Expert Insights: Authentic Sustainability with Suzy Shelley

Expert Insights: Authentic Sustainability with Suzy Shelley

opinion pieces

In conversation with Suzy Shelley, Sustainability and Materials Lead at Pearlfisher London, we delve into her wealth of expertise in the ever-evolving realm of sustainability, with a specific focus on the pressing discussions around authenticity

In conversation with Suzy Shelley, Sustainability and Materials Lead at Pearlfisher London, we delve into her wealth of expertise in the ever-evolving realm of sustainability, with a specific focus on the pressing discussions around authenticity

"Trust can be hard to earn, difficult to measure, and easily lost."

Consumers' trust in brands is at an all-time low, and here’s why

One of the major elements that is causing an increased decline in brand trust is misinformation. Consumers have indicated that misinformation causes frustration, resulting in them having to use the products in frustration or, on some occasions, coming to a complete stop from using the brand. This is where authenticity plays a major role. Consumers want to use products that they can trust while appreciating transparency and conscious efforts from the brand to do better. Brands are no longer just getting called out in the comments section of their social media posts but are facing the wrath of the ASA. Some well-known household names have fallen short of the standards.

Brands shouldn't shy away from sustainability instead, embrace it!

Research shows that consumers care about sustainability when making purchasing decisions. Despite the cost of living crisis, sustainability remains an important shopping criterion. However, consumers are increasingly looking to companies to take responsibility and drive change and action, and they believe that companies are the most responsible for sustainability challenges. Caring about sustainability and ingraining environmental or social causes into a brand is now not seen as a nice thing to have but a necessity.

Unilever, Planet & Society

So how can we talk about sustainability while remaining authentic and regaining waning consumer trust?

Explore the following informative and actionable steps, inspired by leading brands that are actively elevating their sustainability efforts. These brands are not only striving for higher standards but also effectively sharing their journey with consumers, fostering authentic engagement and connections with their audience.

Sustainability is a journey; take the consumer along with you

Customers seek a sense of belonging within the community. Once customers have embraced the vision and sustainability initiatives, keep engaging them in conversation. Engaging stories and meaningful progress will be more impactful and memorable. And they will naturally share their experiences, highlighting not just the product but the entire journey. This is all about fostering open transparency; perfection is not the goal, but taking small steps.

Three brands in the fashion space are opening their doors and telling their story:

Patagonia is an expert in storytelling and taking the consumer along with them through the trials and tribulations of a sustainable process. Through the stories section of their website, they tell of the successes and failures on the path to being better, from trialling removing polybags all the way back in 2014 to more recently the path to removing forever chemicals.

Pangaia created a Pangaia lab, a hub for material innovation, creating a platform for innovative inventors and an opportunity for consumers to discover and trial lab-tested firsts.

Levi's spent nine years developing a process of waterless stone washing for jeans and documenting the process along the way. Not only did they share their findings and new processes with the world, but they also opened the doors of the innovation lab to competitors, sharing the techniques and encouraging them to build and improve.

Align brands with a purpose

Not all brands can be purpose-driven when it comes to sustainability, and in a world where sustainability is becoming a necessity, having sustainability as a purpose is becoming less of a USP. Identify authentic business purposes first, and then build a link between the purpose and sustainability goals.

Unilever is an example of a brand aligning product purpose with sustainability missions. Brands such as Dove focus on inclusivity with the ' Real Beauty Pledge ' alongside the usual targets of recycling and ingredient sourcing.

Ben and Jerry's use the pack as a canvas with the mission to "advance human rights and dignity, support social and economic justice for historically marginalised communities, and protect and restore the Earth's natural systems".

Knorr has a focus on nutrition, reducing food waste, and regenerative agriculture.

Fabrice Beaulieum, who heads up sustainability at Reckitts, recently shared in a sustainability conference that each of Reckitts brands chooses one of the 15 UN sustainable development goals as a mission, carefully selected to align with the purpose, such as Finish focusing on SDG 6—the 'water goal'—to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Be specific, make bold statements, and make an impact

Avoid broad statements, stand for something specific, and back up your decisions with understandable data. Research has shown that the more specific a sustainability claim is, the more it resonates with consumers and has a greater impact.

Brands in the personal care space:

LUSH focuses on ethics and ethical business practices and defines what this exactly means and how that steps through how they behave, from the ingredients in the products to materials in packaging, no animal testing, and right through to buying practices. The depth and specificity of their actions show integrity, transparency, and trustworthiness.

Ethique, a simple, straightforward message, plastic-free packaging, and reducing water consumption, are all backed up with facts and data.

Being utterly truthful

Don’t be afraid to be imperfect. If a claim requires omission, do not use it. If you do make a mistake, own up to it. Consumers are more forgiving if you show contrition. Being vulnerable about where you have fallen short in the past shows honesty and integrity, which are at the foundation of consumer trust and long-term engagement.

Tony’s mission is to eradicate illegal and slave-free labour from all of the chocolate industry, and they are open and frank about their own fight. "So, is there illegal labour in our supply chain? The short answer is yes, but we have never said differently, and we are glad we know about it because then we can eradicate it. We actively look for instances so we can solve them."

Taking a more humourous tone yet a very realistic angle, Apple keeps it real with a promise to reduce its carbon footprint to net zero by 2030 through materiality, clean energy, and low-carbon shipping with an aim to restore the natural ecosystems.

Authentic sustainability involves genuine and transparent efforts by brands to address environmental and social issues. It goes beyond greenwashing and focuses on building trust with consumers by being truthful, specific, and impactful in sustainability initiatives. Brands that authentically embrace sustainability often align it with their core purpose, make specific and data-backed claims, and openly acknowledge and rectify imperfections, ultimately fostering long-term consumer trust and engagement.

For more information on Suzy Shelley follow her on LinkedIn.

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