a novelty anymore, it’s a necessity. Younger generations, in particular, expect sustainable issues to be clearly visible when they’re making choices about brands, so it’s a great way of increasing visibility and marking yourself as different from your competitors.

It’s also a good way of drawing in new, loyal customers. The nature of sustainability naturally lends itself to longer-term initiatives. If you know that your customers are interested in sustainability, then you can factor more time into your marketing efforts. 

Just look at Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee - they offer mostly free repairs of many of their items of clothing in both an attempt to prolong the lifespan of their items of clothing and to keep customers loyal year after year. It’s certainly not a “quick return” campaign, but it is perfectly aligned with their core sustainable values.

There’s also a good argument for using sustainability to build a luxury line within an existing brand. Affordability is certainly a dilemma for customers and brands alike when it comes to going green. 

But by leaning into the increased price and developing “luxury” or “premium” messaging around it, it can help customers to feel more comfortable making a sustainable purchasing decision at a higher price point. This is because not only are they spending more money to benefit the environment, but they’re investing in higher-quality products that will benefit themselves.

There’s no checklist for integrating sustainability into your branding, but there’s a good core principle to follow: one honest claim to be “a little bit more sustainable, but nowhere near perfect” (like Oatly does) is better than ten false claims that you’re changing the world.

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