Green credentials underplayed by brands

The release of Interbrand’s Global Green Brands report is a stark reminder to Australian businesses of the value of communicating their sustainability credentials to consumers.

In the middle of the last decade, ‘green’ and ‘environmental’ seemed to be the trend for brands to follow, in no small part due to the runaway popularity of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. While the political and cultural discourse around green issues has evolved, the business case for corporate environmental practices still remains.

Brand and sustainability communications experts believe that instead of falling to the side, sustainability has only gained prominence within corporations over the last few years. Where the challenge lies for companies is how to effectively communicate their practices to the consumer.

Green Team client business director Brendan Fearn said: “In the past, sustainability was very much seen as a ‘green thing’, but now more and more corporates and businesses understand the implications it has. It’s certainly on the agenda now with the big corporates.”

Republic of Everyone partner Matt Perry agreed. “We’ve seen a maturing in the business sector around what sustainability is and why it’s important. Sustainability has moved beyond communicating initiatives to a point where sustainability communications must be linked to core business,” he said.

Interbrand’s report lists the top 50 global green brands and also gives a score based on the gap between the company’s actual green practices versus the consumer perception of that brand. Toyota, which still engenders consumer goodwill due to its Prius model, is at the apex of the list, followed by Johnson & Johnson, Honda, Volkswagen and Hewlett-Packard in the top five.

However, more than 60% of the brands on the list have better sustainability credentials than consumers are aware of, highlighting the gap between industry and market.

Perry added brands which perform well on sustainability often find it difficult to articulate it and fall into two camps. “Sometimes brands are nervous about going public about what they’re doing in sustainability for fear of being attacked for what they’re not doing,” he said. “The other barrier is that there is so much information that sustainability communications can become overwhelming and therefore often lack a genuinely engaging, inspiring and relevant idea.

“The most successful brands do this by finding key areas of focus which directly appeal to their audiences rather than taking a scatter gun approach to communicating their sustainability stories.”

Consumer expectations are evolving as well, according to Fearn. “The vast majority of consumers expect brands to do the right thing and actively look to support those that do. There are huge opportunities and there aren’t a lot of brands which have owned that space,” he said.

Interbrand Australia and New Zealand chief executive Damian Borchok agreed. He said: “More and more there’s talk of consumers buying on values rather than value.”

Borchok believes Australian companies are actually doing quite well on the sustainability side but aren’t talking about it enough. “It should be a story about leadership. Organisations that decide they want to be leaders in their categories can take the agenda forward. Businesses can demonstrate they have a larger social role to play and what their purpose is over and above just profit,” he said.

On the Interbrand list, Nokia is the company with the highest gap in terms of better sustainability practices than consumers give it credit for. Conversely, McDonald’s has the highest gap in regards to better perception than its actual credentials.

This article first appeared in the 13 July 2012 print edition of AdNews.

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