Leading or Misleading in product communications: Communicate clear and transparently

This blog part of the blogseries ‘Leading or Misleading’ on transparent product communications around  sustainability and health. Read its intro [here].

The key to marketing sustainable and healthy products is making the story informative, but still simple and preferred. But how do you provide transparency, whilst not overcomplicating things? What we’ve seen in the examples of the previous two blogs, is that brands or products that are perceived as ambiguous in their sustainable and health claims are losing credibility and consumer trust. On the other hand: brands or products that are perceived to be transparent and trustworthy are getting rewarded. For your transparent Leader communication, we are going to pay attention to two aspects: what you communicate and how.

What you communicate
We know the importance of context. After doing product research you should be aware of the good and the bad that comes along when buying your product. As a leader in product transparency, you want to communicate the entire story. This also means informing your consumers that there could be more to the product claim than meets the eye. If there are any challenges or problems, you want to address them. Study by Accenture shows that 62% of consumers want companies to stand up for the issues they care about. A leader in transparency sets goals for the product or brand for improvement on these issues. They provide a roadmap on how they want to achieve them, with regular updates on how things are progressing.

How you communicate
It might be difficult to share the entire product story on the packaging. Therefore, you need to make the story as accessible as possible. A way to do this is trying to direct the consumer to a place where they can find all the information they need to educate themselves. In order to stay on the same page with your consumers, they have to keep a clear understanding of the story you’re trying to tell. By understanding and researching your consumer, you have a good sense on the knowledge level about for example sustainability. Try to avoid jargon and technical terms if you know that the consumer is not familiar with this. Don’t forget that good communication is a two way channel: you should not only tell your story, but also listen to your consumers and try to understand them. Make sure your consumers can come to you when they have questions or doubts about the product. Even when you can’t solve the problem; consumers might be more forgiving when they know you listened.

Doing product communications right
Verstegen Spices & Sauces and Fairfood has found a great way to provide the entire story of nutmeg to the consumer. They use blockchain technology to make the production of the spice nutmeg completely transparent. The nutmeg has a QR code that brings you to a website that shares all information about the farmer, product, supplier, the brand and the consumer. The consumer can follow the entire journey of the spice and all agreements surrounding the product: from price fixing to quality claims. All they have to do is scan the QR code with their phone. We definitely recommend to check out their website.

Doing product communications wrong
Consequences of not researching properly can also be very expensive. For example, the Canada Competition Bureau fining the Canadian arm of Keurig Dr.Pepper Inc. US$2.37 million for misleading consumers on recyclability claims about its single-use coffee pods. Dr.Pepper tried to improve the circularity of their products, giving instructions on how to recycle correctly. However in this case Dr.Pepper did not look too much into the context of the product. The claims Dr.Pepper made were stated as inaccuratesince outside the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia, most recycling programs don’t accept Dr.Pepper’s single-use coffee pods. They also did not mention the additional steps required by some recycled programs. Therefore, they misguided the uneducated consumer to think that the coffee pods could be easily recycled when only the tops were peeled off. Additional to the fine, they had to pay US$67,000 for the agency’s costs, donate US$630,981 to a Canadian environmental charity, and publish corrections online, in print, and on the packaging of its new brewing machines. In this case, the communication was there, however it was inaccurate due to the lack of research of context and consumer understanding of the claims. Dr Pepper simplified the context to such an extent that it was rendered false and resulted in a substantial fine.

After reading this 3-part series you should know a lot more on what to do, and what not to do when trying to be a leader in transparency for health and sustainability. Be critical when you go through each checklist to see how much of a leader you are. You might find that you’ve unknowingly been a misleader, and you’ll find aspects that you can still improve on to become a better brand with better claims. We can help you improve, just contact us.

Transparent product communications – a checklist

  • I communicate the entire story, placing my product in context.
  • Consumers have easy access to the entire story of my product.
  • I proactively share product values, and goals of improvement on today’s issues.
  • I communicate the roadmap on how we are planning to reach product goals, and share updates on things that are in progress
  • I actively try to avoid misinterpretation by avoiding technical terms or ambiguous claims.
  • I anticipate on the questions or doubts my consumers could have about my product.
  • I am being responsive to the questions or doubts my consumers can easily share.
  • I measure how satisfied my consumers are with the level of communication, and actively try to improve this.

Leading or Misleading in product communications: Familiarize with your consumer's way of thinking.

This blog is part of the blog series ‘Leading or Misleading’ on transparent product communications around sustainability and health. Read its intro here.

