How do you become a sustainable business? Take action. How do you become known as a sustainable business? Effective storytelling.
Sustainability storytelling, the art of communicating a brand’s commitment to environmental and social responsibility, has emerged as a powerful tool for businesses seeking to engage and connect with their target audience on a deeper level.
Finding unique differentiators, using evidence-based models, and obtaining relevant accreditations are all great ways for hospitality businesses to authentically communicate their sustainability efforts.
The topic of sustainability should be a dynamic and evolving story with an emphasis on progress and learning. In any business, sustainability has got to be a collaborative effort, relying upon communication and shared values with staff, suppliers, stakeholders and customers. An effective sustainability story has many authors that are all on the same page.
Exploring the power of authentic storytelling, the pitfalls of greenwashing/green-hushing and the importance of respected third-party verification, we share our top considerations for businesses looking to weave the sustainability narrative into their marketing efforts.
Establishing your company values
When you sit down as a business and internally scrutinise your long-term strategy, where does sustainability feature in that conversation? Is it mentioned when you talk culture? Design? Branding? Are your values centered on integrity, transparency or responsibility? If sustainability isn’t a key consideration in the majority of these areas, the narrative isn’t there yet. Internal buy-in has got to be the starting point before external messaging can be authentically executed.
Starting a narrative
To begin your narrative, it helps to benchmark your current impact. The only effective way to accurately report on progress is to have a reference point that you can compare with. There are a growing number of measurement tools emerging in the industry to help businesses and event planners track progress, such as isla’s carbon measurement tool, TRACE and Greengage’s new EVENTsmart carbon calculator.
Next, for your story to resonate, you need to identify and segment your target audiences and understand exactly why your sustainability initiatives are of interest and value to each of them. These are likely to differ per audience.
Finding your niche
Successful sustainable initiatives can sometimes look invisible. A guest might visit a hotel or venue none the wiser that their honey comes from on-site beehives, or blind to the fascinating stories behind repurposed furniture. As well as potentially losing out on future business as demand to demonstrate sustainable credentials builds, you’re also missing out on a vital education piece. Authentic storytelling is the key to bridging the gap of knowledge within the industry and beyond.
While sustainability as a whole is a widely covered topic, the beauty of it from a storytelling perspective is that every narrative is different. Every recycled bottle has taken a different journey and made a different impact. To find your storytelling niche, you’ve got to educate yourselves as businesses in understanding the backstories of your products and the goal they’re working towards. This is where the collaboration piece, particularly with suppliers, is key.
Greenwashing and Green-hushing
The absence of a sustainability narrative could be defined as green-hushing. This refers to the act of staying intentionally quiet about your business’ progress to avoid criticism and accountability. While perhaps an innocent approach, the lack of this messaging piece could well be losing you business.
Its more well-known counterpart, greenwashing, is also incredibly damaging to your reputation and credibility. The antithesis of authenticity, this refers to the act of making misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the environmental benefits of a product or service.
According to Booking.com’s 2023 Sustainable Travel Report, 69% of global travellers want to know exactly what is meant when a travel business claims it is sustainable. Specificity and relevance in your messaging are key to avoiding greenwashing. Instead of making vague claims, provide specific details about your sustainable practices. Highlight attributes such as using organic materials or renewable energy sources.
Make additional data available, even if it’s behind the scenes, to substantiate your claims without disrupting your narrative. Demonstrating transparency and accountability is crucial when building trust with your audience.
Accreditations and verification
Accreditation and verification play a vital role in establishing authenticity. Understanding the most relevant and credible third-party accreditors will help you to be perceived as a legitimate sustainable business.
Not only do accreditations/certifications validate the work your business is doing, they’re also increasingly being used by online search engines to filter results for event planners or consumers looking specifically for a sustainable business. Since Venue Directory launched its accreditation search tool in 2021 which can filter by accreditations such as Green Tourism, ECOsmart and Green Key, membership has grown by 36%, demonstrating the rise in demand. This could mean you’re paying for listing sites but missing out instantly on leads because you don’t have the right accreditations to reach their searches.
To explore the services Custard can offer your business to help sculpt its sustainability story, build the profile of its ambassadors and advocate change in the industry, get in touch with our team.