As 2022 progresses, interest in maintaining sustainability seems to have renewed and increased. The importance of combating climate change has grown exponentially in recent years, and by all metrics, these themes will continue to permeate deeper and deeper into our everyday lives. While many are incorporating changes on their own out of personal responsibility, businesses who haven't done so will face mounting pressure to step up.
With all the interest in this topic, we wanted to cover what paths businesses can take to become more sustainable in.
But first, where does the conversation stand?
Over the past decade, the discourse around climate change and sustainability has grown from nervous apprehension to becoming more confident and distressed. As this dire situation looms heavier over society, this alarm is only going to continue getting louder and louder. But when it comes to business, people have an interest in companies that maintain sustainability in their culture. They're even willing to base purchase patterns on it.
It is because of this swelling alarm and shift in public sentiment that the need for a green business model has never been more apparent. More consumers are standing up against corporate practices that are harmful to the environment, and as that importance grows, it’s imperative to grow with it by enabling robust, sustainable practices.
Common pitfalls in sustainability
As the conversation around sustainability grows more and more heated, it’s important for brands to understand that there are major business ramifications to disingenuous or half-hearted measures.
Greenwashing is a term that gets used a lot these days to describe deceptive “sustainable” business practices. The term often applies to organizations that spend more time, money, or resources on marketing themselves as sustainable than on actually reducing their impact. The term can more broadly apply to any time a company lies about or misrepresents its attempt at meaningful change.
While there’s no shortage of PR nightmares resulting from the consequences of greenwashing, another pitfall that can be just as harmful for public perception is a disingenuous attempt at change. Indeed, half-measures can be just as blunderous under public scrutiny—when a company attempts to cash in on the popularity of sustainability without actually putting in the work.
We should concede that half-measures and outright greenwashing often have some beneficial impact in the grand scheme. Sure, any progress is good progress, but what sets these instances apart is that their impact often doesn't line up with their commitments or capabilities. When this happens, it is only a matter of time until somebody notices.
Information spreads quickly and can sway public opinion overnight. Businesses practicing greenwashing or half-measures are risking untold harm to their reputation. Getting publicly branded as a company that’s harmful to the environment is a very difficult hole to dig yourself out of.
On the concept of “personal responsibility”
For years, the gospel of personal responsibility has been spread far and wide. Indeed, we all have to do our part, but consumers are starting to see past this idea. To many, the sentiment that “everyone needs to do their part” simply doesn't resonate as much when larger institutions can keep operating as is.
The Harvard Business Review recently brought this reality to light when they released an article exploring who’s really responsible for the climate crisis. They point to industry change as the top priority for combating climate change. Among other points, they point to an earlier study showing that over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from just 100 companies.
Everyone can give up their plastic straws, compost their waste, and turn off their electronic devices at night, and 70% of emissions will still happen. Of course, this doesn’t take personal responsibility out of the equation—but it certainly does highlight concerns leading to more scrutiny over where consumers’ money goes.
Inevitably, when the actions of consumers no longer seem like they can make a difference, spending habits become the next choice. As many begin to see the importance of this impending concern, consumers are realizing their most powerful tool is their dollar.
Making meaningful change
So, how are brands approaching sustainability in 2022? For starts, when proposing changes, the main question to keep in mind is: does this make a meaningful difference? None of us can save the world on our own, but comprehensive solutions are essential steps in the cause for climate justice. After all, it is everyone's responsibility to make an honest effort to combat climate change.
As climate importance continues to grow, consumers will only grow more cautious about who they do business with. The needs of each business are different and there are many different methods for accomplishing this goal, but there are some common best practices. Here are some ways companies can make meaningful change and avoid half-steps and greenwashing:
Conduct a review of your organization
Without a clear understanding of where you are, it is hard to know where you should be going. If you're unaware of where your staff stands on sustainability, it's essential to learn. Brands that are taking sustainability seriously in 2022 are conducting thorough reviews of their teams—executives and otherwise—on their knowledge and effectiveness.
Accomplish this through formal meetings, quizzes, educational content, or other methods—the important thing is to identify any strengths or weaknesses you may have in sustainability.
Goals set businesses looking for change apart from ones just looking for press. Brands are now making actionable, clear, and concise goals when it comes to sustainability. The ones who are serious about sustainability are going public with them.
After conducting a review, take some time to pour over it carefully. As you do, note any gaps or needs that may be evident and use them to set goals for your team. Start with the knowledge gaps that you may have uncovered during your review. Set a timeline for when you want to make sure everyone on your team has the information they need and stick to it.
Bring in new voices
One of the best traits a leader can have is knowing when they cannot provide necessary insight. If nobody is knowledgeable about the topic, it may be necessary to bring in some new voices. These can either be temporary voices used to teach the staff, or permanent positions created for the effort.
Some businesses have even added a board seat specifically for environmental sustainability. This demonstrates how seriously they are taking the issue and ensures a high-level focus on it. Knowing when to ask for help is a critical component of success. If you’re unable to meet the sustainability needs of your business, find someone who can!
Advance your research
With the rapidly evolving opinions and needs regarding sustainability, it’s crucial to find a consultative partner to help you uncover the insights necessary to advance. Agile and iterative research can help organizations produce relevant insights in the moments that matter. And when it comes to sustainability, consumers are listening. At aytm, we help brands bring the voice of the consumer to the decision-making table—illuminating routes to become more sustainable while empowering more opportunities for insights ownership.