You know how many varieties of peanut butter there are available at your average supermarket? We eyeballed more than 20 varieties. According to one supermarket’s website we missed another 32. Consumers are faced with an overwhelming selection of products, each claiming to be the best one. But we do not want to spend hours on end in the grocery store, deciding which product is actually the best one. So, as a consumer we learn to conceptualize the world using mental shortcuts to make quicker, more efficient decisions.

Familiarize yourself with how the consumer makes assumptions
We make these mental shortcuts ourselves, sometimes unconsciously using inbuilt biases. For instance, deciding food is healthy because it’s labelled with “50% less fat”. We know too much fat is bad for us, so 50% less fat should be healthy. With some research, we find out that the claim less fat does not tell you anything about the nutritional quality, giving consumers a false sense about the product being healthy. What makes it even harder is the number of terms used in food products, and how many of them can be confused with others: “Low fat” is tended to be confused with “low calorie”, “organic” with “sustainable” and if not complicated enough: many people often relate “sustainable” products with the product also being “healthy”. The confusion happens because there is often no time or motivation to clearly research and understand what those terms really mean. Resulting that we go into the grocery store relying on the short-cuts that we’ve made ourselves.

Luckily, more people are more and more aware of the seriousness of global issues such as global warming, obesity, covid-19, etc. The advice consumers are given in making food choices such as “you should eat healthier”, and “you should know the impact of your daily choices” are all around. However, what is healthier? And what is the impact of my food product? We see that consumers want to choose responsibly, but find it too complex to do so, and therefore are requesting brands to help them.

Be aware of the risk of consumers overestimating your product
The consumer that wants to become healthier and/or consume with less impact are on the lookout for food products and brands that can help them succeed. It is important to understand that the less knowledgeable or less upfront motivated consumer will often categorize a product based upon the most noticeable claim or attribute of the product. The danger here is that it often results in overestimating the healthiness or sustainability aspect of a product. Research shows that this goes as far that when a company has a great image or reputation, such as Tony’s Chocolonely, consumers assume these companies also make “better” products in terms of healthiness and sustainability. This turns into a problem when consumers learn the truth about your product from other sources than your own brand. Consumers then continue to trust brands less to deliver on their promises, and they are quick to move on when disappointed. According to HAVAS’ meaningful brands report less than half (47%) of brands are seen as trustworthy, and only 34% of consumers think companies are transparent about their commitments. Ultimately, ensuring that you tell the complete story, whilst making sure that your consumer fully understands, will make the difference between being a leader and being a misleader.

Doing product communications wrong
An example of unknowingly misleading the consumer with easily misinterpreted attributes are the Veggie candies from Nicolette van Dam. If you look for Veggie candy, it’s the new vegan candy on the market made from vegetables and fruit. It comes in a box with vegetables on it, and it states to be 100% natural, rich in fiber, gluten-free, and only natural sugars. All words and visuals associated with the healthy food trends of today, which make the consumer categorize the product as healthy. So, is this a crime? No not really, the claims are technically correct and as Nicolette van Dam also states: “I never said it was healthy”. However, the claims on the product could cause a lot of confusion, as the short-cuts in consumer brains tells them that the product should be healthy with all those foodclaims and images. The reality is, Veggie candies still contains 7 grams of sugar per 15 grams of candy. Yes, the sugars are natural, however our body does not see any difference between natural or added sugar. The natural claim should not automatically trigger the short cut of the product being healthy, but it most often does. The consumer now assumes Veggie Candy is healthy, because Veggie Candy gave a lot of room for the consumer to misinterpret their claims. The result: Veggie Candy was rewarded with “Het Gouden Windei”, an accolade for the most misleading food item of the year. A lot of consumers now feel deceived. The feeling of deception amongst consumers has been researched to have a negative relationship with future purchase intentions, trust, consumer loyalty and overall attitude towards the product and brand.

Doing product communications right
Back in 2007, Innocent made the same mistake of misleading their consumers. The advertising watchdogs made complaints about the ad of Superfoods Smoothie: a blend of pomegranates, blueberries and acai berries, that had a detoxifying effect and contained more antioxidants than five average portions of fruit and vegetables. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the ad needed to be taken down due to lack of truthfulness, substantiation, and medical and scientific claims. For Innocent, there was only one way out: say sorry and become completely transparent. Fast forward to 2022, we can now read their honest story on the bottle. Innocent is now much more careful in how their claims can be interpreted. For instance, they avoid the claim ‘a great source of vitamin C’. This claim can cause consumers to overestimate the healthiness of the product. Instead, Innocent tells the consumer “It’s a source of Vitamin C, which contributes to the normal function of your immune system”. Also, on the bottle they recommend that the consumer should not mainly go to the smoothie for fruit and vegetable intake but that they should enjoy the smoothie as part of a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. By adding this, Innocent puts their product in context and shares this in a way that is not easily misinterpreted. This builds consumer’s trust.

