With raging wildfires, a threatening hurricane season, and the ongoing issue of climate change, there has never been a better time than the present for companies to integrate sustainability into their business practices. And, don’t just take our word for it, mounting pressures from stakeholders, employees, and consumers alike have made it imperative for organizations to prioritize a sustainability strategy as part of its every day operations or risk getting left behind. In fact, almost half of shoppers in the United States say they’ll change their consumption habits to benefit the environment.
Additionally, millennials and Gen Z are particularly keen on purchasing products with the environment top of mind, which is not surprising given how much poor environmental conditions have impacted these generations over the years and in years to come. A recent study found that 65 to 70 percent of consumers under the age of 35 prefer brands based on ethical practices and transparency. Moreover, data published by the Shelton Group revealed that 90 percent of millennials would purchase from a brand if they trusted their environmental and social business practices, and that 95 percent of them would recommend this type of brand to a friend. Younger generations, especially millennials, are a powerful subsection of the population because they, currently, make up the most considerable portion of the workforce, have an expanding amount of purchasing power and are worth $1 trillion in consumer spending. It goes without saying that these factors, among others that we’ll mention below, have compelled many companies to make environmental issues a main priority.
While there have been a number of brands in the past decade that have recognized the importance of sustainability and have authentically addressed consumer desires for environmental action, there have also been businesses that have not been so authentic in their approach. Unfortunately, some companies may have “recognized the importance of sustainability for consumers,” but instead of using those concerns to take transparent, meaningful action they spent a significant amount of time and resources claiming to be sustainable through advertising and marketing and not actually implementing business practices that made an environmental impact—a term defined by experts known as corporate greenwashing.
However, now that consumers, especially in younger generations, are becoming more informed and aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases, brands are beginning to understand their responsibility to take conscious steps towards improving the environment with their business activities instead of merely offering lip service. And, doing so benefits more than just the planet, many companies have seen their bottom lines and reputations positively impacted by taking legitimate leaps to improve sustainability.
So, whether your business activities are already built upon eco-friendly strategies, or you’re looking to inject sustainability into your current practices, iteratively, there are several simple actions your brand can take in order to offer better experiences to the eco-conscious consumer while simultaneously benefiting the planet. In this blog post, you will learn more about the significance of the “conscious consumer”, discover how to deliver better experiences for this type of buyer, and understand which brands are winning over environmentalists. Continue reading to learn more!
Why Prioritize Business Sustainability?
You may be wondering why consumers and businesses alike have been so fixated on the environment in the past decade. Recent research suggests that climate change is a leading cause given that this global problem requires immediate attention in order to avoid permanent damage. Without a major reduction in emissions, the increase in annual average global temperatures could reach 9 degrees or more by the end of this century. Along with the environmental effects of this crisis, climate change also poses a substantial risk to businesses throughout the world. Studies have shown that most companies are feeling the pressure to act on climate change from various stakeholders internally and externally. But as conditions start to worsen, companies large and small are learning that addressing climate change can benefit their business internally by providing opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money on resources, and improve their brand reputation.
With that being said, corporations, thankfully have the opportunity to make a lasting impact by focusing on their environmental responsibility. Sometimes starting with the smallest acts, and building upon them over time, ends up being the method that makes the most significant impact. Take recycling for example as an illustration of small steps adding up to big impacts: The Aluminum Association states that if everyone recycled one aluminum can, 295 million new aluminum cans could be made. Keep in mind, recycling that single can wouldn’t just help with the reuse of aluminum, it would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 6,750 passenger cars off the road and save energy equivalent to 80 thousand barrels of oil.
[See our post: The Positive Impacts of Recycling to discover the environmental impact of recycling and some helpful tips to quantify the impact your business is making.]
The Importance of the Conscious Consumer
Businesses that prioritize environmental stewardship are those that dedicate themselves to taking the steps needed to ensure their business operations are planned and built to positively impact the planet and its environment. In 2020 alone, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how critical corporate social responsibility initiatives really are. For example, Architect Magazine revealed that the buildings we no longer inhabit as a result of the pandemic still utilize 80 percent of their typical resources via emergency lighting and elevators, heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems, and so on. So, although the pandemic has brought along its own health challenges, it has also shed light on wasteful business practices and presented areas of improvement for many business owners related to sustainability. And, bottom line, consumers now expect businesses to act more responsibly with so many environmental issues at stake—climate change, our endless plastic pollution problem, and, even, landfills running out of space.
