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September 26, 2022

How To Build an Ecommerce Strategy Framework for Communicating Your Sustainability Efforts

Written by: Alexandra Alves

Consumers increasingly want to spend their hard-earned money with brands that align with their values.

Sustainability is one value that’s top of mind for many.

Eleven percent of U.S. shoppers will even pay more for "an eco-friendly product," according to Salsify’s "Consumer Research 2022" report. Separate research from The Conference Board finds that "more than 70% of urban and Gen Z shoppers say a brand's actions on climate would influence their purchasing choices ‘very much’ or ‘quite a bit.’"

With sustainability becoming a more significant factor in consumer behavior and purchasing decisions, it’s critical for companies to integrate sustainability into their business strategy — and do so authentically.

It’s possible for companies to do well with good (and green) intentions, as consumers are increasingly looking at brands to lead the way with sustainability.

Here’s how your company can build an ecommerce strategy framework for communicating your sustainability efforts.

What Is Sustainability?

There’s no single universally accepted definition of sustainability, but the United Nations defines it as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

In a business context, you can view sustainability through the lens of a business’s impact on the environment and society as a whole, according to the Harvard Business School. This can take shape in several ways, depending on the nature of the business.

For example, a company may only use sustainable or recycled materials to make its products. It may only work with eco-friendly suppliers, set targets to reduce energy and fuel consumption in its manufacturing processes, or establish benchmarks to lower emissions throughout its supply chain.

However, sustainability is also about more than climate and the environment. More than ever, consumers view sustainability not just in the context of protecting the environment, but also through the lens of fair prices, wages, working conditions, and overall good corporate citizenship, according to The Conference Board’s research.

With this backdrop, brands need to make a concerted effort to focus on sustainability. Otherwise, they risk shrinking their audience and the number of consumers willing to buy their products and services.

The Business Case for Sustainability

Shifting consumer sentiment now compels brands to incorporate sustainability into their strategy, but there’s another compelling reason: Their competitors are becoming more sustainability-minded.

Sustainability in the Wild: Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, and H&M

Many companies are adopting sustainability practices, including Ralph Lauren, Levi’s, and H&M.

Ralph Lauren has committed to reducing greenhouse emissions throughout its supply chain, set a goal to reduce and eventually eliminate all hazardous materials in its manufacturing processes, is committed to using sustainable packaging, and is integrating zero-waste principles across its operations, among other sustainability initiatives.

Levi’s is focused on increasing water conservation in its manufacturing processes, conducting energy audits to make its factories more energy-efficient, and focused on circularity — a principle centered around maximizing reuse and minimizing material waste.

In 2013, H&M became the first global fashion retailer to launch a garment collection program. The program collects and recycles customers’ old clothes. H&M then either markets and resells items that are gently used as secondhand clothing (rewear), converts these materials into products such as cleaning cloths or remade clothing collections (reuse), or shreds the materials into textile fibers for various uses, such as insulation (recycle). In addition to these efforts, H&M launched a rental service in 2019 in its Stockholm, Sweden, store to give eco-conscious consumers more opportunities to support its sustainability efforts.

The Growing Secondhand Market

Along with the sustainability initiatives being rolled out by these big-name brands, the secondhand market is also growing within ecommerce. Clothing rental companies like Rent the Runway and Nuuly are advancing sustainability by taking part in the circular economy, allowing millions of consumers to rent secondhand clothing instead of buying new items that will require tons of environmental resources to create. In the process, the companies are helping to divert waste from landfills and reduce carbon emissions.

From Ralph Lauren to Nuuly, the companies referenced above are not only sustainability-minded; they clearly and transparently communicate this focus in their messaging. As other companies launch or advance their own initiatives, they can learn something from these brands about how to develop an effective ecommerce strategy framework around sustainability.

Ecommerce Strategy Framework: 4 Best Practices for Communicating Your Sustainability Efforts

How your brand communicates its sustainability strategy makes a big difference, so you need to develop the right ecommerce strategy framework. Here are four ways your company can accomplish this:

1. Develop Your Brand Story

Your company should evaluate its existing brand messaging and determine whether it reinforces your sustainability efforts and effectively conveys your company’s values. All the information on your website and social media channels should be up-to-date and accurately reflect your current sustainability practices and goals.

When you tell your brand’s sustainability story, it shouldn’t have corporate jargon and platitudes. Instead, it should be authentic and communicate in plain language why sustainability has become an integral part of your operations.

2. Make Your Strategy Visible

Along with clearly communicating your company’s sustainability story, you also need to make this information accessible to consumers, investors, and other members of your target audience.

As mentioned prior, many companies have dedicated pages on their website that convey their sustainability efforts. However, this is just table stakes. As your company develops or advances its sustainability strategy, it’s important to ask yourself if people can clearly see where your sustainability priorities lie — and whether customers are aware of your company's specific actions.

Patagonia is a great example to reference. On its website, "activism" is right next to "shop" at the very top of the homepage.

3. Collaborate With Partners To Ensure Messaging Is Aligned

Ensuring your brand’s sustainability messaging is on point is a great start, but you should also ensure your partners’ messaging aligns.

Many companies deal with dozens, if not hundreds, of vendors across their supply chain, as well as retail partners. If this is true for your brand, make sure you and your partners share a similar approach to sustainability — and that you all are communicating in a harmonious way.

For example, if your company touts the fact that it uses sustainable packaging on its website, make sure your main suppliers also do the same or are moving in a similar direction.

Nothing undermines public trust more than confusing or conflicting messaging, so make sure sustainability communications from your company, your vendors, and your partners are all cohesive.

4. Be Authentic

It’s one thing to say your company believes in sustainability, it’s an entirely different thing to invest and allocate resources to it.

For your company’s efforts to be successful and impactful, you need to be authentic — and transparent — in your sustainability ecommerce strategy framework and messaging.

If your company has sustainability goals, you should publicly state them. Doing so will let customers know where you stand, and, in turn, hold your organization accountable.

You also need to allocate budget to these initiatives — whether you follow in the footsteps of H&M and launch a dedicated sustainability-oriented program or take Levi’s approach and gradually transform your manufacturing processes.

It’s also important to track your progress and let the public know how close you are to achieving your sustainability goals. Transparency requires data, so it’s crucial to share stats and be open about where you’ve fallen short of your goal — and what you’re doing to correct these shortcomings and improve in the near future.

Putting Sustainability Front and Center

Ultimately, boosting your company’s positive impact on the environment and society requires an ongoing commitment. Now more than ever, consumers want to do business with companies that also do good. They want to know that what they invest in your brand pays dividends in the form of a healthier environment, a more sustainable climate, and better business practices that improve the lives of employees and local communities.

However, customers won’t realize this if you don’t clearly and authentically communicate your message. Establishing an ecommerce strategy framework for your sustainability messaging can help your brand demonstrate its commitment to these practices and powerfully convey your company values.

Ready for more insights on how to stand out on the digital shelf? Learn more about the Digital Shelf Institute.