Now we know that context and consumer perception are important to research when you want to become a leader in transparency. If you do, you have all the information needed to start communicating as a leader in transparency. In the 3rd and last part of this rubric you can read about how to tell the product’s entire story (the good and the bad) but still make sure that it’s simple, digestible, and accessible information for the consumer.

Know your consumer - a checklist

  • I am aware of the demographics of my consumers.
  • I am aware on the knowledge level of my consumers on sustainability and health
  • I understand the different ways my claims can be interpreted by the consumer.
  • I understand the way my product is perceived by consumers, and it’s in line with the true story.

Leading or Misleading in product communications: Know the sustainability and health context of your product

This blog is part of the blog series ‘Leading or Misleading’ on transparent product communications around sustainability and health. Read its intro here.

Say you have a product of which you would like to make consumers more aware of. You believe it offers sustainable and / or health benefits of which the consumer might not be aware. How to translate this aspect of your product? It all starts with knowing the aisle in which your product is positioned, and the role it takes – or is about to take – into and after a consumer’s life.

Ask questions about your own product
As a producer it’s important to understand the product (category) you are putting into the market. It’s always good to ask a lot of questions about your product.  What place is it going to take? Does it provide an alternative, or is it something completely new? What is it’s added value? How will it be transported or packaged? How and where will it be bought? How will it be thrown away?

Think about your product’s (potential) dilemma’s
Mistakes are made when you limit what information is accessible: e.g., biological food products can be said to be more sustainable because it refused chemical use, but as animals are more likely to grace outside it also increases methane pollution. The same can be said about avoiding plastic packaging in food products: if you avoid, you might also increase the risk of food waste. It is important to understand these complexities before you communicate them to the consumers. Plus, in reaching your products sustainability or health benefits you are highly reliant use phase of a product and the behavior of the consumer. For instance, it is also up to you to make sure the consumer recycles a product in the end or choses a product that fits their nutritious need. As an example: A US survey showed that of 86% of people that took vitamins or supplements, only 21% had the nutritional deficiency for that vitamin.

Doing product communications wrong
With single use plastics being increasingly banned across the world. McDonald’s switched to “eco-friendly” paper straws instead. It stopped using plastic straws, even though they were recyclable, in all its UK branches. The restaurant chain uses 1.8 million straws a day in the UK, so the move to paper was a significant step in helping to reduce single-use plastic. Customers were unhappy with the new straws, saying they dissolved before a drink could be finished. As a result, McDonald’s strengthened their paper straws. When implemented, the company discovered that the new paper straws ended up being too thick to be processed by their recycling partners. Now, petition has been initiated to bring back recyclable plastic straws at McDonald’s. It gained more than 50.000 signatures.

Doing product communications right
Placing your product in context can feel unnatural as it can result in you showcasing a negative impact of your product. You might have doubts if that’s what you want to promote. Tony’s Chocolonely did it anyway; and they got rewarded for their transparency. Tony’s Chocolonely is known as a brand that makes an impact. Which is easily leveraged by consumers to justify their over-consumption of a chocolate that still includes a lot of sugar. Tony’s admitted that they were part of the sugar problem that the world faces. They encourage the consumer to educate themselves, and not eat too much sugar. Additionally, they stated that they support the sugar tax beyond sugary drinks, and that they were going to adapt their labels and running campaigns to help their consumer make healthier choices. This was highly appreciated by many of their consumers. Looking at their LinkedIn posts, this post had a response of 15.5k likes, where the average post of Tony receives 200 likes. It seems like consumers like to hear the truth.

The truth of your product

It’s important that you translate to the consumer this context into which your product does or does not provide a sustainable or healthy alternative. With less room for misinterpretation. When you recognize the truth of your product, you can translate it to your customers. This way, you are leading, and not misleading. In our next blog we will talk more about how to avoid being a misleader by considering consumer perception

Know your product’s context - a checklist

  • I am aware of the wider problems and challenges around my product.
  • I understand the ways it does, and the ways it does not, provide a sustainable or healthy alternative.
  • My product has clear values and takes a stand on the issues.
  • I provide context to my claims so that they can’t be misinterpreted.
  • The entire story of my product (the good and bad) is clear and is ready to be shared.

