Building trust in your brand’s sustainability credentials will be crucial to future loyalty, bosses at Pernod Ricard have claimed.

During a panel hosted by the drinks group at TFWA World Exhibition and Conference, speakers stated that environmental and social responsibility concerns were overtaking many others in consumers’ purchasing choices, and that a proven record of action on sustainability issues was one of the best ways to avoid accusations of ‘greenwashing’ (a misleading use of ‘green’ claims in PR and marketing to make a company’s policies or actions seem more eco-friendly).

In his introduction, the panel’s chair, behavioural scientist Philip Adcock, quoted from a study by Mindset which found that 62 per cent of shoppers expect more sustainable options when shopping in duty free when compared with traditional retail – stressing the importance for brands to shore up both their strategies and their communications for this channel.

Vanessa Wright, chief sustainability officer at Pernod Ricard, said that “powerful” global brands had a duty to communicate with consumers regarding sustainability initiatives. She outlined actions the company has already taken as part of its ‘Good Times from a Good Place’ sustainability strategy, including working with farming communities in Mexico to responsibly source coffee beans for Kalúha, and packaging redesigns for brands including Chivas Regal, Royal Salute and Absolut to reduce material consumption. She added: “We see [our sustainability strategy] really strongly as an opportunity to drive change and innovate and reduce cost.”

Joanna Yarrow, founding partner at M&C Saatchi Life, said that a reluctance to communicate on sustainability initiatives – so-called “green-hushing” – could be as detrimental to the industry as greenwashing. “[Consumers] are not going to switch their brand allegiance unless they have real evidence of it. Be honest and open about things that you get wrong and show how you are going to address them, because…we get this paralysis, we don’t want to do anything unless we get it right,” she said.

Melanie Guilldou, group EVP of food service and CSR at Lagardère Travel Retail, concurred. “Sometimes we avoid communicating what we are doing because we are afraid of ‘greenwashing’. If we are not communicating before we are fully ready, we may never be fully ready, so we may never communicate. But we need to explain to customers, and they need to understand that we are doing our best… It is important also for our teams in the field, we need our teams not to be afraid and to be proud.”

Guilldou also noted that the meaning of ‘sustainability’ could shift between continents, from carbon emissions reduction to diversity and inclusion. Lagardère’s own sustainability strategy, Peps (standing for ‘Planet, Ethics, People, Social’) has been devised to reflect this.

Mohit Lal, CEO at Pernod Ricard Global Travel Retail, said companies should take care not to view sustainability as something external to their core business. 

“You are earning the trust of your stockholders on the efforts you are making in terms of what you are doing and specific actions you are taking and if you use that as the foundation of your communication externally – ‘my purpose is to build trust, I am doing everything that it is in my capacity to do in the timeframe we have’ – you are going to start not to worry about greenwashing, because you set up a platform of credibility that drives trust. If you do communication that is far-fetched, that you cannot reach, without tangible evidence of the fact that you are starting to exact in any shape or form, you are going to get caught out,” he said.

“The image of brands versus the trust of brands is the big swing that is starting to happen. Before, you associated with brands because of how the brands helped you with your image, but that is not the issue now. The future generations will stick with brands that they can trust, so what you are really trying to do is, how do you build trust in those stockholders, and so long as you use that as your key reason to drive initiatives you should not be worried about those who try to pull you down.”

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