Sustainability – not just a front anymore

This week two articles caught my attention. The first article in Business Standard talks about how Indians are open to choosing sustainability over their size of pay cheque. And this change has been transitioned and fast tracked by the ongoing raging pandemic.

This survey by IBM Institute targeted over 14,000 consumers from 9 countries. The most heartening observation of this survey is that over 9 out of 10 consumers reported that COVID 19 has changed their views on environmental sustainability.

Some India Specific Statistics are as below:

  1. Over 70% respondents from India directly associated climate risk with financial risk.
  2. Over 93% of Indians responded their personal mode of transportation has an impact over climate change, even if miniscule and are actively looking for sustainable and environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
  3. 78% of those surveyed from India are willing to change their purchasing decisions to reduce the negative impact on the environment.
  4. 85% respondents felt that employers who had a clear plan for sustainability were more attractive.
  5. 63% respondents conduct thorough research on the health and well-being products before purchase.

Indian companies are now up against investors who demand more sustainability initiatives and potential talent that is well-aware of a company’s policies on sustainability and are more driven than ever to be associated with organisations with purpose.

Just how aware is aware? Today’s consumers are wary of companies trying to simply create a perception of sustainability.

Take the case of the recent announcement by H&M. They announced the well-known Game of Thrones actor ‘’Maisie Williams’’ as their Sustainability ambassador. In a social media post, Maisie Williams posted the following and both the brand and the ambassador faced much criticism from its consumers and sustainability activists.

“I am pleased to finally share the news of my partnership with H&M as Global Sustainability Ambassador and I cannot wait for you all to see what we have been working on.” the actor wrote in the caption.

People simply called out Maisie Williams for supporting H&M’s greenwashing methods.

What exactly is greenwashing, and this is a very important term in sustainability.

“Greenwashing is the process of conveying false, wrong and misleading information that a certain company’s products are environmentally inclined.”

H&M in all its years has propagated fast fashion and therefore this initiative is simply ridiculous making people wonder how fast fashion and can ever be green and hence the term greenwashing for bringing a celebrity to do the cleaning up and making people believe that they may be inclined to green fashion!

Instead of resorting to green washing and posting a front for sustainability, activists called for fair wages, fair trade and use of biomaterials. To put it simply, H&M’s legacy of fast fashion has always been unsustainable and therefore to embark on sustainability, there is a need for a clear action plan rather than fronting a celebrity endorsement for sustainability. People demand actions and not a mere lip-service. Another activist also pointed out how H&M has taken no measures to stop gender-based violence in their factories or pay fair living wages to the labor but can put dollars behind a celebrity endorsement for a cause they have not presented a plan on.

The writing on the wall is clear. Companies that have a clear intent and vision for their sustainability and environmental issues will grow and gain the trust and respect of its consumers, employees, communities, and investors. Merely a lip service is no longer enough.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Nadhiya Mali
Nadhiya Mali is a communications professional with a 13-year experience in PR, reputation management, CSR, and Sustainability. Currently she leads the Corporate Communications of one of India’s leading chains of laboratories.

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