This blog series is written by Romée Lasschuijt, Communication & Strategy Trainee and consumer behavior expert at The Terrace, and Eva Schouten, Sustainability Consultant and supply chain transparency expert at The Terrace.


Leading or Misleading: A blog series on being transparent in your product communications around sustainability and health.

Today is World Consumer Rights Day. A day for raising global awareness about consumer rights and needs. With an increasing request for sustainable products, consumers have the right to know where it comes from, under which conditions its produces and what the products (health) benefits really are.

 

The more conscious consumer

The consumer of today is actively trying to understand what they are buying, where it comes from, and under what conditions it is made. Data from Unilever shows that 64% of consumers pay more attention to the environmental impacts of what they consume since the pandemic. Likewise, searches for sustainable brands are up 40% on Google, and more than half of the growth in consumer-packaged goods is driven by sustainably marketed products, showcased by data of Unilever. Not only are consumers concerned by the impact of their purchasing decisions on the environment, they also want to know how this product relates to their own health. Rabobank’s research shows that 95% of Dutch people claim to specifically consider the health effects of the food that they buy.

 

Many sustainability and health claims

With this increase in demand, consumer wants brands to help them choose the right product and fittingly, transparency dominates the demand in 2022. However, in practice understanding the sustainability and health aspects of a product can still be confusing and too complex for consumers to make the right choices. Even for an informed person in the aisle, it is hard to understand all the information that they receive. This is not a surprise, as there are at least 455 sustainability certifications and labels in the world (a tip if you want to explore them ecolabelindex and standardsmap). All with similar iconography such as a tree, a green check, a leave, and words such as organic, bio, and eco. Despite their similarities, their representation differs. Next to understanding the logos, the packaging itself can confuse you, with additional visuals or claims that give the impression that a product is sustainable or healthy. Sadly, it is said that 40% of the claims are not even based on facts, according to an investigation of the International Consumer Protection Enforcement Network (ICPEN) in 2021.

 

Increased regulation

To prevent this, there is a demand for claims to be regularly checked and regulated. Those which are vague, and ambiguous are now being expected to provide clarity. The ACM (Authority Consumer & Market) in the Netherlands is for instance doing extensive research into the brands of big industries including clothes, energy, and dairy.  In a fast pace, companies are required to take further action on providing supporting evidence to the sustainability claims they are making. Making substantiated claims is also as part of the European Green deal. The time of ‘everything goes’ is ending. Maybe you, as a professional in the sustainability space, are confused on what you can and can’t do in terms of communicating towards consumers about a products’ sustainability or health benefits. This blog series is meant to help you articulate your product’s true story. Benefiting you, the consumer, and the world. You will see that the right form of transparency grows the demand for your product, and that by being honest (even when you are not the most sustainable or healthy product) you will gain consumer trust. Reading these blog series can be a very good first step to make sure that you are a leader, and not a misleader when it comes to driving everyday choices of your consumers around sustainable and healthy behaviors. And these behaviors could have an enormous impact on society and the environment.

 

A blog series on product sustainability & health

At The Terrace, we support businesses in sustainability strategy, implementation, and communications by looking at three levels:

  • Purpose – integrating and communicating purpose-led mission at the center of an organization
  • Practice – building and communicating a strategy with sustainability (or healthy) focused activities and upkeeping performance
  • Product – providing guidance and proof impact towards consumers on what they are buying

In this blog series we specifically focus on sustainability and health marketing at the product level. We take you through 3 steps with which you as a product, ingredient or category owner can help consumers make more informed sustainable and healthy product choices, in a leading way:

  1. Know the sustainability and health context of your product
  2. Understand your consumer's way of thinking
  3. Communicate clearly and transparently

Find the first blog ‘Know the sustainability and health context of your product’ here.

This blog series is written by Romée Lasschuijt, Communication & Strategy Trainee and consumer behavior expert at The Terrace, and Eva Schouten, Sustainability Consultant and supply chain transparency expert at The Terrace.