In a recent article, Forbes revealed that 87 percent of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, and 76 percent will refuse to buy a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs. Another result of the research shows that 88 percent of consumers will be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues while 87 percent would buy a product with a social and ecological benefit if given the opportunity. And a whopping 92 percent of consumers reported that they would be more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues. These examples are just a handful of many that prove the impact sustainable practices can have on a business in way of driving customer loyalty and increasing sales.
Furthermore, Business Insider brings up an interesting theory, helping to further prove the benefits of creating sustainable products or services for consumers, called Social Signaling. This theory suggests that consumers buy certain products because of what these say about us. The article gives the example of purchasing a Prius: "We may buy a Prius (at least in part) because it is a purchase reliably associated with environmental consciousness, and we want to signal that we're environmentally conscious," Dr. Johnson says. The article goes on to say, “In a 2007 survey, Prius owners proudly reported that the primary reasons for purchasing the car are because it ‘makes a statement about me’ and that ‘it shows the world that its owner cares.’” Therefore, brands can not only benefit from building sustainable products and services internally, but can also leverage their environmentally-friendly credibility in marketing practices to impact consumer choices and improve to their competitive advantage, which kills two birds with one stone: increasing customer desire and brand integrity while improving the environment.
7 Tips for Sustainable Customer Experiences
If it wasn’t before, it should be clear now that delivering better customer experiences to the eco-conscious consumer increases both brand loyalty and trust while also positively giving back to the planet. However, even if your company is bought into the idea of integrating sustainable practices, you may be wondering where to begin. Luckily, there are several tactics that your company can apply to its business plan to appeal to the environmentally-friendly consumer. Read the tips below to find out how! A reminder that it’s better to do something small than nothing at all, so feel free to start this journey by implementing the recommendations in minor steps and incrementally challenging your company to eventually tackle them all:
Measure your environmental impact
First things first: You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Trust us, we understand that it can be challenging to quantify the environmental impact of a business, but measuring your company’s efforts can help you benchmark your progress while providing more contextual information for how to better integrate “green” initiatives into both business practices and marketing activities. Another reason to observe program reports is that they can not only deliver data points to share with consumers and stakeholders to reflect your approach to sustainability, but they can also help uncover new opportunities for your program to improve by, identifying inefficiencies that may have gone unnoticed. Metrics to consider reporting on include the use of recyclable packaging, reusable vs. disposable options, waste reduction policies, energy conservation, and more. Sharing your environmental impact and setting goals for improvements helps build trust and confidence among your customers, employees, and other business stakeholders.
Promote sustainability through brand messaging
Once data is gathered, businesses can promote commitments to sustainability using their brand messaging framework and guidelines, including logo, website, marketing materials, business cards, and packaging materials. For example, Seventh Generation’s brand messaging—including their logo, brand name, and packaging materials—all tell the story of what their organization stands for. The brand explains, “At Seventh Generation, we’ve always had the belief that you can’t live a healthy life on a sick planet, and, from the beginning, we set out to live up to our name and inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations.” Seventh Generation’s logo also recounts their commitments through its white lettering against a leaf background. The logo visibly communicates exactly what the brand stands for: The white letters combined with the leaf give off the impression of cleanliness, freshness, and naturalness. Furthermore, the brand's logo can be found on the front of its new packaging, which is recyclable, and designed using recycled materials—All great examples of fundamentally integrating the importance of the environment into a holistic brand experience.
Share your story
It should be clear by now that today’s consumers and stakeholders want brands to be transparent about their sustainability story. Indeed, 70 percent of consumers want to know what brands are doing to address social and environmental issues. Communicating your business’ sustainability goals, efforts, and achievements on your website, social media, and other marketing materials can help develop trust between your business and the consumer. When sharing your story, start by considering the following questions: Why have you chosen to make a difference? What has been the impact of your efforts? (e.g. How much waste have you diverted from landfill, how much energy have you saved etc.?). From the answers to those questions, brands can then find openings to tell an interesting story whether that’s highlighting green certifications, showcasing volunteer experiences, or reporting how much waste the company has avoided in greener practices. For instance, computer developer, retailer, and repairer Dell Technologies does just that by using its packaging materials, website, social media, and many other communication channels to share their environmentally-friendly message. A few ways they do this is by explaining their goal of becoming the greenest technology company on the planet, what they are doing to be green, and how their consumers can help their efforts. It also is helpful to tap into internal pride for your company’s sustainability activities and feel good about your efforts as this assists your team in identifying and authentically communicating meaningful narratives that connect with your consumers and employees. Luckily, in today’s world, there is no shortage of creative tools to share your journey with millions worldwide, so don’t be afraid to tell your sustainability story!
