Scared to communicate your sustainability success? Here are five ways to avoid getting cancelled

Over the last year we’ve seen a surge in brands using sustainability as a marketing tool and 2021 will see a further increase in sustainability […]

Over the last year we’ve seen a surge in brands using sustainability as a marketing tool and 2021 will see a further increase in sustainability impact claims on packaging. But with the growing prevalence of “cancel culture” and increased scrutiny from consumers and regulators, many brands fear slipping up. Do they risk communicating their impact to the world or stay silent and get left behind?

At MullenLowe salt we help brands communicate authentically and credibly because brands who enhance their green credentials can improve their bottom line as well as have a positive impact on the planet. These five rules can help brands communicate their sustainability progress.

  1. Get your own house in order

It’s important to unite your teams and demonstrate action internally before sharing your ambitions and inspiring others to make changes themselves. This means creating an open dialogue between internal departments. Everlane, the clothes retailer, has invested heavily in creating an ethical brand. But they lost sight of the fact that a brand’s purpose is delivered better and more convincingly when its employees truly believe in it. The many issues with their internal work culture including allegations of anti-black behaviour; employees being overworked, underpaid, or silenced; and unfair dismissal has undermined Everlane’s efforts to create a transparent and ethical brand.

  1. Be clear and human in your claims – don’t just rely on what’s technically correct or legally allowable

When it comes to ingredient transparency and packaging claims there are a plethora of terms to trip you up. From the blurred line between compostable, biodegradable and recyclable, to the evolving list of ingredients you’re being told to avoid. Many brands unintentionally make a claim that is not accurately reflective of their achievements. Take Gousto, who last year claimed that packaging for its new Eco Chill Box was “100% plastic-free” and “100% recyclable”. An investigation by the ASA found this to be false and called for the claims to be removed. While the majority of the packaging was plastic-free and recyclable, there were some supplementary elements that weren’t. Impact data should be both honest and accessible to stakeholders and consumers.

  1. Tell the whole story

Be on the front foot with your communications and help consumers understand you are on a journey to become better – even with the things that don’t paint you in a good light. Oatly recently triggered a consumer boycott of their product when it emerged that Blackstone, a business with links to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, had invested in the company. A simple and accessible announcement, from the offset, would have helped consumers understand why this decision had been made and what steps the brand will take to ensure the integrity of their business. Consumers want to be reassured that their favourite purpose brands will do what they can to stay true to their promises.

  1. Take real action before jumping on the bandwagon

Before attributing your name to a movement that has become popular, be sure to do the due diligence and take tangible actions first. After Planet Earth II aired a panic emerged among brands and consumers alike, with many brands professing their support for stopping climate change. But claims need to be backed up with a verified trail of evidence. Quorn recently earned disapproval after their advert, which celebrated the product’s contribution to reducing our carbon footprint without explaining how, was banned by the ASA for misleading consumers. Brands can find a way to help without sanctimony through tangible actions such as sharing resources, amplifying calls to action and taking accountability within the business as well as donating. Showing support means taking real action and without proof, brand purpose will lose its value.

  1. Remember you are only as strong as your supply chain

In order to create long lasting value, supply chains need to be adequately managed and impact measured end-to-end. 80 to 90% of a typical consumer’s product’s environmental impact comes from its supply chain and without quantifying your impact through a robust measurement process and rigorous sustainability strategy, your business’ efforts could be lost long-term. Programmes like Unilever’s detailed Sustainable Living Plan can act as powerful agents of change that have an impact system-wide, create consistency and also generate value for your business.

If brands and businesses really want to create change and foster progress, then the fear of greenwashing accusations must not stand in their way of openly, honestly, and clearly communicating their sustainability credentials.

At MullenLowe salt we help brands communicate their achievements without over-promising. We believe that trust and brand love is built by being equally honest with consumers about the areas in your business where you’re leading the charge and the areas that still need work. As Deloitte state in their 2021 Global trends report, “when messaging connects to delivery, trust flourishes”.

For more information on how to communicate your sustainability progress and validate your success, please contact