Your customers quickly pick up whether what you say about your sustainability practices are true or not

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Environmentally Friendly printed folders
Environmentally Friendly printed folders or are they? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A well-known brand of rolled oats is labelled “bio-friendly” and “GMO Free” but when you look at the packaging there is no proof or certification for these claims. A large fruit and vegetable chain advertisers “organic” vegetables in its spectacular display area but again all we can do is to trust in what they say. An award-winning supermarket outlet has point-of-sale information that declares its sustainable practices yet I have been trying to get them to stock paper cups instead of polystyrene for almost a year now without success.

Customers are flooded with messages about eco-friendly products and sustainable practices. The low-information consumer may not be bothered with these claims but customers today come in many shades of green and may challenge your message.

Claims that require assurance to be credible include: local, eco-friendly, natural, non-toxic, green, pollutant-free, carbon-neutral, badger friendly, Fynbos, fair, ethical, recyclable, low-impact, environmentally friendly, energy efficient, low carbon, not tested on animals, organic, biodegradable, zero carbon and zero waste.

Unless product claims are based on verifiable performance, a business could be seen to be practising “green washing” or “window dressing”.

Sustainability involves a comprehensive, holistic analysis of a business’s practices including operationally efficiencies, impacts on the supply chain, life-cycle analysis to reduce inefficiencies, helping customers with disposal and recovery of products at the end of their life and encouraging customers to use products sustainably.

The point of sale media that many businesses use for their sustainability information and messaging needs to be checked for believability and consistency. These media include: labelling, packaging, posters, displays, flyers, catalogues and staff interaction with customers. Other media to watch include vehicles, outdoor signs, clothing, give-aways, blogs, print adverts, website and social media.

You will come across more convincingly and engender greater trust when your sustainability messages:

– use clear and easy-to-understand language
– are real rather than abstract
– show evidence or proof and are fact-based
– eliminate hype and exaggeration
— are transparent with a tone of straight talking credibility
– show sincere commitment to doing the right thing without being preachy or self-righteous

Communicating sustainable products and practices doesn’t begin with deciding what to say; it starts with a commitment to the environment and people and getting your house in order before you say a word.

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