Sustainability is one of the buzziest words of the year. I hear it every day. I’m encouraged that consumer demand is high for products that were made with the planet in mind. In fact, in a recent survey, 80% of young adults said they’d be willing to pay more for sustainable products.
Unfortunately, this shift opens the door for all kinds of marketing murkiness and greenwashing around how sustainable a company truly is. You may have noticed products on store shelves with lush forests on their packaging and vague, flowery language about eco-friendliness – all without any true indication that the product was created responsibly. You might also spot products made with sustainable materials thatseemgreen, but were actually produced in factories with questionable sustainability records.
In this current landscape, it’s hard to parse through some of the jargon to spot which brands are committed to sustainability. And shoppers want help parsing through: as many as 76% of consumers are craving more information on the social and environmental impact of the clothes they buy, especially on labels when making in-store purchases. So how do you show consumers that you are dedicated to progress and real action in doing better for the planet? Show them, don’t tell them – with real, actionable metrics. When you track everything you can about your company’s impact, you’ll have the data to back up your values, and a track record consumers can trust.
Go Beyond Good Intentions
Greenwashing isn’t always malicious. Plenty of brands have good intentions around sustainability, but haven’t yet figured out the production logistics of translating those intentions into impact. Others may think their company is sustainable and claim as much, without realizing that the suppliers they work with carry out less-than-sustainable practices in the factories that make their products.
Metrics go beyond a desire to do good. They provide a way to both ensure transparency with your customers and to hold yourself accountable to your own values as a business.
How Do Brands Track Metrics?
Every company is different. There are many beneficial ways to track your data, but the one universal bottom line is to ensure that what you collect is accurate. At TO THE MARKET, we specialize in connecting brands with our syndicated network of sustainable suppliers. This requires a lot of transparency from both TO THE MARKET and our makers, so we developed our own technology platform to track our impact. The platform measures the carbon footprint, energy use, fair wage hours, and other sustainability factors of each production order, and makes it accessible to our clients anytime.
For example, we used this technology to calculate that in working on one product with an ethical supplier, we improved our impact by saving as many as 130 hours of LED light bulb use, created 45 hours of fair wage work, avoided 560 miles of car emissions, and saved 2,100 liters of water. This is the kind of information we love to share with consumers and clients so they know exactly what it means when our tag says the product is made ethically and sustainably. But stats like this are just the beginning – we aim to source the most complete picture possible ofhowthose emissions were avoided, and how each step of the production process could be made even better.
Real time data is valuable in itself, but tracking is especially helpful for putting our impact into context. The platform can create an impact report for larger-picture time periods, such as the course of a year, or for each individual order. This gives us a much more complete idea of how much water, energy, or carbon emissions we save over time. It clues us into finer details on which products create the smallest environmental impact during production, or which manufacturing processes are environmentally taxing. We can see which sustainability categories we are excelling at and which ones offer room for improvement.
These metrics are a vital cornerstone of our work, but they are just one part of how we measure what we do. We want to be sure we are working with top-notch suppliers who are committed to sustainability, quality, and employee safety and health. So we’ve developed a proprietary vetting algorithm that creates a scorecard for each maker we work with. The scorecard taps into third-party verification along with the in-house expertise of the TO THE MARKET team. It can note benchmarks aligned with, among other things, Environmental, Social, and Governance initiatives (ESG).
One of our next big goals is expanding the ways in which we can share our findings with consumers. We recently piloted a program that allows shoppers to scan a QR code on the tag of certain products and instantly access that item’s impact data. With a simple scan, consumers could find out the product’s exact carbon footprint, and the ways we saved energy in the manufacturing process. Initiatives like this are a huge step toward dissolving some of the marketing murkiness around sustainability, and I can’t wait to do more of it.
Don’t Be Afraid To Use Your Metrics To Grow
Tracking data is immensely important, but it’s just the first step. The most pivotal thing – and often the hardest thing, both emotionally and logistically – is what you do with the metrics you find. If you’re truly committed to sustainability, don’t shy away from weak spots in your impact reports. Use them as a tool to do better.
At TO THE MARKET, we believe that becoming more sustainable is about progress over perfection. Sustainability is an ever-expanding goal, and we’ll never be done fine-tuning our pursuit of it. Each impact report is a stepping stone to doing even better, rather than a final report card.
Metrics are at their most powerful when we approach them with transparency and a perpetual eagerness to improve. They’re a way to regularly take your company’s own temperature, to gauge whether you’re aligning with your goals and values, and to spot unexpected sustainability hurdles before they grow into mountains.
If you see weak points in your impact data, that’s okay – it’s a chance to do even better by the planet, your suppliers, and your customers. Remain transparent, and let your audience see your trajectory of improvement play out in real time. Communicate your commitments to measuring ongoing progress and to improving at all points along the way.
We can’t do better for our planet unless we know better, and that means determining exactly where we stand. The more we measure, the better.
Jane Mosbacher Morris, Founder and CEO