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.