More than 90% of consumers say brand transparency is important to making a buying decision.
Whether it’s fair trade, social impact, environmental policy, organic or cruelty-free, you need to support your claims and be transparent with your customers.
Caption: Reddish coloured T-shirt from Patagonia with transparent manufacturing information.
As a business based on ethical principles, being able to prove your claims should already be part of your organisation’s DNA. Before approaching the media, it’s vital to check your standards and prepare to demonstrate your claims.
If you have work to do on your transparency, focus on that first. Raise your profile among journalists later.
In this post, I’ll walk through three transparency lessons from national environmental journalist, Anna Turns, and five ways to provide evidence to support your claims. Also, Anna's new book, Go Toxic Free, is now on sale.
3 lessons on transparency
Anna, who writes for titles including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Resurgence, Positive News and HuffPost, has first-hand experience of meeting businesses that might use ‘sustainability’ labels or wording that aren’t regulated.
Caption: Photo of Anna Turns smiling with trees and a body of water in the background.
Anna says it’s her job as a journalist with expertise in this area to hold business leaders accountable whilst showcasing the pioneers who are successfully making positive change and pioneering green innovation.
Also a member of the Integrity Council for Provenance, she says that more questions need to be asked to dig that little bit deeper and ensure transparency.
1. Make claims with proof
All too often, businesses use terms like eco-friendly, green, and sustainable without any evidence proving their product is any of those things. Making false claims about your environmental impact is greenwashing, which is not only unethical but also detrimental to your brand’s image.
“Without evidence of traceability and accountability, media coverage could potentially backfire and damage your reputation. It’s pretty easy for specialist journalists to spot greenwashing, and attempts of exaggerating for the sake of a story rarely works. We can see through the spin".
Be specific. What’s better than saying you have an eco-friendly product? Showing it. Share exactly which components of the product are minimising harm and maximising benefits to the environment.
2. Broadcast what you’re doing well
“I’m always wary of greenwashing but equally I’m always on the lookout for great untold stories,” Anna shared.
From minimising the environmental impact of your supply chain to your social impact efforts, your story has a place in media.
Make sure you’re sharing exactly how you’re having an impact through your business.
“You don’t need to be perfect when you start out with PR but measurable targets and goals are helpful – don’t be vague, be accountable,” Anna said.
3. Share what you need to improve
There’s a tendency to want to keep negative information to ourselves. We don’t want to share where we’ve missed the mark.
Companies trying to improve their supply chain don’t want to mention how much further they have to go to become more sustainable. They don’t want to broadcast the fact that their “eco-friendly” apparel travels through eight different countries, emitting tonnes of carbon through transnational flights.
But sharing the areas you need to improve is a sure fire way to build trust and loyalty with customers.
Credit: Ace & Tate
One great example of transparency is in this press release from Ace & Tate. The eyeglass company wanted to make their sustainable choices tangible, so they developed a case with bamboo fibre. But they soon realised that looking sustainable doesn’t mean it's the same as being sustainable.
“We realised that by adding bamboo fibre to the product, the recyclability would significantly decrease,” they explained. “We take responsibility for the impact our actions have on the environment and strive to reduce that impact.”
Anna says being open and honest about setbacks and challenges is important to gaining PR coverage.
“It not only tells me that you have nothing to hide, but also that you’re aware of the bigger picture and it’s an opportunity for you to show you know your stuff,” she said.
“Be upfront about what you’re actively doing to make your brand more ethical or sustainable.” Anna Turns
How to demonstrate your impact with authenticity
Words matter. If you say you’re eco-friendly, be prepared with a list of resources and information that prove it. What can you offer the press to back up your claims?
Here are five ways to show evidence of your impact.
1. Testimonials from customers
Testimonials are powerful marketing tools for a reason. By sharing your customers’ reviews and testimonials, you add credibility and reliability to your brand.
2. Up-to-date impact reports
Want to communicate your impact effectively? Share your latest impact report. Include what went well, the challenges you’re facing, and how you plan to improve in the future.
3. Scientific research
Scientific research goes a long way in building brand credibility. If you’re making the claim that one ingredient leads to a specific result, make sure you’re backing that up with links to scientific studies and peer-reviewed papers.
Caption: Covered glass beakers filled with green plants on a wireframe shelf.
Have you done any internal or external audits? Whether it’s an ethical audit of your internal policies and procedures, or an audit of your supply chain’s sustainability, share your findings with journalists.
Are your products certified organic or cruelty-free or zero carbon? Compile a list of such evidence to demonstrate your commitment to working towards the greater good. Even better, add them to your website, newsletter footers, email signatures and to other prominent places where people will see them.
For more advice on avoiding greenwashing your PR, contact Elma: email@example.com.