Sustainability in 2021: Why your PR matters now more than ever

By Pelican consultant

3 minute read

Key Takeaways:

  • Younger generations are more invested in sustainability than ever before
  • Environmental credentials can attract a large and loyal following
  • Unsubstantiated claims will alienate customers

Generation Z now makes up roughly a quarter of the global workforce, and with a buying power “in excess of £100billion”, it is the world’s fastest growing consumer segment which may soon surpass millennials as the largest. Gen Zers, though often lumped in with millennials as one cohort, have a distinct identity from their predecessors, and are far more radical when it comes to sustainability.

Why highlight sustainability as a PR strategy?

According to a recent study, 93% of Generation Z believe brands are obliged to take a stance on environmental issues. Not only that, the majority of those surveyed are willing to spend an additional 10% on sustainable products. Whilst these companies will profit from Gen Z’s eco-mindedness, businesses which do not embrace sustainability risk being boycotted.

Why is Gen Z boycotting unsustainable companies?

Unlike millennials, who tend to form attachments to a core group of brands and stick with them through thick and thin, Gen Zers are less sentimental and more likely to abandon a company if its actions offend them. In a recent survey, 40% of Gen Zers reported they had boycotted brands in the past (as opposed to sixteen percent of millennials), with 49% considering boycotts in the immediate future.

Hence, being seen to make sustainable change is valuable publicity for any company targeting this audience. Understandably, embellishing the facts might be a tempting shortcut, but if your eco-friendliness is shallow or exaggerated, you could be accused of green washing and that can have dire consequences.

Green washing versus green marketing

Green washing is different from green marketing. Levi’s, for example, encourages shoppers to buy better, longer lasting clothes and have their clothes adjusted in store, often at no extra cost, thus extending their wearability and saving on waste clothing. This “buy better, wear longer” initiative is honest, green marketing that helps the planet and the brand’s public image.

Green washing is an attempt to deceive customers into believing a company is more ethical or sustainable than it is; the backlash can be damaging for a brand.

For example, Eni, the Italian oil company, was fined €5 million for naming its new palm oil-based fuel, “Green Eni Diesel+” and falsely claiming it was good for the environment. Likewise, the fast-fashion brand H&M attempted to change its environmentally careless image in response boycotts over wasted clothing. The Swedish company released a more eco-friendly “conscious” range but faced even greater backlash when the collection proved less sustainable than advertised.

When implemented honestly, sustainable initiatives will attract Gen Zers to align themselves with a brand because of perceived shared values. However, lacklustre publicity stunts and green washing will only serve to alienate this cohort, so green campaigns should be expertly handled.

If you have a sustainability initiative you would like to promote, or need advice on a green public relations campaign, get in touch with our team of experts today.

Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment & CSRfoodpackaging & logistics and trade association sectors and offers a range of services such as strategydesigncontent creationpublic relations and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.