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7 Ways to Market Your Building Company’s Sustainability Message

Try these communication strategies when discussing sustainability with clients.

Consumers are increasingly interested in purchasing products that are not damaging to the environment and people. That’s why it’s important for companies to effectively promote their brands’ sustainability attributes. 

But, that’s easier said than done.

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A company that gives its customers a “behind the scenes” look at its employees’ efforts to be environmentally friendly can come across as very down to earth. Credit: Bureau of Land Management

Marketing sustainability isn’t always easy. And often, consumers hesitate to buy products that are better, more-sustainable alternatives because of factors such as confusion, gaps in trust, and lack of information. To avoid this, you need to use the right verbal and visual communication strategies to ensure clients understand your expertise and the opportunities that exist for them.

This article outlines seven of the most effective communication strategies to use when discussing your sustainability expertise with clients.

1. Localize Your Message

Sustainability doesn’t mean the same thing to all people. Consumers from around the world might associate sustainability with diverse focus areas. 

For instance:

  • In North America, people mostly associate sustainability with recycling.
  • In Latin America, sustainability is more focused on alternative sources of energy.
  • In Asia-Pacific, the topic of sustainability brings to mind the environment.
  • In Africa and the Middle East, sustainability is often linked to fair prices.

The list goes on and includes things like pollution, climate change, community development, fair labor conditions, charity/donations, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and much more.

This range of perceptions makes it clear that sustainability marketers can no longer continue to use “sustainability” labels universally. If you want your message to be more effective, you need to localize your brand messaging with a stronger focus on the local market’s views of sustainability.

2. Make It Positive 

Most people find climate change to be depressing enough, without being constantly bombarded with doom-and-gloom messages. Besides, it has been shown that people are far more receptive to positive messages than negative ones. 

For instance, pointing out the negatives of smoking, such as lung cancer, heart problems, or even early death doesn’t seem to dissuade smokers as much as highlighting the positives of quitting smoking, such as the reduced risk of heart disease, saving money, increased fertility or more energy.

To make your message more powerful, focus on selling the positive, not the negative of sustainability. Focus on ways to talk about the solutions.

3. Make It Relevant

A successful communication strategy for sustainability begins with a deeper understanding of your brand audience or stakeholders, which includes the employees, investors, and customers. You’ll need to know exactly what each of them wants if you’re going to communicate effectively. You’ll find it easier to provide context and make the message more relevant.

For example, if you are talking about the effect of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on the environment, it might be difficult for your customers to envision what 100 grams or 10,000 tons of carbon actually means. However, they do understand what a “cup of coffee” or “flight to Asia” is. By understanding your audience (and what it knows), you will be able to make comparisons that make your message more relevant, and therefore more impactful.

4. Communicate Powerful Benefits

For your message to get through, you need to be able to communicate concrete advantages of sustainability. This ties into making your message positive, but it goes beyond that by connecting the benefits of sustainable products to the everyday lives of your consumers. 

For instance, Deutsche Bahn, a German rail company, offers a tool for quantifying the energy consumption, air pollutants, and CO2 emissions of a specified trip by car compared to that same trip by airplane or train. This is expressed in terms that people can understand and better relate to, and it helps to communicate a concrete benefit that is connected to customers’ everyday lives as a way to help them make better decisions.

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Third-party certification can create a more trustworthy image among consumers, especially when it comes to the company’s production and use of sustainably sourced products.

5. Get Certification

For the most part, consumers find it time-consuming to conduct research on which brands are really the best alternatives. They don’t trust the environmental claims of companies, or simply find them too confusing. This lack of information and trust often results in them refraining from purchasing the products of brands that actually have better environmental practices. 

For brands in such a situation, it may be best to consider getting third-party certification. Consumers typically see these as trustworthy intermediaries when it comes to vetting sustainability claims. 

There are many labels to choose from, including:

  • Energy Star
  • WaterSense
  • Greenguard
  • Fairtrade
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Keep in mind that some of these certifications are more credible than others, requiring brands to pass rigorous performance standards on environmental and social dimensions. 

To further confuse things, some certifications have been called out as being nothing more than the subsidiaries of giant corporations looking to improve their image. And some consumers are quick to spot greenwashing when certain certifications are used as marketing material—e.g., something can be sustainably grown in a field that was once pristine Amazon rainforest. 

Take the time to ensure that you only associate with credible labels, marks, stamps and certifications.

6. Transparency Is Key

These days, more and more shoppers are interested in transparency in the supply chain. This includes the working conditions, production processes, and the materials used in creating products. 

However, there is often not enough information about such things. With ever-increasing pressure for brands to meet ambitious sustainability targets, it can be very hard to know exactly what to do. Because of that, some brands end up saying nothing at all about what they’re doing, as they are afraid of getting it wrong. This remains one of the reasons  consumers end up not buying brands with good environmental and labor practices—they just don’t know which brands are actually being “fair.” 

This also means there’s untapped potential for brands to communicate their fair labor practices to their global audience. All you need is to be completely transparent, even about the fact that you failed to meet original targets, why it happened, and what you are going to do about it. 

7. Humanize Your Brand

A great way to make your brand’s transparency policy feel real is to offer your audience a peek behind the scenes. Show them your processes, your workers, and their environment. You can use live views, create a podcast, or record the brand’s sustainability practices and share those videos on your website or via social media. 

If you don’t have the means to produce those videos, something as simple as a good old-fashioned press release can work. A good example of this is a recent notice by Grubhub to recruit drivers and grow the brand’s reputation. The company announces that it has hired Devry Boughner Vorwerk, a highly experienced executive who specializes in environmental management communication, to oversee sustainability efforts at Grubhub. 

The company also explains Vorwerk’s experience and includes a quote from her about how excited she is to join the company. Grubhub now sounds like a great company for which to work.