Call it by its name: A plea to cherish the brave brands that accelerate the plant protein transition

It’s Dutch Food Week this week. This means all eyes are on (innovation) in the Dutch food sector for 7 days straight. One area where our global food sector is heading up against is the shift to a more plant-based diet. This shift is urgently needed to reach the climate goals we have set. Luckily, more and more brands take up the challenge to steer the transition, by enabling the mainstream consumer to switch their loved, known, products to more sustainable, also loved alternatives. Yet, while there is little time to lose when it comes to increase sustainable diets, somehow, we got stuck discussing the naming of these food products are allowed to have. I completely agree to provide consumers with more clarity and transparency, but it seems to me that we are losing focus on what really matters here.

Plant-based naming and labelling under pressure The plant-based food market is booming in Europe and predicted to grow further in the coming years. The market is expected to increase to 2.4bn euros in 2025, from 1.5bn euros in 2018.

On the 20th of October the European Parliament will vote on the proposed ban on the use of ‘meatish’ and ‘dairyish’ names for plant-based products. This could ban the widely accepted and commonly used terms, such as ‘veggie burger,’ or ‘plant-based steak’. This while a recent survey by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) demonstrates that EU consumers are overwhelmingly in favor of the use of meat-related terms for plant-based foods. The report shows that more than 68% of consumers support 'meaty' names for plant-based food products, as long as the products are transparently clearly labelled as plant-based or vegetarian. This because they then recognize the product they are looking for.

Brands respond bravely Just as bravely as plant-based brands are picking up the challenge to lead the protein transition, they are responding to this news. When Abbot Kinney's received a letter that they should not label their product as word yoghurt, they quickly responded that they themselves don’t want to carry that label either. They stated:

“The name yoghurt does not suit us. As our yog does not hurt.  Because, we care about our environment, health, climate agreement, agricultural land, gut, animal welfare, rain forests and planet. So, we keep the yog, and skip the 'hurt'.”

The Vegetarische Slager responded this week stating that products have all types of names that are not to be taken literally in general. Think ‘chicken fingers’ and the Dutch dish ‘Slavink’. Online people supported the brands’ message by sharing an Instagram message with ‘I am not confused’ and tagging the European Parliament.

What's in a name: for better labeling let’s focus on health and sustainability. The thing about this discussion is that it focuses on providing clarity where consumers are not lacking any. Not the name of a product and where it is located in the supermarket isles is confusing for consumers, but what the product consists of, how and by whom it is made and what nutritional quality of food is. Much is happening here, with the Nutri-score for instance, but at a brand level there are more and endless opportunities to communicate better and more transparently on food products. I believe this is what we should all focus on. Not just for plant-based brands but all food brands in general.

My hope is that we can provide space for innovative brands to challenge the status quo and move away from having semantic discussions on the naming of products. I cannot help but think what would be next: alcohol free beer becomes a hop-drink? I hope we will focus on what really matters: providing consumers with transparent, healthy and sustainable food products. I would love to hear: what do you think?


Greta Thunberg

What sustainability needs now, is connection and activation

Last week, I was touched deeply by Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York. Still, as a communication professional, I can’t help but wonder if her words will not work counterproductively. Shouldn’t doom thinking make way for an inspiring movement of which everyone wants to be part? Or can’t the one do without the other?

Doom thinking petrifies

The message of Greta’s speech is dark and disturbing. It’s so dark that, as a listener, I feel like there is nothing left for me to do. I feel like my only option left is to book a one-way ticket to a tropical island to party until the whole world falls apart. Doom thinking has a petrifying effect and fear will never be an incentive for positive change. Yes, fear sends us in a direction, but it sends us the wrong way. This is the main problem of the current discussion about climate change. The discussion visualises a world characterized by images of endangered polar bears on melting ice caps. Not a world that you want to be part of and which gives you inspiration and direction.

The question of guilt polarises

All who are conscious of our environmental problems and who are already making an effort to change their behaviour in positive ways, feel addressed by Thunberg’s speech. All the while, climate sceptics just feel more and more united and their joint aversion is strengthened. Lastly, there’s the biggest group right in the middle: the group that’s neither sceptic nor activist. This is a group of people who can still be inspired to become more aware to take action. You inspire them by identifying the problem, point out a spot on the horizon and suggest the first practical steps to reach that spot. You inspire them by connecting, not by polarising.

Create a movement that people want to be part of

What would it be like if, instead of Thunberg with her dark speech, there would have been five kids on the stage? Kids who would point out the problem and its disturbing facts, as well as paint a picture of the world they’d like to live in when they’re as old as the politicians present. Then, they all tell us about the first steps they’ve taken to get there; whether it’s a clothing swap, a plant-based diet, the decision to stop flying or stop using a tumble dryer. They would dare every politician to join them in taking the first step. No matter how big or small that step may be. These children would unite in the ‘First Step Club’: a movement characterised by hopeful visions and first steps.

