Can brands stay committed to sustainable practices, or are we looking at mere PR stunts?

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Green is the New Black has successfully concluded its third edition over the last weekend. Hot off the trails, we are here to discuss some of the questions raised during the festival including how the rising consciousness towards sustainable practices has impacted the consumer market, and if it has become a mere publicity stunt for brands to leverage on?

For starters, it is important for businesses to recognise that the green and sustainable movement is beyond just a passing fad. Educated consumers are now more committed than ever to asking questions to understand what they are consuming, along with the lifestyle and types of businesses that they are enabling. An eco-conscious or ethical fashionista may question who made the clothes and how the fabric is produced; a cafe owner may raise questions about their food supply chains. The Field’s Beneath Cafe in London is a prime example of a business who made a change upon understanding the implications of the dairy industry, replacing dairy with plant-based milk after watching “Dairy is Scary” by Erin Janus on Youtube,


The growing consciousness on sustainability and ethics is one that is hard to ignore. Businesses and brands are making changes from the bottom up based on expected consumer demands. After all, it represents a huge business opportunity as shoppers tend to be willing to pay more for ethically-produced or eco-friendly products.  High street brands like ASOS, H&M and Zara have introduced green capsule collections; hotels are incorporating more sustainable efforts such as using dispenser as opposed to mini toiletries bottles in their guests rooms. As a participant at the Ethics talk on Saturday rightly pointed out, how do we distinguish such initiatives as a proper commitment than just a PR stunt for press coverage? 

The key word: continuity. 

The continuity that we are looking at for sustainable efforts is the same one that we are looking at with corporate social responsibility work. If a brand is creating one-off news to ride the wave of sustainability or giving back, one might get the press coverage but what makes it any different from a publicity stunt? Consumers are smart. We are looking at supporting brands who are committed to their causes with a focus be it green energy, organic farming, buy one give one and more. The continuity of such efforts injects trust to the brand image, and also serves as a motivation for employees to see it built into their company mission and values.

Consumers and press are looking to see how companies who have implemented such initiatives continue to grow their programmes to do more for the causes they support. Not all such initiatives are going to get press coverage every year. If the number of coverage garnered is the only KPI for such initiatives, will companies still continue with such programmes or fail to see the value in what they are doing? 

Take for example, a fashion brand who has been associated with poor supply chain regulations decides to introduce fair wage and the exclusive use of green materials across board, it is going to be exciting news within the fashion industry. However, to carry on conversations, we would like to see the company continue to innovate, open mentorship programs to fashion schools to educate and encourage the next generation of designers on the importance of fair trade and sustainable practices, or even partake in creating new technologies etc that would impact greater change. 

At the end of the day, it is important for brands to question themselves on WHY they are embarking on such initiatives. When a business is sincere in making a change, good stories naturally come out of it and these will be stories that are strong, timeless, with the ability to inspire and make a difference.