Until the 1970s, we were living within the planet’s means. Today we'd need 1.6 earths to regenerate what our demand for natural resources uses in a year. Learn how our #ProgressMadeReal goals are helping #MoveTheDate https://t.co/hPb21TCRtS pic.twitter.com/UQsT4NHP92— Dell Technologies (@DellTech) August 22, 2020
Renew your certifications
Another way you can showcase sustainability is by obtaining an environmental certification, which substantiates your organizational commitments, by a trusted third-party, to professional standards within the environmental sector. Studies show that customers willing to pay more for sustainable products are looking for these certifications. In fact, some consumers are willing to pay up to 5 percent more for certified environmentally-friendly products. Nowadays, many eco-conscious consumers are looking for Certified B Corps, which is a business that has woven a social mission into the fabric of its business practice. These companies undergo a rigorous review by the non-profit B Lab, which evaluates companies based on their vision of business for a better world. The B Lab first grades a company based on its impact upon stakeholders and then considers its values, practices, legal standing, social and environmental performance, and transparency to the public. Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s are two well-known examples of B Corp Certified businesses. “For people who want to work for, buy from, and invest in businesses they believe in, the B Corp logo has fast become a near-universal signpost,” explains Outland Denim founder James Bartle.
#BCorp Patagonia has always been a business leader in protecting the environment. The company's mission not only helps the planet, it helps the bottom line. #BCorps across the world commit to environmental protection. @patagonia https://t.co/pHjisRTDgA— B Corporation (@BCorporation) January 4, 2019
Use recycled paper products
According to the EPA, the average office worker generates approximately 2 pounds of paper/paperboard products each day. Unfortunately, paper is one of the most significant contributors to deforestation. In fact, 14 percent of deforestation happens in order to create paper goods. An easy, yet effective way to do your part for the planet is by using eco-friendly paper—Paper that has a smaller carbon footprint and impact on the environment. Most printers and office supply stores offer materials that use eco-friendly paper, from business cards to brochures and more. Using recycled paper, as opposed to virgin paper, ends up making a big difference in the long run and is a simple way to demonstrate that your business is environmentally conscious. For example, Apple partnered with The Conservation Fund to protect 36,000 acres of sustainable forest in the United States by using paper more efficiently, responsibly sourcing materials for paper packaging, and leveraging recycled paper products where possible, which ensures that “working forests remain forests,” said the company.
Promote eco-friendly suppliers
The most environmentally-friendly businesses know that sustainability cannot be achieved without partnering with like-minded suppliers and cleaning up the supply chain. A recent survey of roughly 1,000 supply chain executives found that organizations that engaged with any tier of suppliers were 38 percent more likely to achieve or surpass their expectations when it comes to reducing potential risks and costs and growing revenue.. Taking the time to promote local suppliers, for example, shows consumers that your business supports the community and other sustainable companies while demonstrating that your business is actively working on reducing its carbon footprint throughout the supply chain. Cuyana, a women’s fashion brand that believes in creating “fewer, better” things, built its supply chain to support environmental responsibility for the entire lifecycle of a product. One of the things that set Cuyana apart from other retailers is the story they tell of how their products are created, including their partnerships with their suppliers, who use the finest materials available on the market so their clothing and accessories are able to be used for longer.
Donate or volunteer to assist local charities
Lastly, another great way to make a difference is by supporting environmental initiatives in your community by making donations to local organizations or volunteering nearby. Volunteer programs help companies appear favorably to consumers because it helps them acknowledge the brand’s involvement in improving their surrounding communities. According to a “Pulse Survey,” 40 percent of a company’s reputation is determined by volunteering and corporate social responsibility.
