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Sweetening sustainability: Infuse optimism for lasting ESG impact

The Hartman Group outlines a few key ways to give your sustainability strategy its personality back.

4 min read



Sustaining ESG initiatives is a delicate dance. Increased interest and pressure from consumers have led many brands to approach sustainability efforts through obligatory trial and error. And let’s face it: it’s hard to maintain momentum. Initiatives with unclear ROI are always a harder sell up the ladder, and it can be challenging to decipher which juice is really worth the squeeze. 

The Hartman Group has been tracking sustainability trends for decades, and one clear theme is that environmentally and socially conscious practices are no longer optional if your brand expects to stay relevant. But when did the topic of sustainability become so… dour? Obligation aside, guilt and fear shouldn’t be the only approaches to connecting with consumers’ concerns. So let’s review a few key ways to give your sustainability strategy its personality back.

What better category to seek inspiration from than ice cream? Sure, there’s inherent levity in this space, but brands across the food and beverage industry can take inspiration from these more upbeat approaches. 

Take Ben & Jerry’s, for example. The unabashedly quirky and rebellious brand has mastered infusing purpose and personality into all elements of its business. From brazen flavor names calling for policy reform to creative incentives for dairy farmers who utilize sustainable practices, Ben & Jerry’s celebrates ESG by authentically contributing to issues its audience cares about — even if they get some heat for it from time to time.

The takeaway: Share your sustainability journey openly and authentically with your customers. Showcasing both your successes and struggles can go a long way in building trust. Giving your customers a front-row seat to your efforts through interactive experiences, events or workshops can also help foster a sense of community and commitment to shared values.

Portland-based Salt & Straw is also offering a scoop of optimism with their innovative approach to tackling food waste. The company’s new Upcycled Ice Cream Series features flavors made from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste — like Cacao Pulp & Chocolate Stracciatella Gelato or Lemon Curd & Whey. In doing so, they’re staying true to their brand promise: pioneering flavors and a heart for the community.

The takeaway: Embrace innovation and unconventionality. Thoughtfully integrating sustainable ingredients, upcycled options or eco-friendly packaging (without a hefty price hike or additional work on the consumer’s end) helps show authentic intention to affect positive change.

These examples highlight how companies can tackle real issues their consumers care about in support of an integrated strategy with sustainability at its core. And while not every brand can be as bold as Ben & Jerry’s, all companies can find a way to positively connect with consumers on sustainability issues.

When sustainability is approached in alignment with a brand’s mission and personality, consumers are typically happy to see companies taking a wide range of steps to drive progress. Of course, it’s still critical to stick to a clearly articulated mission or commitment and transparently demonstrate your progress toward sustainability goals. Any claims and certifications should also clearly align with the context of your category, brand and other product attributes. But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom after all, is it?

Sustainability efforts don’t have to be a drag or a drain on company resources, and they certainly shouldn’t be put on the back burner. By embracing sustainability with creativity and dedication, it becomes more than just an initiative; it becomes a core piece of your brand identity. So go ahead and embark on your sustainability journey with your authentic spirit.

As CEO of The Hartman Group, Laurie Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company’s associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.

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