How to marketing sustainability without greenwashing – Louisa Holbrook

Louisa Holbrook, Head of Sustainability at Brompton Bicycle
In this webinar we will explore what sustainability is and isn’t, how marketers can avoid greenwashing, and how to work with your team to produce more sustainable activities.

Table of Contents

What is and isn’t sustainability?

The number one people get wrong is that they feel there is a silver bullet to sustainability. Sustainability isn’t a finish line – it’s a journey of continuous improvement. You don’t become a ‘sustainable’ – you just travel further along the line.

It also isn’t one thing anymore. It’s an idea that has developed over the time:

It’s environmental, it’s social, it’s value to society, it’s value to business, it’s value to our direct communities and supply chain. It’s about looking at the problems that humans face.

Whoa there. That’s a lot of things. How do you begin to prioritise?

It comes down to focus. And you find focus through first gathering data. Louisa suggested some places you can find inspiration and start actually making a difference: 

  • Mapping out your impact on all the above factors. Understanding where you are currently.
  • Materiality assessments
  • Comparison with the industry
  • Seeing what the legislation is telling us 

The output of all this is deciding what the priority will be: what is within your power to change. For example, this year for Louisa is all about focusing on reducing carbon. She knows there will be much more at a later date to tackle – but for now it’s about chunking down the challenge into a way that is easier to tackle for her, but also her company. The advice: pick your battle!

It’s about the foundations!

Ultimately – this is about creating sustainability foundations of a responsible, accountable and purpose driven company. 

And when these foundations are allowed to grow: that’s when you start building a strong, integrated company that is making a business and sustainable impact.

So… is this an issue of morals, or is this an issue of commercial reality?

For Louisa, it’s a balance. 

For example, there are a lot of projects Louisa works on that save a lot of money such as projects that reduce waste in the business. Less waste = more efficiency = huge savings.

There are other elements that cost money. Louisa may look down the supply chain and decide people need to be paid more, or there needs to be greater transparency which requires investment.

Louisa will show where she’s saved money so the conversations about spending it are easier. But, it’s also about grounding this and saying it’s an investment: prioritising sustainability in all it’s forms will create better businesses for the future.

But bear in mind that consumers are increasingly coming to a place where they’re asking these questions. They’re capable of receiving raw messages around sustainability and are tuned into the issues surrounding it. One of the quotes from the session was: “Sustainability isn’t a nice to have – it’s a licence to operate.”

As small business owners/teams – what are the things we can do?

Start with a code of conduct! Check out the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) and their code of conduct. Copy and paste it, and you’re aligned with more or less everyone else in the industry. 

It can also just be a list of a few things that you believe: as simple as six bullets – things that you stand by and truly believe.

And once you have that code of conduct, bring it to life by standing by it. A code of conduct isn’t just about having the document – it’s about bringing people on the journey. Share it with your suppliers/clients. Share it with the team. Make sure everyone is living by it and understanding the value that living by your code of conduct will actually bring to them.

It’s important to know here, once you start taking a stand like this: you will probably start finding things that contradict the code of conduct. But, that’s kind of the point! It’s not about being ‘right’ and ‘perfect’, it’s about being on the journey. As we started this write up with: it’s not a finish line, it’s a journey. Sometimes, it’s just about taking the first steps!

What’s the role of marketing in all of this?

It’s about translation! A lot of the sustainability conversation is layered in technical information. That’s great and important, but for employees and customers alike to understand the important messages – they need marketing!

Louisa suggested a campaign they may run internally would be ‘there are 850 vacancies in the sustainability department’ to drive home the message to the 850 members of staff that sustainability is all of their responsibilities.

So what about greenwashing?

Greenwashing, in Louisa’s mind at least, is about a stretching of the truth or having an element of dishonesty in your communications. For example, promoting a product as ‘being made out of recycled plastics’ when, in fact, it’s only made of 5% recycled plastics.

There are other forms of 

  • Greenblushing – Where you’re actually doing a fair bit, but not speaking about it. This isn’t a good place either – because we can’t inspire change if we’re not having the right conversations.
  • Greenhushing – The fear of saying something and being shouted down by people in response for not quite saying the right thing in the right way, despite good intentions.

So how do you avoid these things?

Honestly, it’s just about transparency and having a plan. Everything we’ve spoken about so far. 

  • Acknowledge it’s a journey
  • Plan out what you would like to do, and need to do
  • And be transparent around what you are doing 

It’s not about one-hit wonders – it’s about creating real change.