• Dana Yatsenko

Consumers Put Brands Under Pressure to Act for the Environment

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

Lots of goods on the shelves humankind would never buy if there were no advertising. Advertisers сonvinced women to shave their legs; they convinced men to buy diamond rings and taught all of us how to celebrate almost every holiday out there.

There were days when marketing created consumption. Now those days are gone, but something is definitely changing.

Disposable single-use plastic razors are now considered a significant source of wastage. At first, men with beards knocked the razor industry down, and now people refuse to buy razors for ethical reasons. Poor Gillette! Trying to retain customers, the world’s leading razor brand launched a recycling program for razors.

A sparkler on your ring finger might be pretty, but it’s fairly possible that it was acquired through unsustainable mining by underpaid workers in life-threatening conditions. Knowledgeable consumers turn to lab-grown diamonds for ethical and environmental reasons despite the mining industry’s best efforts to expand diamond sales. Consumers vote with their wallets, demanding diamonds that do not cost the Earth and people’s lives.

And what about celebrations? Let’s take a wedding dress, for instance. A big white gown you only wear once is becoming a symbol of excessive consumption. And it’s out of fashion, by the way. The shift in customer’s needs hits traditional bridal boutiques hard. Alfred Angelo Bridal, one of the world’s largest retailers of wedding dresses, filed for bankruptcy in 2017. David’s Bridal chain is facing $250 million in debt.

By contrast, Still White presents an example of a successful wedding dress business model. It’s a marketplace that offers the world’s largest selection of second-hand wedding clothes. By reselling over 20,000 dresses, they’ve saved 216,000 kg of carbon emissions, 180 million liters of water and $20 million.

The Greta Effect

The previous year got a bit carried away by the shocking events of 2020, but one of the highlights we remember from 2019 was a passionate 16-year-old from Sweden taking on the issue of climate change.

Like it or not, Greta’s activity led to an estimated 7.5 million people across the world participating in the climate strike, and many others supported virtually. Eco-consciousness increased rapidly and their awareness of climate change is sure to increase.

Another young influencer, 18-year-old musician Billie Eilish shows her support for climate change. In September, she announced that her next tour would be “as green as possible.” No plastic straws, fans expected to bring refillable water bottles, a zone that educates about the climate crisis.

Environmental awareness is on the fast track, with Greta and Billie as spokespeople for the new generation. So it isn’t a surprise that most prominent brands in fashion, sporting goods or footwear, work on programs of compliance, recycling, carb-free and other social topics. That’s a good start. But measured against the footprint these companies leave, and against what’s needed to turn things around, it’s far from good enough.

The Evolution of the Sustainability Mindset

Today's multinational corporations are bigger sometimes than countries. For example, in 2017 Walmart earned more than the whole of Belgium. Those giants are functioning without much consideration for the planet becoming the world's largest producers of waste.

According to the Conference Board's survey, 81% of global respondents feel it's extremely or essential that companies positively impact the environment. This passion for corporate responsibility is shared across all generations. Millennials and Gen Z are the most supportive, but their older counterparts aren't far behind.

Source: The Conference Board® Global Consumer Confidence Survey

Peoples’ knowledge growth. Peoples’ voice sounds louder than ever before thanks to social media. Peoples’ needs are changing in parallel, requiring brands to do more in terms of social responsibility than they used to. Businesses that don’t adapt to the changing needs of their industry and customers are doomed to fail.

A survey by data analytics firm Kantar, in which they polled consumers in 24 countries, indicates that consumers started to punish brands with unsustainable practices with their wallets. People are already cutting spending on meat due to climate concerns and bottled drinks due to single-use plastic concerns. The trend has the potential to grow as concerns about climate change continue to mount.

According to IRI research, three-quarters of shoppers across Europe prefer to buy goods with environmentally friendly packaging, and similar statistics can be found throughout the world.

The highest expression of consumer dissatisfaction is anticonsumption, rejecting brands whose environmental reputation falls short of their expectations.

According to YouGov survey data, 50% of Americans say they have boycotted a brand at least once in their life, refusing to buy products from specific manufacturers. According to the GMIPoll report, about a third of consumers worldwide boycott at least one company. The most boycotted brands were global brands, including Nike, Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Nestle.

To Sum Up

To sum up, consumers now expect businesses to be driven by some direction other than merely making a profit. These values are fast becoming critical assets in helping boost brand value while projecting a positive corporate image, and by doing so, businesses can demonstrate a clear sense of purpose.

Purpose-led brands enjoy more robust growth and a deeper connection with consumers, with such positioning proving to be a key driver of marketing success.