The Time is Right for Authenticity

Windmills across horizon

The actions of the current White House administration leave many with questions. Early on, the EPA had been frozen. Then came the executive order to “remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.” Most recently, the United States has pulled out of the Paris climate accords. And there has been no official message on where the administration stands on climate change.

This is a time of uncertainty, with speculation around how (or if) the new administration will do anything to support or reward efforts related to climate change. As part of the C-suite, you may have spent the past eight years honing your sustainability message around the regulations required of you and the trend to operate with an increasing focus on the triple bottom line. In doing so, you may have begun your journey into energy efficiency begrudgingly, but then over time came to realize the savings were real. Or, maybe you’ve always done what you had to do, but were never wholeheartedly into it. Or perhaps you’ve cultivated a success story around sustainability, causing stakeholders to now regard it as a crucial element to your business.

This sea of change begs the question: When it comes to sustainability, what is the best course of action moving forward? Is it smart to continue promoting sustainability practices and energy-efficiency measures as the new administration downplays their importance? Will it have a negative impact on business if a company touts a message that is seemingly in opposition to what the commander in chief of the United States believes is right? Will your stakeholders look at your sustainability measures as “staying the course and doing the right thing,” or will they see those efforts as wasted under a government that won’t reward them, and a practice that negatively impacts the bottom line?

The answer lies within the soul of your company. If sustainability can be tied back to your values, the vision for the company and your business goals, then your message will be authentic.

In today’s world — no matter the industry — authenticity plays. In a survey compiled by Bonfire Marketing, “authenticity” outranks product utility, brand appeal and brand popularity when it comes to appealing to customers, and provides a better ROI — 63% of those surveyed will buy from authentic brands over competitors that hide their true selves.

Consumers want to buy products from responsible brands. Millennials (now the majority workforce) want to be employed with responsible companies, and many businesses require that the companies they partner with share their same values. Sustainability has become part of that value system. We’ve seen sustainability win — but was it winning because we were encouraged to put sustainability at the forefront of business by a pro-green government? After all, whole industries were encouraged to implement energy-efficient measures in order to remain in compliance with federal mandates and state regulations and, therefore, remain competitive.

Now that the “training wheels” are coming off, companies that may have begun their sustainability story with the minimum requirements have an opportunity to show their stakeholders how well they can do with their own free will. They have the chance to say, “Look at what we’re doing and how it has worked for everyone involved. Look at what we will continue to do because we have seen that it’s right and it supports who we are as a company and where we want to go in the future.” It’s a much more powerful message than, “Look at what we’re doing because we have to do it.”

Can a sustainability message still work after all the politicizing and greenwashing that’s taken place over the last decade? “Green” was the buzzword for best practices — whether it was coming from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the owner of a local gym. The ubiquity of the sustainability message diluted its meaning and value, making it feel gimmicky. It was akin to the $5.00 item that’s suddenly promoted on sale for $4.99 — and consumers can see through that. Authenticity isn’t about a “penny and a promo.” It must be cultivated from a company’s foundation and roots. It’s about passion rather than promotion. A mantra rather than a message.

Change is imminent. New administrations will continue to come into power, new trends will surface, the world will turn and people will evolve. What makes a company successful — and what makes consumers care — is the ability to stay true to who you are and what you stand for. If sustainability is part of that story, shout it from the solar-covered rooftops.