Responsible retailing and the conscious consumer: key takeaways for best-practice communications

FTI joined the Financial Times’ virtual Future of Retail event, hearing from global consumer brands on “Responsible retailing: How can businesses redefine their ESG goals post-crises” and “The Conscious Consumer: Who will pay for a sustainable future?”. The panellists raised fascinating perspectives and insights into trends, opportunities and challenges for the sector in embedding sustainability into their strategies and what this means for consumers. There is much confusion around what “sustainable” means – an issue addressed earlier this month by the UK Competition and Markets Authority’s “Green claims code”. When “sustainably-made” products usually come at a premium, how can the consumer know that their choice to spend more will really make an impact? And more importantly, how can a brand help a customer who thinks in a sustainable way, transform intention into action? Here we discuss our key takeaways for consumer brands looking to communicate effectively – and show leadership – on embedding sustainability into their strategy and reputation.

Demonstrate transparency

No single entity has all the answers, nor is any business perfect, but when you tell your customers you are trying to be more sustainable, you need be able to show that it’s true. Be honest about where you are in your journey and remain accountable when setting goals and targets. Transparency is critical for building trust and loyalty, and even though not all consumers will want to know the full story, it needs to be accessible for those who do. In addition to overarching goals, listing KPIs, timeframes and progress is also a key component of building trust. Never more relevant than in today’s world of instant digital connectivity, giving greater ability for stakeholders to scrutinise, research and compare is an incredible risk but also an opportunity for those who harness the power of social media. A dedicated sustainability webpage or section of an integrated report that articulates your ESG strategy is essential for transparency – but – to ensure you are reaching all consumers and wider stakeholder groups, consider using social media, events and interviews or op-eds as ways to spread the message and talk about your progress in an accessible way.

Tailor to your audience

Appreciating the differing views within your audience about sustainability and adjusting your communications accordingly is key. Brands have a huge responsibility in helping customers to move from intention to action when it comes to consuming more consciously. Understanding how to make these products appeal to them is a priority, not least to help future-proof the industry. Young consumers grew up immersed in the topics of sustainability and climate change, exposed to these themes at school, and are seen to have a better understanding and a higher expectation when it comes to ESG. Another issue raised by panellists was the concept of eco-products being marketed as “luxury” items, and how this can alienate customers. Could changing the packaging, design, and description used for a more sustainably produced product help or hinder customers from making the choice to buy a more eco product? How to present sustainable products and initiatives in an appropriate and appealing way is unique to each brand, and no one knows your customers better than you.

Take ownership of relevant topics

Take ownership of your authority in your space and tackle topics that are most relevant to your business. Panellists at the FT’s responsible retailing discussion were great examples of doing this well; we heard representatives for food and beverage specialists, Kraft Heinz talking about soil quality, farming techniques and the use of pesticides, and Coca-Cola sharing their expertise in innovating around packaging, plastics and refill systems. In addition to undermining a company’s credibility, lack of relevance switches off consumers’ attention as the environmental benefit becomes too detached from the product they are buying, and they may find it hard to see the tangible impact of their choice especially where there’s a price differential. Thankfully, many organisations are taking action to improve their sustainability and we are seeing this especially in the run up to COP 26; unhelpfully, this creates a challenge for standing out as a real leader with relevant and impactful ideas. Being specific and owning solutions for the challenges in your supply chain means you’re able to be more genuine about your impact, and can capture a better share of voice, as well as building trust with customers.

In conclusion, sustainability is a huge topic for any business to navigate and shifting to more environmentally-friendly practices requires a rethink of all business processes, from how resources are used, supply chains are organised and employee performance is measured. On top of that, businesses have been assigned responsibility for educating their consumers and facilitating a transition to more eco-friendly habits. Staying true to your product, owning your challenges and staying transparent and accountable are must-dos for any company that wants to be taken seriously in ESG. In a time where people are either inundated or left in a vacuum of information when it comes to sustainability, it is more important than ever before for brands to demonstrate transparency, tailor to their audience, and remain authentic and true to their business when talking about sustainability.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.

©2021 FTI Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

January 26, 2022

Oversight and Investigations Informer – January 24, 2022


January 26, 2022

IR Monitor – 26th January 2022

Investor Relations News With Unilever facing criticism from long term investors, we begin this week with a reminder of t...

January 25, 2022

FTI Consulting Appoints Patrick Tucker to Lead Strategic Communications’ M&A and Activism Practice in the Americas