No revolution without rebels?

We need Greenpeace to put subjects on the agenda and to get activated. Is this speech also an example of this? Does the bridge-builder need the rebel? In the case of Thunberg’s speech, I’m doubtful. What I do know is that I get my energy out of connection and activation. That is my first step. I take this step with my clients at every single job I do.

 


Why we believe that brave brands will lead the Fashion Revolution

Yesterday the Fashion Revolution week ended. The Terrace reflects on this global movement for transparency in the fashion industry.

The fashion industry calls for a revolution

It’s Fashion Revolution Week and yes, a revolution is what the fashion industry needs. Fast fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, next to oil. Apparel and footwear industries currently account for 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, only in 2015 the fashion industry consumed enough water to fill 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools and the dyeing and treatment of garments makes up roughly 17-20% of all industrial water pollution. Next to this environmental impact, apparel also comes at a social cost. According to the ILO, about 60 millionpeople are employed in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide, and three quarters of these workers are women. In this way, the industry has served as ‘a stepping stone to development’ in many countries. Yet apparel also became widely known for its bad working conditions in factories, a lack of earning a living wage and even human rights violations. The collapsing of the Rana Plaza building in 2013, a building that hosted factories that worked for the world’s biggest fast fashion brands, was the final straw that accelerated a movement for change. The Fashion Revolution was initiated, an initiative that aims to accelerate collective action with worldwide campaigns that request/demand? more supply chain transparency of fashion brands.

Luckily, brave brands are taking the industry by storm

Well, that was quite some depressing news all at once right? Well, the good news is that many great things are happening. Entrepreneurs are stepping up worldwide, making a positive and sustainable impact the ‘purpose’ of their brand. At The Terrace we have worked with multiple ‘fashion revolutionists’ on strengthening their strategies for positive change. Whether they integrate sustainability in their business from the get-go or whether they turn their business model around, brands are getting serious about sustainability, and they are taking the market by storm. And to be frank, we believe the brands that change the status quo to be the only brands that will stay relevant. Why? Because consumers engage with the purpose of a brand more than ever and dedicating your business to the severe challenges the sector is facing, makes you matter more to your audience. Some brands that we believe are leading by example:

  • Good on You– This app rates thousands of fashion brands on sustainability
  • Mud Jeans– Innovative business model with circular jeans that you don’t need to buy
  • The Next Closet – Second hand designer products
  • Armed Angels – Challenges consumers on the true cost of fashion and incorporates sustainable textiles only
  • Veja– A brand continuously making their shoes more sustainable showcasing that sustainability does not happen over night
  • Reformation– Reaching the next generation of consumers with on trend recycled collections
  • Patagonia– Outdoor clothing brand that vows for anti-consumerism.

From individual commitments to an industry-wide movement

Brands play a huge role in turning the tide for the Fashion Industry, but alone they can only go so far. With the growing need for change in the sector, pre-competitive collaboration between companies, civil society and governments continues to grow. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is one of these examples, uniting retailers like Walmart and Patagonia and 200 other companies to assess their environmental and social sustainability throughout the value chain. The Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) enables member companies to assess and? improve workplace conditions. In 2017, The Fashion for Good centre opened in Amsterdam, which enables international brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders to work together in changing the fashion industry for the better. But also at country-level industry stakeholders are coming together to change the fashion business for the better. After the Rana Plaza collapse, the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile  was initiated, a shared commitment  initiated by industry associations, trade unions, NGOs, and the National Government of the Netherlands to collaborate on many environmental and social issues in the garment sector.

Are you a company working in or with the apparel sector and want to create positive change?

There is a lot you can do. Addressing the challenges in the apparel sector and strengthening your business go hand in hand. Not sure where to begin? At The Terrace we are always happy to help brave organizations find their focus in becoming more sustainable, for instance with our Brand Purpose workshop. Get in touch with our team here if you want to know more.


Partnership for the sustainable development goals

You’ve probably heard to the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, also known as the SDGs or Global Goals. But how are these relevant to you and your organization? How is the Netherlands progressing on these goals? And how do different sectors contribute to the SDGs? Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace organized an event for the alumni of Nyenrode Business University at the office of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC ). The SDG's were the topic of this day.

