Trust, Truth and Tribalism

04.04.12 | Blog

Trust, Truth and Tribalism:

The New Rules of Sustainable Consumption

I gotta say, it’s tough for manufacturers of green products and services these days. If they keep quiet about their sustainability innovations, consumers are suspicious – what is company X hiding? Why aren’t they participating in the green economy? If, on the other hand, a company touts its green achievements online and on pack, consumers interpret this in one of two ways, either accusing the company of greenwashing, or ignoring the green messaging altogether. So how does a responsible, innovative organization connect with its consumers to communicate its sustainability successes? Essentially, how does a company communicate the truth about its efforts, in order to build trust and tribalism amongst its customers?

I had the pleasure of exploring this delicate balance during a panel I chaired at the recent GLOBE conference in Vancouver, the largest environmental conference and trade show in Canada. With leaders from a rich array of industries such as quick service restaurants, furniture, beer and rewards programs, we explored ways that the architecture of trust, truth and tribalism could help propel their sustainability efforts.

Ben Packard, Global VP of Responsibility for Starbucks, said the company responded to repeated consumer queries about the recyclability of its ubiquitous cups. While the organization had for years been leading the way in greening the coffee supply chain and had committed to building only LEED-certified cafes (Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design), consumers only saw the cups piling up. More meaningful, thought Starbucks, were the efficient heating and cooling systems in their cafes and the social and environmental benefits of promoting responsible agriculture amongst their suppliers. With the cups, the visible became meaningful and Starbucks now has a robust recycling program in place.

For the National Brewers, representing Molson Coors, Labatt’s and Sleeman’s, the tried and true practice of returning empty bottles for reuse represents a huge environmental win long before it was trendy to be green. Director of Sustainability, Brian Zeiler-Kligman says, “On average, our bottles are reused 15 times before going into a glass recycling line.” With 1.2 billion bottles of beer sold every year in Ontario, and brewers only buying 93 million bottles, reused bottles equate to a steady market of over $100 million. Zeiler-Kligman’s message? The economics must be in place in order for the environmental change to have staying power.

For Air Miles for Social Change President, Andreas Souvaliotis, non-monetary rewards are the way to engage Canadians in positive environmental behaviour change. As committed points chasers, Canadians “will go to any length” to build their balance. Souvaliotis and his team leverage this intrinsic motivation to build partnerships with retailers, utilities and others in order to incent Canadians to buy local, save energy and participate in other green consumerism. Given the growth of the company’s business in the last few years, the model seems to be working.

The panelists agreed that companies must come clean when it comes to communicating sustainability. They must be truthful in order to gain consumers’ trust. And that truth needs to come from a variety of trusted sources such as NGOs, social media, governments and even neighbours. Only in this way will consumers become ambassadors creating the type of tribalism that builds brands and builds sustainability through sustainable consumption.


Anthony Watanabe,
President & CEO,
The Innovolve Group


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