Commentary

Brands That Validate Their Sustainability Commitments Will Win In 2016

In the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion in the popularity of sustainable and bio-based products. From household names like Seventh Generation, Method and the Honest Company, all the way through to niche beauty brands like Juice Beauty. These products were born out of a commitment to create natural alternatives that are more environmentally friendly. 

And the topic of sustainability isn’t going anywhere; growing environmental needs and consumer concern are increasingly steering consumer spending habits. According to Mintel, “63% of U.S. consumers feel that ethical issues are becoming more important, and 56% stopped buying from companies they believe are unethical.” We’re at the tipping point. More consumers will start questioning the ingredients in their packaged goods, the packaging itself and the brand values, leading them to consider switching to alternative, more sustainable options. 

Not every brand or product has the ability to adapt to this new need and environment, but there are methods brands and marketers can take to future-proof their businesses to ensure they’re authentically participating in this conversation and not losing market share. 

Expand your range

Many brands are diversifying their ranges to encompass a more ecological product. Kimberly-Clark added their Green Harvest products. Garnier Fructis have their Garnier Green program, Pure Clean, that’s 92% biodegradable. The brands that are doing this are also retaining their current audiences by keeping their main products the same. 

Revamp your packaging

Plastic as we know it has changed. There are non-biodegradable plastics, plastics made from recycled materials, and of course, non-plastic alternatives. Boxed Water’s bold packaging champions their sustainability with “Boxed Water is Better” – speaking to both their five-step cleaning and taste process and their packaging’s lower carbon footprint. Similarly, Coke’s plant bottle is made 100% from renewable plants and recycles like a traditional bottle but with a lighter footprint. 

Help consumers recycle or safely dispose of your products

The recycle icon causes confusion in itself, and not everyone has time to interpret what it actually means. Instead of relying on this mysterious icon, brands can take the time and the space to tell consumers what to do with the package or unused product by adding this information to packaging or driving consumers to their website to find the details. Increasingly brands are using the How2Recycle label to clearly communicate instructions, especially on items made from flexible plastic bags that require store drop-off for recycling. Method have a clever section on their website to tell you what each of the icons mean and what to do next. The company Loliware has even created disposable cups that you can actually eat instead of throwing away. British brand The Soap Co. details every layer of their packaging – from the label to the glue used, and how to recycle or dispose of it. 

Switch up your messaging hierarchy

Most CPG brands already have a large sustainability program— it’s just not a core pillar to their consumer communications. For example, did you know Mondelez has the Harmony Center that is focused on sustainable wheat supply? Probably not. 

Hopefully, in 2016 we will see more marketing campaigns communicate these corporate values to consumers. Already we’ve seen REI with their #OptOutside campaign, which closed stores and paid employees to take Black Friday off, and Vodafone who publicly communicated their Maternomics maternity policy. Many CPG brands have fantastic corporate community programs like Burt’s Bees Culture Day, but we’re yet to see a CPG brand fully flaunting their corporate culture. 

The moral of the story is that consumers are flooded by choice, and as they start to consider sustainable options, brands need to either adapt at the innovation level or start socializing their commitment to society.

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