When it comes to global brand ethics, consumers are putting sustainable marketing at the top of the list. Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. But, after 2020’s continual lockdowns that saw mass-consumerism grind to a halt, it’s become apparent to many that it’s entirely possible to live a simpler, more sustainable life. As a result, people are reassessing their relationship with consumerism.
A worldwide survey from GlobalWebIndex discovered that 7 in 10 people believe that the need to reduce their personal carbon footprint and environmental impact will be of greater importance than before Covid-19. The same survey revealed that 3 in 4 people are looking to companies, expecting them to do more in terms of sustainability.
Research shows that it’s Gen Z who are leading the charge when it comes to environmental action. However, the desire for sustainability operates beyond traditional demographics. Consumers across generations are looking to brands to set a good example. In this great cultural reset, there’s no longer an excuse for brands to ignore their environmental duty, it’s time to fully embrace sustainable marketing.
Communication is Key
The way a brand communicates its green initiatives is arguably the most important aspect of sustainable marketing. After all, a lack of clarity can be extremely damaging for brands. Over the years, many brands have been named and shamed for greenwashing campaigns simply because the language they’ve used has been misleading – using vague words like ‘clean’, ‘plant-based’ ‘eco-conscious’ and ‘non-toxic’. As greenwashing becomes more and more subtle, brands must seek to tell the truth in a simple way in order to build honest relationships with their customers.
Indeed, advertising bodies around the world are now cracking down on greenwashing language. In 2020, the National Advertising Division advised Tide (known as Daz in the UK and Vizir in France and Poland) to change the ‘plant based’ claim on their Purclean detergent, as 25% of the product was derived from non-plant based ingredients, including Diesel (source: Truth in Advertising.org). Using manipulative, green-washed language to engage with environmentally conscious audiences is a sure fire way to lose their interest and trust.
A brand revolutionising green communication is Veja. In the Transparency section of their website, Veja details the entire process of making their products, offering percentage breakdowns of the materials used in every trainer. Customers can also download biogenic and biobased carbon lab reports on Veja’s product materials for proof of the brand’s eco-credentials. And while this all sounds rather complicated, the copy they use is fuss-free and explanatory, guiding consumers through the nitty gritty details of their product.
However, for brands who want to inject a little fun into their green marketing, handing out the hard facts can be a little dull. IKEA is a brand who masters the art of fun green marketing, while still delivering a clear message. Instead of partaking in Black Friday 2020, IKEA released Green Guides to help customers celebrate ‘greener holidays’. Designed to look like their flat-pack instructions, these guides combined playful copy with simple, quirky visuals to delight IKEA fans. For example, in the guide to ‘Conserving Your Energy’, the copy ‘Don’t: Become a generator’ accompanies a line drawing of Christmas tree lights plugged into a human-sized hamster wheel. In the following frame, the tree stands alone with the line: ‘Do: Choose LED lights’. These ads are full of subtle puns – ‘Conserving your energy’ being a pun on conserving your household energy but also on conserving your own energy by not becoming a human hamster – but are also easy to understand. As a result, IKEA effectively communicated how customers could embrace greener ways of living over Christmas.
Getting consumers to go green
Of course, for every customer who’s charmed by sustainable marketing (like IKEA’s) and seeks to follow its guidance, there’s another who doesn’t want to engage with sustainable shopping at all. The truth is, for many people, shopping sustainably is a privilege they can’t afford. And then there are those who can afford it but don’t necessarily feel motivated to. Who can blame them when it is so much easier and faster to buy new? Especially considering so many brands partake in huge sales events, like Black Friday, which seem to celebrate mass consumerism. But, brand’s need to change the conversation around ‘newness’, pushing for more thoughtful ways of shopping.
Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, Spain, Singapore and Norway all take part in some form of Black Friday-esque event in November (source: Wave Media). But as this event becomes bigger and bigger, mass consumerism gets more and more out of hand. As a result, many brands are boycotting the event altogether. For example, in 2020, Canadian beauty brand Deciem closed shop for the day – both on and offline. Instead they offered 23% off all products for the whole of November, giving people time to think about whether they actually needed to make a sales purchase. They named the month ‘Knowvember’, and used the time to help consumers learn more about climate change.
Brands can also partner with exciting influencers to change the narrative around sustainable shopping. In 2020, Selfridges and Oxfam joined forces for #SecondHandSeptember, opening up a second hand pop up in Selfridges’ London store. Bay Garnett, Senior Fashion Advisor at Oxfam, styled boundary-pushing actor and writer Michaela Coel in a selection of second hand outfits as part of the campaign. Hosting the pop up in a traditionally high-fashion environment and featuring an actor who was hitting headlines with her bold TV show ‘I May Destroy You’ helped customers appreciate how exciting secondhand clothing could be.
