For years, every industry, from beauty to tech and fashion, has raised claims of being eco-friendly.
But customers are starting to see through sustainability claims. They want to support sustainable brands and products, but confusion and deceit have caused them to question if companies are actually eco-friendly.
A large part of delivering a great customer experience is prioritizing sustainability and being honest about it.
Customers Want Sustainability but Get Greenwashing Instead
Sustainability used to be a company’s golden ticket to higher sales, with more than 60% of US consumers saying they would pay more for a product with sustainable packaging.
But customers are starting to see through many companies’ claims to realize they aren’t as eco-friendly as they say. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of US adults don’t believe companies’ sustainability claims. Research found that 42% of green claims are exaggerated, false, or deceptive.
Much of that deceit is due to greenwashing when a company makes sustainability claims without notable efforts to back them up. Greenwashing comes in many forms, including vague claims and misleading labels.
Greenwashing lessens a brand’s reputation, negatively impacts a customer’s experience, and lowers their ACSI customer satisfaction scores. The bottom line is this: customers want brands to practice genuine sustainability efforts, not to put on a show or slap a label on a product without backing it up.
Honest Brands About Sustainability
Amid all the confusion, customers simply want brands to be honest about sustainability. And that often looks like quietly doing the work.
For some brands, honesty means stepping away from the sustainability label. Fashion brand Ganni has dozens of stores and wholesalers across the US and Europe. Despite its most recent collection being 97% climate responsible, the company has never claims to be a sustainable brand. The founders realize that by its very nature, fashion isn’t sustainable—it encourages consumption. So although Ganni isn’t labeled as sustainable, it is a leader in sustainable fashion.
Australian clothing brand Etiko has consistently earned an A+ sustainability rating. But the company recently said it is no longer a sustainable brand. Although the brand’s practices and values won’t change, it believes “that the word ‘sustainable’ has become tarnished by greenwashing over the years, ultimately diluting the value of the message.”
For other brands, being honest about sustainability means raising the bar on what it means to be eco-friendly. Alter Eco sells chocolate made using clean, green, responsible processes in Central and South America. Its packaging and wrappers aren’t just industrial compostable but backyard compostable, which means customers can compost the items themselves. For Alter Eco, it isn’t about sustaining the environment; it’s about rebuilding and regenerating it.
Honest About The Work Still To Do
Sustainable brands are honest about their goals and progress and the work that needs to be done.
These companies take a stand and set an example for others to follow.
Food brands, including Clif and Sambazon, have joined initiatives like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Global Commitment to create a world where plastic never becomes waste or One Step Closer to Zero Waste, among others. These companies match their words with actions and provide transparent updates about the progress toward their sustainability goals.
Sustainability matters. The best antidote to greenwashing is accountability. Sharing transparent updates and holding a company accountable—internally and to customers—shows honest sustainability efforts. Customers don’t always expect companies to be perfect—but they expect them to try.
Brands need to walk the talk. This Earth Day, be honest about sustainability and the progress that still needs to be made.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist and the author of The Customer Of The Future. Sign up for her weekly email here.