Today’s consumers want to feel good about the products that they use daily. When searching on store shelves or adding items to their virtual baskets, products that communicate a climate-friendly mission stand out the most. Branding is the most direct way to communicate to climate-conscious consumers; by being clear and concise, brands can let buyers know that they share these same values. According to a 2022 Forbes article about consumer demand, Gen X consumers’ preference to shop sustainable brands has increased by nearly 25 percent, and their willingness to pay more for sustainable products by 42 percent. In fact, consumers across all generations are now willing to spend more for sustainable products. A challenge for brand managers is to find compelling ways to connect with consumers and demonstrate credible actions, particularly related to the topic of climate action.
While sustainability can encompass many avenues and be defined in various ways, one place to start this journey is with your company’s climate action strategy. These initiatives should always include four key elements: measuring your emissions, reducing emissions, offsetting unavoidable emissions, and communication your actions. With 72 percent of people personally concerned about their environmental footprint, a substantial opportunity exists in the market for companies to attract and retain business by making their climate actions known (Capgemini). Since consumers want to make climate-conscious decisions and brands want to attract customers with these values, brand messaging and communication is key.
Measuring carbon emissions is a crucial first step towards developing a climate action and communication strategy. When brands measure their emissions, consumers can be confident that the brand is conscious of its environmental footprint. Emissions can be measured at the product level or at the corporate level. When a product’s emissions are measured, calculations consider its full lifecycle to get an accurate view of its footprint. Product-level footprints provide a much more granular perspective than corporate or facility-level carbon footprints and can be of much greater benefit to brand managers seeking to develop a compelling climate action strategy and communication plan. When measuring emissions, be sure to use a methodology that aligns with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and ISO Standards — standards set in place to ensure that emission measurements can be reliably reported upon and credibly reflect the environmental footprint of the brand.
Carbon footprints are beneficial because they provide an understanding of how your product or company is impacting climate change. In turn, your brand can better understand where the hotspots of your emissions are coming from and then develop an action plan to reduce those emissions moving forward.
Once your brand has an accurate understanding of its emissions and carbon footprint, it is important to set a carbon-reduction goal and define a plan to achieve it. Due to the clear need to take climate action now, it is essential to set ambitious goals for both the near and long term. One way to do this is by setting science-based targets — a top-down approach to reduce emissions by striving to limit global warming temperatures to 1.5°C before 2050. Although there are lots of ways to engage your company in efforts that support reduction, there are a few common approaches that can offer a good place to start — including switching to more sustainable packaging materials, using clean energy, or engaging in less air travel.
When reduction strategies have been maximized, offsetting unavoidable emissions becomes an option for brands that are seeking carbon neutrality. Carbon offsetting is the practice of supporting a project that avoids or reduces carbon emissions, while often also supporting a variety of UN Sustainable Development Goals — for example, clean water and sanitation, forest protection or clean energy in other parts of the world, often developing countries, which have less infrastructure and fewer resources for proactively avoiding or reducing carbon emissions.
When choosing an offsetting project to align with, it is important for brands to ensure that the project is of high quality and transparent in its methods and goals. Offset projects should be validated by an external source that can verify clear standards and meaningful climate action. Measurable standards for offset projects help brands deliver on the promised results and benefits to the environment, as well as local communities. Projects measured by the Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard are universally recognized as being of the highest quality and are audited annually. Brands that invest in quality offset projects can be confident that their actions are credible and will withstand public scrutiny.
Brands that make strides in measuring, reducing and offsetting their carbon emissions should clearly communicate to their customers that they are committed to climate action. The challenge is how to do that in a compelling and tangible way, while avoiding getting too technical or providing information that is not meaningful or relevant to the consumer. Integrating your climate actions into your product’s value proposition and communication strategy should be grounded in transparency and relevance. A product label by itself may be insufficient, due to the variety of environmental labels that exist. A product label that provides the opportunity for consumers to learn more about the specific climate actions being taken by the brand, versus a more generic standard, is one way to cut through the clutter of competing messages. Unique product tracking numbers and QR codes that provide access to brand-specific climate action initiatives allow for tailored messaging that can build trust and credibility with consumers.
Climate action is increasingly important to incorporate into a brand’s value proposition to customers and consumers. The four steps listed above will enable brand managers to take clear and meaningful actions — which, in turn, can help to connect with consumers and differentiate products in the market. While branding can encompass numerous competing priorities, one clear way to help shape your product and brand, as well as to gain a competitive advantage in the market, is to proactively engage and in climate action strategies and communicate your actions.