Dismantling planned obsolense
Of course, encouraging customers to reassess their relationship with mass consumption is a strange task that seems to go against the meaning of marketing. Let’s be honest, most of the world’s biggest brands rely on over consumption. Indeed, planned obsolescence reigns supreme across various sectors.
Especially common in the tech industry, planned obsolescence is when manufacturers design products to become out-of-date prematurely. A lot of tech brands get criticised for planned obsolescence, especially in France where the Hamon Law of 2014 sanctions companies for creating products essentially built to fail. In 2017, lawsuits were filed against Epson, Hp, Canon and Brother in France. Likewise, a year later, the French group Stop Planned Obsolescence stood up against Apple. The group argued that iPhone updates on older models slowed down the devices, driving customers to buy the newest model. The desire to see planned obsolescence come to end is sweeping across the world, with the European Parliament voting in favour of the Rights to Repair Electronics act, aimed at making it easier for consumers to repair their old electronic devices.
Brands must communicate clearly on any initiative to tackle planned obsolescence. Research from the European Commission study reveals that 79% of EU citizens think that companies should make their tech products easier to repair, and improve access to replacement parts (source: European Commission Survey). Tech brands must offer customers opportunities to repair their products and make these services known through clear messaging. Clarity, however, isn’t something brands often get right. According to research by an ING Learning From Consumers report, 41% of customers don’t know how to access a product’s repair services and 39% can’t distinguish between the recyclable and non-recyclable elements of their electrical products.
To plug the gap left by tech brands, anti-obsolescence companies are popping up with the aim of helping customers fix their old products. iFixit, for example, is a California-based company that provides consumers with repair guides and tools for broken digital devices.
Going in circles
Adopting the circular economy model presents brands with a great opportunity to deepen their connection with audiences. After all, consumers around the world place a lot of importance on circular practices. According to ING, Chinese and Indian consumers highly value companies who adopt circular practices, but when it comes to specific eco-activities like recycling, European consumers are currently ahead of them (source: ING Learning from consumers report).
IKEA, who we’ve already mentioned, have started testing a Buy Back scheme, where they’ll buy old furniture off customers in exchange for vouchers. The vouchers won’t have an expiry date, encouraging customers to only spend them when they need to. In Sweden, old IKEA furniture has even found its way into the brand’s pilot second-hand store.
Other brands also operate within the circular economy model. Patagonia, for example, is famous for its circular initiatives, in keeping with its historic mission to ‘cause no unnecessary harm’ to the planet. They offer tips to customers on how to repair damaged products, and even offer a free repair service themselves. Likewise, people can trade in their old Patagonia clothes in exchange for credit, and purchase second hand Patagonia items on the brand’s Worn Wear site.
Get ready for regulation
It’s wise for established global brands to start adopting circular practices. After all, it’s likely that more and more environmental regulations will come into place around the globe, forcing brands to adapt fast. For example, the UK recently announced that the sales of petrol and diesel vehicles would be banned by 2030. In 2020, Thailand’s government announced a ban on the use of microbeads, cap seals and oxo-degradable plastics by the end of the year (source: World Economic Forum). The ban on single-use plastic bags is also spreading across the US. And those are just a few examples.
So what small changes can companies make now, to prepare for a more ecological future?
- Embrace renewable energy across the manufacturing process.
- Regularly review product designs to see if materials used can be upgraded to more eco-friendly ones.
- Set out realistic goals and commitments for reducing carbon footprint – Danone’s ‘Climate Policy’ is a great example of this in action.
- Analyse how suppliers operate and check that they’re doing all they can to improve their environmental impact.
- Think about carbon offsetting by planting trees, etc. Although, it is worth noting that many environmentalists argue carbon offsetting only works if companies are actively trying to reduce their carbon emissions in other ways.
Admittedly, It’s not realistic to say that companies can implement all of these changes right now. But, the sooner companies prepare for stricter guidelines, the better. Plus, going green actually adds value to a business. Often green initiatives lead to tax advantages, greater efficiency and small cost savings, i.e. by reusing materials where possible rather than having to source new.
Clearly, in the new era of global marketing, the impetus is on brands to do more for the planet. As ever, false claims don’t go unnoticed. So, brands must make sure they’re doing everything – embracing the circular model, dismantling the need for new obsolescence, and setting small but achievable environmental goals to help protect the future of our planet.
If you’d like to discuss your sustainable marketing with us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.