“What are the most important first steps when starting to build a sustainability strategy for a brand?” This is just one of the many questions asked by participants in our recent webinar, Attest Live: Sustainability and brand building.
We didn’t get round to all the questions that were asked during the event but our panellists (Louisa Ziane, COO at Toast Ale, Ashley Anzie, Senior Continuous Insights Manager at The Kraft-Heinz Company, and Jacq Ellis-Jones, Marketing Director at Pip & Nut) didn’t want to leave you wondering, so they’ve taken the time to answer them for you below…
Why would a company choose sustainability over profit?
“Both go hand in hand. Being more sustainable can ultimately make business operations more efficient and more cost-effective. Technology is a big enabler here, with advancements happening at a faster pace than ever before.”
What are the most important first steps when starting to build a sustainability strategy for a brand?
“Be focused, rather than trying to do everything! It’s a venn diagram approach to understanding where your biggest negative impact is and where you can have the biggest positive impact. I’m a big advocate of the B Corp Impact Assessment as a useful benchmarking tool.”
How do you demonstrate that sustainable claims are true and not just marketing bla bla bla?
“Communicate in a consistent and fairly frequent manner. Increasingly, consumers are able to call out messages that don’t align with their beliefs so we need to be tuned into that. But above all else, we need to ensure that the future is more sustainable than it is today so that helps us pivot away from being seen as token gestures.”
“We embrace transparency, sharing as much information as possible on our website so it’s easy to access e.g. as FAQs. This includes being clear about the journey we’re on and honest that we’re not perfect. Third-party certification also helps, and I think will become more important. For us being a Certified B Corp (like Pip & Nut) is key.”
“Being a Certified B Corp means you have to comply with the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. This doesn’t mean you are perfect – but you hold yourself accountable for being better and constantly improving. Whilst lots of consumers are still not aware of what B Corp means, as a business and brand you have that measurement/certification in place as a foundation to support your comms.”
Is there a minimum scale for a business to attain before going for B Corp Certification?
“No, in fact, it can actually be much easier for small businesses as one person is likely to be able to complete the process rather than requiring input from multiple departments and sign-off at various levels! Of course, small businesses have to multi-task with so many other things, so don’t rush to get through the process.”
Is there a place for sustainable messaging in B2B marketing?
“It will depend on the type of ‘B’ you’re selling to. Many of our business customers are B2C, and so our story as a supplier is an important part of their customer story. If the business is not customer-facing, we still believe communicating our sustainable credentials is vital. Increasingly, companies are part of supply chains with customers who want more information about provenance etc. And, above all, business is about people – you are ultimately selling to people who are increasingly concerned about these issues.”
“We are increasingly seeing retailers view ethical and sustainable businesses and brands as more important to them. Whether it is Tesco on a mission to increase plant-based foods or reduce single plastic, or Ocado implementing a B-Corp shopping area on their platform, every business that is future-proofing their business strategy is doing so with an environmental and social lens too.”
How do you build brand awareness about sustainability initiatives on social media?
“We’ve had most success with brand partnerships, particularly where they are product collaborations rather than just marketing collabs. Toast’s recent Rise Up campaign involves us working with extremely well-aligned brands – Divine Chocolate, teapigs, Hobbs House Bakery, Oddbox, Flawsome, Rebel Kitchen, Rubies in the Rubble and Cafedirect – so their engaged audiences are more likely to engage with and share our content.”
“We have built up strong partnerships with influencers and brands so they tend to support our awareness-driving activities. Also, we work with a good performance marketing agency that help drive reach and conversion to our D2C channel on social media too.
“I would also say that if you have a regular dialogue with your consumers on social – this interaction does tend to drive better results from a reach point of view – the algorithms at play there too perhaps? Ultimately though, we are on a continuous learning curve with our content and our philosophy is ‘test and learn’. I would also recommend looking at TikTok as an emerging channel to consider as part of your social reach.”
How do you prioritise messages across sustainability, brand and product when appealing to new vs existing customers?
“The challenge we have as brand owners is in telling the most appropriate story at the right times. Different messages land depending on the needs consumers have at the time, so it’s more a case of knowing where/when to dial up taste vs planet etc.”