Immerse yourself in the SDGs through virtual reality

PwC Amsterdam built an SDG dome to bring the SDGs closer to its staff and clients. On March 29, 2019, PwC Amsterdam opened the SDG dome to the alumni of Nyenrode Business University.

The United Nations strive to achieve these goals by the year 2030. In the dome we tried to achieve the the Sustainable Development Goals as quickly as possible. Even for people with deep knowledge of sustainability, this proved to be quite a challenge. Our two teams achieved the SDGs by 2037 and 2044. These results and the impact of experiencing sustainability challenges and solutions through virtual reality raised the sense of urgency and the commitment to act in all of us.

Dutch organizations working on SDGs below the surface

At the launch of the SDG dome, PwC also presented research about the application of the SDGs by Dutch organizations. This shows that listed companies in the Netherlands embrace the SDGs, but that these have not been integrated effectively into the strategies and activities. A smaller subset of the Dutch ministries and municipalities refer to the SDGs but is not yet leading to different actions. Social enterprises and NGOs in the Netherlands hardly mention the SDGs at all in their annual reports. They do not see a sufficient added benefit to link their impact to the SDGs. So, below the surface, things seem to be moving, yet organizations could still make much more use of the SDGs. Linked to their operations, their impact in society and as a common language to connect with other organizations.

Dutch organizations primarily focus on SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). While we should pay more attention to SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 13 (climate action), as international research by PwC shows we are lagging behind on these SDGs compared to other countries.

PwC brings the goals closer for clients and staff

Wineke Haagsma, Director Corporate Responsibility at PwC shared how PwC integrated the SDGs and how they help clients to do this as well. There is a four-step process to select the SDGs to which they want to contribute:

  1. Start from the positive contribution of your own organization;
  2. Then act on the negative impacts of your own organization;
  3. Focus on the positive impact of your products and services;
  4. and finally, search for the negative impacts in your supply chain.

These four steps help organizations identify which SDGs provide challenges and opportunities for the future, and to select the SDGs on which to focus. For the selected SDGs, the next step is to dig into the underlying targets. Make the selected SDGs very concrete for your own organization, with clear goals linked to your own operations. And with KPIs to measure progress. The SDG selector can be a handy tool to support this selection process.

Through this process, PwC Netherlands selected four focus SDGs and linked these to the strategy. On their website, you can read more about the selected SDGs (8, 10, 12 and 16). Wineke’s enthusiasm and openness sparked many people to really consider how to get to work on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Plant-based networking

As always, these alumni events are wrapped up with networking drinks. PwC served organic wine and vegetarian snacks made from mushrooms grown on coffee grounds from PwC’s own offices.

This event was organized and chaired by Marjolein Baghuis of Change in Context, in her role as Chair of the Alumni Circle for Sustainability at Nyenrode Business University. 

This blog of Marjolein also appeared on the website of Nyenrode.


Tony's Chocolonely: Raising the chocolate bar for industry change

For years, I’ve been supporting chocolate – and change – maker Tony’s Chocolonely to create their annual report. My kids and my colleagues love that I work for them. Because I always return from meetings with their yummy chocolate in funky flavors. Their bars are a treat, but what inspires me most to work with them is their commitment to creating positive change in the industry. Here’s my take on their key ingredients for positive change!

Crazy people raising the (chocolate) bar

Positive change usually starts with frustration about an issue plus people crazy enough to doing something about it. And this ccompany started just like that. Investigative journalists were shocked to find out how much child labor and slavery there is involved in nearly all chocolate. In 2006, in an attempt to prove that it could be done, they produced 5000 bars of slavery-free chocolate. As this first batch sold out in just a few hours, they turned the experiment into a company.  The company tagline says it all: “Crazy about chocolate, serious about people.”

Partners towards a common goal

A shift to more sustainable business practices is needed at all steps along the chain. From cocoa farmers, chocolate companies and governments, to retailers and consumers. The people at Tony’s understand they cannot transform the cocoa industry by themselves. Tony’s therefore developed a roadmap towards its mission: “Together we make chocolate 100% slave-free”.

The roadmap engages five key actors in the industry to work towards this common goal:

  • Strengthen farmers to increase their income
  • Engage the largest companies in the industry to take action in their supply chains
  • Encourage retailers to leverage their buying power
  • Push governments to adopt and enforce legislation
  • Enable chocofans to raise awareness and spread the message

Scaling up for real movement

To really engage partners along the cocoa chain, Tony’s knows there needs to be a business case every step of the way. Its own story and success provide lots of inspiration to get different parties to act.

