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Why Sustainability Matters for Brands

  • Ann D'Adamo

A 2021 PwC consumer poll across 22 countries found that more than half of consumers have become more eco-friendly during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a society, we’re increasingly aware of the devastating effects storms, wildfires, and drought have on our everyday lives. We know we need to make changes; however, many people just don’t know where to start. A recent study from Brands for Good found that 41% of Americans were unsure how to live more sustainably. That’s where brands can help – through education, inspiration, and products that make it easy for consumers to take baby steps to a more sustainable future.

Consumers Want to Live More Sustainably

When it comes to the environment, consumers are well-intentioned. Ninety-six percent of Americans say they try to live sustainable lifestyles at least some of the time. While another study found that less than a quarter of consumers say they have made major changes to be more environmentally friendly. Why? It seems that more consumers are interested in doing the right thing than are actually doing them. However, the news is promising, 57% of consumers say they are willing to change their buying habits to help the environment.

Brands Can Help Consumers Make More Sustainable Choices

So, how can brands help consumers on this journey? Sustainable behaviors that are most easily adopted are those that are embedded into mainstream culture; this offers brands a platform to use their collective influence to bring new behaviors into the zeitgeist. Consider the use of Styrofoam cups and plastic grocery bags. Years ago, one couldn’t imagine getting a cup of to-go coffee in a reusable cup or bringing their own bags into a supermarket. Today, it’s almost second nature to do so. In fact, more than half of consumers say they want brands to create products with less packaging and 73% of Millennials and 66% of all consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable offerings.

Interestingly, “social influence” also commonly known as peer pressure, can boost pro-environmental behaviors. For example, simply telling online shoppers that other people were buying eco-friendly products, led to a 65% increase in making at least one sustainable purchase. In another example, consumers were asked to choose between an eco-friendly granola bar with the tagline, “Good for you and the environment” and conventional granola bar “A healthy, tasty snack”. The sustainable option was twice as likely to be chosen when other people were present versus when the choice was made in private.

Loyalty and Trust Goes to Brands that Walk the Walk

And, if creating a healthier Earth of all wasn’t enough, the same research found that 85% of consumers say they are loyal to brands that help them to live a better and more balanced life. Moreover, other studies found that products marketed as “sustainable” have outperformed conventionally marketed products in e-commerce. Further, in 2020, the e-commerce CPG share for sustainably marketed products grew 65% versus 2019, seven points higher than conventionally marketed products. The research also found that 83% of consumers trust brands that are environmentally or socially conscious.

Beyond Demographics, Understanding the Green Consumer

Researchers confirmed that wealthier consumers are more apt to buy sustainably marketed products and upper-income, college educated, and urban cohorts account for the bulk of sustainable dollars spent. Sustainable/eco-friendly products are a becoming a marker of premium-ness, especially amongst Millennials and Gen X, who are in (or entering) their prime spending years. Although Gen Z and Millennials have been outwardly vocal about environmental issues, 50% of Americans said the pandemic made them re-think what’s important to them in life and 42% said the pandemic made them re-focus to think about causes bigger than themselves – this includes the health of the planet. In doing so, consumers are more willing to make changes and this sets the stage for opportunities for brands to engage consumers in a conversation and convert them into loyal consumers.

Beware of Greenwashing

Brands can talk the talk, but if they’re not backing it up with action…watch out, because it will come back to bite you.  Almost half of all consumers surveyed said that false environmental claims would discourage them from buying that product. A poor environmental track record is just as bad – 41% said they will not buy from brands that have a poor record on the environment. Finally, one third said a lack of supply chain transparency would also discourage them from buying from a brand – it’s not just your product, but the suppliers you work with that matter.

Today, there’s an entire economy built around sustainability. Learn how to tap into this consumer and authentically connect with them at every touchpoint. Reach out to Inspira Marketing today to learn how.

Sources: Accenture Life Reimagined Mapping the Motivations that Matter for Today’s Consumers 2022, GWI Green Consumerism Who Cares About the Environment 2022, Forrester The New Green Consumer 2022, Harvard Business Review The New Green Consumer 2019, Spring Wise Next Generation Trends 2022, Brands for Good Understand Consumer Intentions and Actions Toward Sustainable Lifestyles 2022