“As a brand and within our category, we understand that consumers consciously and unconsciously put the performance (taste) of the brand as THE most important factor in deciding whether to buy. In fact, transparency and ethics are lower down when it comes to deciders (this is a bigger motivator when consumers give us conscious responses vs unconscious, when it does slip further down to the bottom).
“So, from an above the line point of view, our comms to recruit new shoppers focus more on our USP and relevance, which is taste. We then invest in initiatives that drive impact on people and planet e.g. charity limited-edition and one-from-you-one-from-us initiatives and communicate the impact with our owned and earned channels (Social, ECRM and PR). This is historical and doesn’t mean we won’t consider using our paid advertising in the future to communicate a more ethical / transparent message if we believe it is the right thing to do.”
Do you share the view that language like ‘sustainability, ‘carbon footprint’ or ‘SDGs’ doesn’t resonate with consumers?
“With many consumers, yes (though we find that some of our customers are better educated on these topics than we are!) We try to adapt our language depending on the audience e.g. talk about avoiding waste/pollution which resonates with most people, instead of ‘circular economy.’
Are there different kinds of ethically-driven customers?
“We largely profile our consumer based on attitudes to health and wellbeing with a simple question on ‘ethical consciousness’. To understand what motivates them about particular matters, we then tend to dive down into statements that are relevant for our brand e.g. sustainable packaging/no palm oil. This helps us to understand if our demographic/core profile has a particular passion point they care about.”
How should you start talking with consumersabout sustainability initiatives?
“Perhaps you could put it out to your community for feedback and find out what they are interested to hear about. We have a group of 150-200 secret squirrels from our community who give us feedback on areas such as this. But bear in mind that consumers will have an expectation of what they believe you should already be doing, so to state it may feel underwhelming e.g. when Innocent (one of my favourite brands) announced their recycled plastic content a lot of consumers assumed they had done that already so it’s just being conscious of that.
“We also try to ensure that consumers can actively be involved in supporting ethical initiatives too, whether that is donating a jar to the food bank through our D2C channel or inspiring them to reuse their packaging for something exciting and useful too. It creates a more two-way interaction, which works for us on social vs a one-way communication of an issue or impact. We still do this latter element but we get less engagement on this style of post.”
Products such as beer, peanut butter and a number of Kraft-Heinz foods could be seen as not great when we have an obesity crisis. How do you balance that?
“It’s important to talk about the benefits across our portfolio. We have healthier options in most categories, and are always looking to innovate e.g. our Beanz Burgers and Vegan Mayo launches earlier this year. We focus on a ‘better not more‘ type message as a responsible alcohol brand.”
Many consumers believe glass packaging is most sustainable because they can recycle it. How do we assure customers there are benefits to be had in cans or other formats?
“We published our analysis on cans v bottles, ultimately showing that cans are marginally better but there are benefits to both (and so we give customers the choice). It’s a challenging one as we know recycling is not the golden solution (often the problem is outsourced to countries less able to process etc). Reduce/reuse is the best option but requires whole industries to change and consumer behaviour change too. Whilst we use recycling in the meantime, we need better national systems (not different rules by different local authorities). So we, as businesses and citizens, need to push for change.”
How are you measuring the impact of sustainability initiatives on your brand?
“I use Attest for my brand tracking which is done approximately 3-4 times per year depending on if we are running any campaigns and we want a more timely review of the campaign and impact. The ongoing tracking is across awareness, brand health and loyalty. I can breakdown Attest results by demographic and regionally to see how we perform against our competitive set (access to 9 other brands). I also use Proquo which is a daily tracking tool of 16 sentiment drivers. Most relevant for B Corp comms are integrity and transparency.”
Do you think brands should be working together to spread the same message rather than calling each other out?
“Where it makes sense to, absolutely. However, while the ultimate goal is the same, the paths taken will vary somewhat. Potentially, more of an approach of working to a common industry standard may be the way forward (whether determined by legislation or other means).
“Our approach has always focussed on collaboration, and I know many B Corp brands are of the same mindset when it comes to the big societal problems we face. I think it’s still important for us to hold each other to account but it’s also important to consider the most productive way to do this.
“That said, it is challenging to be a small disruptive company when bigger brands with greater PR capabilities present themselves as leaders without recognising the work that has been done (often over many years) by smaller businesses. We would love to see the bigger brands raising the profile of small businesses like ours, or working with us in a genuinely collaborative way.”
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Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 100m global consumers. She also likes cake.