Safer products through public commitment
The fifth pillar of leadership: making a public commitment
When a company leads on Public Commitment, it communicates its safer chemicals journey publicly and honestly. Effective Public Commitment goes beyond a one-time publication of goals; it is the frequent, transparent, and public-facing communication about a company’s efforts to meet those goals. Why? Because results matter.
How does a company become a leader on public commitment?
Publish its corporate chemicals policy
Publication is a signal that a company is serious about its mission to lead on safer chemicals and products. Making its chemicals policy public tells consumers, suppliers, and investors that a company has a goal-oriented strategy in place, thoughtful timelines, and is making an institutional commitment to reach success.
A company needs to communicate honestly, highlighting the good news, but also being upfront about the things that didn’t quite work. The public is as interested in success stories as it is stories about the journey. Hearing about the pitfalls or mistakes that may have occurred along the way adds credibility to the successes. This is particularly relevant when it comes to millennial shoppers who have shown their cynicism towards perfectly polished brands.
Communicate the process
A company sets itself up for harsh criticism from customers if it shares broad platitudes about its strategy instead of more descriptive, concrete information. The public wants to know how companies plan on achieving their commitments. When a company commits to safer product design, which products will it focus on first and why? How will safer chemicals be identified? What will suppliers be asked to do to help a company improve its products? Who are the partners that will provide useful guidance and insights along the way? Responses to these types of questions signal intent to follow through on commitments.
Good things happen when a company embraces a public commitment.
Increased consumer confidence
Consistent communication about a company’s policies and progress against its goals builds consumer trust and confidence. Openness can also increase consumer engagement, providing more insights into consumer behavior and desires. This kind of feedback can improve the effectiveness of communications. Social media provides powerful tools for this type of two-way communication.
Emergence of new allies
When a company communicates openly and frequently about its safer chemicals efforts, new allies emerge that can support and expand its success. Potential allies include media outlets that applaud a company’s progress, expert organizations who can become useful partners in accelerating a company’s success, or fellow companies who have similar goals that can be met faster by working together.
Suppliers realize their customer is serious about transformation and see an opportunity to support the initiative. This can spur competition to provide safer, new goods and ingredients—a race towards continuous improvement.
Improved internal alignment
Public communication solidifies internal commitment throughout the business, providing the unity necessary for successful implementation and progress against goals. It also provides another avenue for enhancing employee engagement. Executing on and being recognized for a commitment to bringing safer chemicals to the marketplace can boost morale and translate into increased employee recruitment and retention.
Hurdles you may face on the path to leadership:
When a company goes public with its strategies and progress, feedback may come in the form of accolades, criticism, or new demands based on the progress made. Rather than becoming defensive against criticism, a company should make use of it as it does positive feedback. Any external feedback is a powerful vehicle by which a company can discover new information or engage new allies to revise its strategy and continue to progress forward.
When touting successes through new marketing claims and logos, a company must also beware greenwashing. In the legal context, a company must ensure its claims conform to fair trade practices. In the U.S., this comes in the form of the FTC Green Guides, guidance to help companies avoid making untrue claims about the origins (i.e. “natural”) or environmental performance (i.e. “non-toxic”) of their products. Claims around the better chemical composition of products can be useful in building trust among consumers, but they must be rooted in fact.
The bottom line
Public Commitment helps a company deepen its dedication to transparency, hold itself accountable, and gain goodwill for its brand. Leadership goes beyond just sharing a corporate chemicals policy; it involves sharing the journey and keeping the conversation with the public going for the long-term.
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