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Three-Point Strategy to Tackle Public Trust: Why It Matters


By Elisabeth Comere

When the Edelman 2015 Global Trust Barometer was released in January, one thing became abundantly clear: Consumer trust, or lack thereof, will force industry and businesses to rethink the way they practice sustainability.

Edelman’s Canadian Findings show that overall public confidence in business has hit a five-year low, sitting below 50 percent. In addition, 53 percent of respondents believe businesses fail to contribute to the greater good, and perhaps more telling is the belief held by 75 percent of respondents that the driving change in business and industry today is greed and money as opposed to a desire to improve people’s lives and make the world a better place.

These results have major implications for those of us pushing sustainability agendas within our companies and to our customers. Trust is the cornerstone of an effective sustainability strategy. The study, however, suggests that globally companies are losing trust by underperforming in two key areas: integrity and engagement.

Skepticism on the sustainability front is a warning called out in the 2015 State of Green Business Report.  It suggests that that corporate sustainability targets will be questioned and higher targets will be demanded; businesses will be urged to work in collaboration with partners to address pressing social and environmental challenges; and consumers want to see businesses and government work collaboratively to shape policies that will accelerate the transition to low-carbon and more sustainable economy.

Three-Point Strategy to Tackle Public Trust

1. Integrity: Establish well-rounded sustainability priorities

Sustainability agendas and priorities must be created within the context of the company’s business, products and supply chains to see transformational change across all networks.  This not only recognizes a major shift in the marketplace, but it also supports the business case for establishing sustainable business practices and credibility in public and private arenas.  See Purdy’s Chocolatier, a trusted Canadian brand that has been committed to “going green” since the 1960s.  In recent years, the sustainable cocoa industry has evolved allowing Purdy’s to produce sustainably sourced chocolates through their Sustainable Cocoa Program, a program dedicated to sustainable farming and sustainable living in communities in which they operate.

Against a backdrop of a rising global population, emerging economies, climate change, finite natural resources, increasing regulations and societal expectations, integrity is about ethics and owning successes and failures, and radical transparency.  As a result of the internet, user-generated content, peer-to-peer networks and data leaks, this is the new necessity for practicing sustainability.

Businesses that are not walking the talk are risking their reputations and customer retention, ultimately baring negative effects on long term growth.  Eventually, and without reprioritizing corporate commitments and responsibilities, not only will companies face public scrutiny, but they will spend more time and resources defending their corporate image. Even with rebranding and crisis communications strategies in place, it may be too late and too long a recovery process of repositioning one’s brand and regaining public confidence again. The stats below demonstrate that trusted companies have more to gain from placing sustainability at the forefront of their business model.   Not only does it increase market share, but it can position a company as a thought leader in the sustainability realm offering longer term benefits (e.g. increased customer loyalty and sales, user-generated shares through peer-to-peer networks; every public relations and marketers dream).  The key takeaway is, consumers are willing to spend more on quality products and services that are produced by transparent and responsible companies.

2. Engagement: Include stakeholders in the innovation process

Building trust is also about the ability to have the right collaboration to drive engagement for a shared vision.  We cannot change the world by ourselves however, by working in collaboration with civil society, customers, peers and government, we can create shared value. One organization that demonstrates this point well is the Carton Council of Canada, a non-for-profit group of competing carton packaging manufacturing companies that have come together to advance sustainable recycling solutions in Canada to divert cartons from landfills.

Continued success depends on gathering support from peers; understanding, adapting to and addressing challenges; seeking to lead by example; and inspiring many stakeholders to join together to find effective solutions.

In addition, we need to establish a structured and consistent way of gathering feedback from customers, key stakeholders and employees, and make sure this knowledge feeds into the risk management and decision-making process. By respecting their interests, listening to concerns, and having an open and honest lines of communication, it can spur innovation, effective solutions and sustained market growth.

3. Transparency: Share and report your progress

Placing integrity at the core of your business requires openly sharing your strategies, practices and progress to-date with stakeholders on a regular basis and in an engaging way.  This is a testament to an organization’s accountability not only for its actions on sustainability, but also for its shortcomings.

Loblaws, Canada’s largest food retailer, was one of the first to publish their CSR Report in corporate Canada, and has continued to put forward their track record, successes and shortfalls since 2008, and as such, they continue to position their company as a trusted brand.

Silence is a breeding ground for skepticism as key opinion leaders and consumers have an abundance of user-generated content at their fingertips that influences their opinion of your company and its practices. Every year, companies need to map the sustainability issues of greatest relevance to their business and of most interest or concern to their stakeholders to ensure their efforts maximize both impact and resonance.

Image credits: 1) Edelman 2) www.613style.com 3) Carton Council 4) www.ottawafoodbank.ca (Featured image: Flickr/purplejavatroll Elisabeth Comere is responsible for environment at Tetra Pak – the world leader in packaging and food processing solutions. She joined the company in 2006 as Environment Manager for Europe where she helped define and drive Tetra Pak’s environmental strategy and contributed shaping recycling for cartons in Europe. Since 2010, she is based in the U.S., focusing on advancing the Tetra Pak’s commitment to sustainability in the U.S. and Canada and is involved in various industry and customer packaging and sustainability initiatives.

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