In addition to volunteering, brands can also suggest ways for customers to “give back” and support a cause they care about. Providing ways for consumers to easily participate in volunteering opportunities either with your organization or through other activities that give back can be even more captivating while allowing brands to make a meaningful social, or environmental, impact on a larger scale. In recent years, many companies, including grocery stores, merchandisers, and retailers, have allowed consumers to use their extra change, or round up purchase, to contribute for donations to a charity that the company selects. According to Lyft, which leveraged the aforementioned “rounding up” method, 40,000 passengers donated over $100,000 in the program’s first two months. Not only does offering ways for customers to give back make them feel good about their actions and spending at your organization, but, again, it also helps them perceive your company in a more positive light.
Top 3 Brands Winning Over the Eco-Conscious Consumer
Allbirds claim to have the world’s most comfortable shoe, and (according to our research), perhaps, the most environmentally-friendly ones too. The company, which stumbled into the forefront of sustainable brands just a few years ago, creates sneakers made from renewable resources such as merino wool, recycled bottles, castor bean oil, and recycled cardboard. In addition to their comfortability and sustainability, the biggest draw to the brand for many consumers is its willingness to listen to their desires. According to Allbirds, “We are always listening to our customers, and heard from them that there are moments when they needed a different type of experience than Wool. We developed Tree to address these situations and create a more comfortable warm-weather experience.” By requesting feedback and listening to their customers Allbirds was able to build upon their foundational product and create a new sustainable shoe—all while truly winning the hearts of environmentalist shoppers around the world.
Retailers are known to have one of the greatest impacts on our environment through their business practices. However, Patagonia is a great example of a retailer that understands this impact foundationally and takes impressive strides to address environmental concerns across all of its business activities, helping its message truly resonate with environmentally-conscious consumers and beyond. Despite manufacturing some of the best, yet most expensive, outdoor gear, consumers are still genuinely willing to spend more money on their products because of their quality and their minimal impact on the environment. As we mentioned, studies prove that consumers are willing to pay extra for sustainability. Regardless of being worth $1 billion as of 2018, Patagonia proves that doing good resonates not just with the environmentally-concerned consumer, but the general public as well. One of the ways Patagonia does good is by empowering site visitors to also be activists. On their website, Patagonia’s Action Works connects consumers directly with the company's grassroots grantees like the Humane Society of the United States, Green America, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Additionally, in an attempt to bring attention to the effects of consumerism on the environment, Patagonia launched its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign on Black Friday. The message may sound counterintuitive, but by addressing the issues of consumerism, the campaign aimed to inspire customers to think before they purchase a product and implement solutions, like buying less, to help mitigate the environmental impact of buying products we don’t need. Through these types of campaigns and public initiatives, consumers trust that Patagonia’s mission is about more than just making a profit and often inspires deeper support of the brand overall.
“The long-term goal of our content strategy is for customers to fall in love with our brand and its story,” said Mark Parrott, head of e-commerce Lush Cosmetics. Upon entering a store, customers will notice that most of Lush’s products are “naked,” which is how Lush refers to its products that don't have packaging and require a package that is recyclable or reusable, which the store provides upon purchase. Lush’s tagline “fresh handmade cosmetics” is included on all product packaging and is another way the brand directly communicates its dedication to sustainability—reinforcing that all products are made with fresh, 100% vegetarian, handmade, quality ingredients. And, that’s not all: Lush also uses another aforementioned tactic to help customers get involved by providing an easy way for the consumer to “give back”. When you buy a pot of Lush’s Charity Pot, all of the sales go to grassroots groups working in human rights, animal protection, and environmental justice. Additionally, Lush also allowed customers to bring back their packaging for refills, furthering their commitment to recycling, reuse, and sustainability in general.
Ultimately, with the suggestions and examples above, we hope you understand both the business and environmental benefit sustainable company practices can have when you build them around the eco-conscious consumer. In today’s world, brands truly have an excellent opportunity to be transparent about their environmental initiatives and influence purchase decisions that improve a company’s bottom line—all while contributing to actions that help keep our planet healthy and safe. Hopefully, by reading this post, you’ve picked up some helpful sustainability tips while learning that starting with small, iterative changes can lead to massive business and environmental impacts in the long run! If you have any questions or are looking for expertise in sustainable waste disposal and recycling, please feel free to contact us today to set up a free consultation! Thanks for reading.