At the launch event for its 17/18 annual report that scale became very clear:

  • Over 5,000 farmers benefit from the special premium Tony’s pays, nearly 1,000 farmers are involved in awareness-raising activities to prevent unwanted child labor and slavery;
  • The Netherlands’ largest retailer Albert Heijn announcedit will use Tony’s principles of cooperation for 100% slave-free chocolate for its very successful private label chocolate brand Delicata. World leading chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut supports the change process;
  • 5,000 chocofans joined the party, over 8,500 people support Tony’s mission as Serious Friends;
  • And the brand became the market leader in the Netherlands with a market share of 19%. Net revenue grew by 23% to nearly € 45 million and a net profit margin of 4.5%.

Relentless ambition for chocolate and change

Nice numbers for a company that produced its first bar of chocolate just 12 years ago… But they know there’s still a lot of work to be done. Therefore, Team Tony’s continues to work – and party – very hard to increase its own impact by expanding the business to other countries and continuing to drive collaboration in partnership with many others.


Top tips for greenwashing: communicating sustainability in horticulture

In October 2017, The Terrace was invited by the MPS-group to lead a workshop for and with leading growers of flowers and flowering plants from the Netherlands. This was part of event in preparation for an international horticulture trade fair. The focus of the workshop was on how to best communicate on sustainability in the horticulture sector. Here's what I had to say about conviction, focus, collaboration and... greenwashing.

Tip #1: Start from your personal conviction

The trouble with sustainability is the lack of a common definition. It may include topics like environmental protection, labor conditions, community engagement, economic impacts and/or governance. There are so many terms floating around, like CSR, responsible business conduct, future-proof, thriveability... Whatever term you prefer, it needs to be relevant to your core business and your key stakeholders. Most likely, this will be a function of the industry, the cultural/national context and the conviction and focus of senior leadership. So before communicating your sustainability efforts externally, first consider what sustainability means to you. For which parts of sustainability do you care most deeply? Why did you get started with organic flowers? What made you integrate sustainability into your business model?

Tip #2: Focus on what matters

Sustainability is multi-faceted, so your sustainability strategy probably is as well. But while all those facets may be relevant and understood by people within the industry, they won't all be equally relevant for different stakeholders. So when communicating your sustainability strategy, think first and foremost from the perspective of your audience. For different target audiences, focus your sustainability story in different ways. While keeping the overall story the same, differentiate the key topics to highlight for different audiences. Not everyone knows as much about sustainability issues in horticulture - or whatever sector you're in - as you do.

Unilever uses a very powerful analogy to further strengthen its sustainability communications: the sword and the shield. The sword is a strong message that you pro-actively want to share with your target audience. And which is very relevant for that target audience. The shield contains other topics which you are working on in your sustainability strategy, but which are less relevant to your audience, or less easy to talk about as an individual brand or company.

For example, for Lipton's sustainability strategy includes both social and environmental elements. In consumer communication, the social elements are emphasized like a sword. Most consumers realize that picking tea leaves is hard work in tough locations, so this context helps Lipton tell its story about the programs it has in place to make life easier for tea pluckers. The improvements Lipton is making to reduce pesticides is more like a shield. Something to work on very actively, but as most consumers are unaware that nearly all tea in the world contains pesticides, communicating about this as an individual brand is more challenging. So while this may be a great topic for a sustainability website or report, we'd not recommend putting that same story on the pack.

Tip #3: Some stories are better told together

Some topics are difficult to raise, even if you feel it is high time the world knew about the issues and your solutions. This is where sector-wide collaboration and communications may be needed. Just like for tea, for the horticulture sector, pesticides might be such a topic. As an individual grower of flowers, this is a topic you might be able to raise with expert buyers in retail. But with consumers, this is not so easy. If you try to mention this on your packaging, consumers might just link your name to pesticides in general, rather than the reduction you've achieved. To raise awareness of the issues around pesticides, it would be better to collaborate. With industry bodies and certification providers, but potentially also with NGOs and consumer organizations.

Tip #4: Always be honest

Good communications about your sustainability efforts and performance can build trust in your organization and its products. But even if you're selling plants and flowers, and you'd like to make the world a greener place, what you're communicating has to be true. Only balanced communications - sharing both successes and challenges - builds trust. If what you're sharing is not true, then it's merely greenwashing. That word might have a nicer connotation for the horticulture sector than for others, but it will simply erode trust.