Your Brand Doesn't Have a Corporate Responsibility Program? That's Sus'!

Millennial and Gen Z consumers overwhelmingly like to associate with brands they consider good global citizens.

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For today's millennial and Gen Y consumers, corporate sustainability is no longer a bar-setter in terms of business strategies—it's expected. Past eco-trend setters, like Patagonia, are now the baseline to these generations, not the exception.

Why does this matter? These groups are about to become the dominant consumer buying force in America, outnumbering both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers with a population of 1.8 billion strong. If your brand is not a known responsible corporate citizen today, it might be tough to try to become one tomorrow—but it's also not too late.

Related: 4 Ways to Make Your Business More Eco-Friendly

Walking the walk

The difficulty some brands have with corporate responsibility programs is that they can't be faked. The most successful ones are built from the authentic actions of a brand's founder or CEO that easily define a company's authentic mission. Take Patagonia, for example. Its founder, Yvon Chouinard, was a simple metal worker and avid climber. He was also a world traveler who truly cared about the environment because it was, essentially, his playground. As he wrote in his book, Let My People Go Surfing:

"At Patagonia, making a profit is not the goal because the Zen master would say profits happen 'when you do everything else right."

Chouinard's and his team's fierce commitment to the planet, their people, and their products were considered adverse to investor relations. But the strategy worked because they represented the brand's creation story and mission statement all in one. If profits are the only thing your brand is committed to, millennials and Gen Y will think your brand stinks.

Just look at their buying traits:

  • 74% of millennials are more likely to buy brands supporting social issues they care about.
  • 38% of millennials said they connect more with businesses that have a positive impact on the environment.
  • 70% of millennials (18-34) said they would be willing to pay more for a socially or environmentally responsible product.

Pay close attention to that final bullet point. Owning an authentic corporate responsibility program can drastically affect a company's bottom line and your brand's prospects. Not owning one or rolling out something that resembles greenwashing at the last minute could be your brand's deathknell, a typically slow scene played out publicly and therefore emotionally painful for everyone involved.

How do you, as a brand owner, avoid this calamity?

How to initiate corporate responsibility

Let's say you are a cannabis grower who owns a reasonably well-known brand. You're stuck in a crowded marketplace, fighting to make a profit and struggling to meet your state's cannabis-related regulations as they pertain to growers. Perhaps, you have established some brand principles over the years that show authentic corporate responsibility, such as using only recyclable packaging? Maybe you only grow by the power of the sun, limit water usage, and never use pesticides? These examples are potential messaging pillars.

Or maybe you have done something more substantial, understanding how the production of your product affects the environment and how to counter that effect with innovation? Perhaps you run the only regenerative weed farm in the state because you know it is the right thing to do for the planet, for your product, and your customers? That's the kind of differentiator that separates brands. It is the difference between being perceived as good versus great.

Doing the right things first, before profits, also defines your brand's sustainability and corporate responsibility mission. These are the types of claims worth putting on your brand's packaging, social media channels, and website and sharing with the media. Flood the marketplace with your good actions. If you walk the walk, talk the talk today. Otherwise, today's influencer generations won't hear you, and no one will know that your brand is a legit player in the sustainability game, the true Patagonia of weed, for example. You will get run over tomorrow by better-funded and, therefore, louder, sustainable brands. 

The time is now. Don't throw away your shot.

Maryam Mirnateghi

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Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Maryam Mirnateghi has been in the cannabis business for nearly a decade, first as a dispensary owner with Fusion Collective and now, as a recreational shop owner at Canna West. She is also a founding member of the state of Washington's Cannabis Ethics and Standards Board.