Is kindness to the environment key to connecting to consumers?

20 September 2021

The topic of sustainability returns to the forefront of news agendas as ‘Covid’ finally begins to take a backseat.

With COP26, the UN’s Climate Change Conference fast approaching this October, there will soon again be a microscope on what governments, global brands and companies are doing to tackle the climate crisis from within their own establishments. What is clear, is that selling a quality product alone is no longer enough, people are increasingly looking much deeper into sustainability commitments, not to mention brand culture and employee welfare.

The State of Customer Engagement study from The Nursery & Digitas surveyed over 1,000 consumers and identified that shockingly 68% don’t believe brands are delivering on their promises post pandemic. One of the top three things expected from brands was to make them feel good about their purchase[1]. But how?

During Campaign’s latest Breakfast Briefing, a panel from the marketing industry unearthed insights in response to the survey. Charlene Charity, Head Strategist at Digitas flagged that a key way for brands to re-connect to consumers was through kindness, with kindness to the environment ranking high on the agenda. People are increasingly expecting all companies to have strong sustainable policies across the board, and are willing to pay more to ensure the brand they are buying is as green as possible. And with the rise of online ratings and reviews, there’s no hiding from the court of public opinion on this topic.

But do we all really care as much as we say we do? As Mark Evans, Managing Director at Direct Line pointed out, there seems to be a ‘say do’ culture when it comes to sustainability, rather than actual change. Consumers are still making choices based on convenience - the steep rise in Amazon sales over the past 18 months being reflective of this.

ACS’s Weekly Research Report also backed this up. A Keep Britain Tidy survey states; 91% of people claim to be concerned about plastic pollution and 87% claim to be concerned about the amount of waste we produce. Yet only; 45% always or often buy unpackaged items in supermarkets and only 22% have done a lot to reduce purchase of single use plastics[2]. It seems we all have the intention to make greener choices, but only as long as they are at our disposal, something that the grocery and convenience sector are working hard to deliver on.

The Convenience Mix podcast discussed an array of sustainability tips and what can be expected from The Co-op, a company spearheading going green in the convenience sector. Michael Fletcher, Commercial Director at The Co-op identified that there has been a shift of behaviours from consumers around sustainability, coined as Build Back Better. “There has been a realisation that we’re one global community, living on one planet, and what goes on in Wuhan has a direct effect on people in Watford.”

At the Co-op they have tried to simplify the noise and have pledged some very black and white commitments, including; being carbon neutral on all operations, stocking 100% brands with recyclable packaging and being carbon neutral brand by 2025.

Retailers who want to follow suite can consider replacing plastic bags for compositable bags, reducing the amount of high carbon emitting products on sale, using electric vehicles for online delivery services and introducing re-fillable stations - if located in an area where this is in-demand stores could expect a 40% uplift in sales, but ensuring immaculate hygiene procedures are followed is key[3].

It would be a miss to not mention the strides being made in the fashion industry too, reportedly the world's second most polluting industry after oil. But in the midst of the government ramping up its plans to take action on fast fashion production and hold manufacturers accountable for textile waste, sports brands like Adidas are really pioneering change for the better.

Teaming up with non-profit organisation Parley, Adidas last year sold more than 1,000,000 pairs of shoes from recycled ocean plastic, with each preventing about 11 plastic bottles from the possibility of entering our oceans. They have created a material trademarked ‘Ocean Plastic’, which is made entirely from plastic intercepted on beaches and in coastal communities and have committed to shifting to use 100% recycled polyester in all products by 2024[4].

Speaking of 2024, in March the Paris 2024 Olympics Committee announced that it would be the first games with a positive climate contribution by offsetting 100% emissions from the 3.5 million tonnes of Co2 used in previous games[5]. This includes adapting transportation, re-construction as well as merchandising. In light of this we expect to see major change in the methodology of production for almost all brands that sponsor the games, from the team uniforms, to the water cups, all aspects will be considered.

One thing is for certain, brands need to communicate their sustainability policies to the trade as well as shoppers to ensure they are kept front of mind when purchase decisions are being made.

[1] Campaign Breakfast Briefing: The Future of Customer Engagement
[2] ACS Weekly Research Update w/c 21st June 2021
[3] Sustainability and being green in 2021: The Convenience Mix Podcast
[4] adidas.co.uk/sustainability
[5] sustainabilityreport.com

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