Who’s the hero of your sustainability narrative?

Earth Day is approaching and brands around the world are preparing to highlight their newest initiatives aimed at making the world a little greener. We hear about net-zero and carbon capture, alternative energy and wind farms; but year after year, some companies inevitably put their feet in their mouths and are accused of greenwashing.

Greenwashing accusations stem from a sense of perceived inauthenticity. Whether it seems untrue or unbelievable, these feelings arise in an audience when the brand’s stated purpose and actions don’t line up. A brand’s integrity is called into question.

Earth Day doesn’t need to feel like a minefield. Northbound has been doing research to see how companies can be authentic in the space of sustainability. We’ve learned how companies behave and communicate to build trust, equity, and brand integrity. Full findings are coming soon, but today we want to share a simple way to start your company down the path to brand integrity in sustainability.

Before you make any decisions, statements, advertisements, or social posts this Earth Day, ask yourself – who’s the hero of my sustainability narrative?

Our initial research shows that brands describe their role along a spectrum that leaves varying levels of space for accountability. Some say the brand is the hero, valiantly fighting the evil forces of climate change. Others aim to make their customers feel empowered to make the change they want to see. Some even go so far to say that they themselves are the problem.

We see the disparity in this spectrum as being a key contributing factor to brands being perceived as “greenwashing.” Unless you are a truly sustainable business that provides “net positive” not just “net zero” contributions to the world, you probably shouldn’t claim you are the hero of your sustainability story. This is the honey trap that so many brands fall into leading to inauthenticity and accusations of greenwashing.

Sustainability Narrative Spectrum

Brands identify the “hero” of their sustainability narrative across a broad spectrum.

Determining the hero helps in three key ways:

  1. Most importantly, you can see where you land on the spectrum of accountability and whether this needs to shift.
  2. You can nail down your role in sustainability and create consistent communication about the actions you take and why.
  3. It builds an opportunity for accountability through honesty and transparency. Generally, we’ve seen the more that a brand acknowledges their shortcomings, the more they make space for communication that feels authentic and trusted.

In the age of sustainability, the brands that embrace open, honest transparency are the ones that will resonate today and into the future. This Earth Day, take a look at your narrative and ensure that it makes room for accountability by clearly articulating who plays what role.

Stay tuned for more detailed findings on how brands can build integrity in the age of sustainability. Or get in touch to be included in the report.

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