Jul 23, 2019

The Unboxing Of Sustainability

Consumers are now looking further than just the product on a shelf, they expect brands to share a genuine interest with their social and environmental values.

  • Sustainable packaging is no longer simply a fashionable commodity, it is crucial for any brand that is hoping to future-proof their business strategy to hold up against the high expectations consumers now have, where a brand’s social and environmental values are concerned.
  • At the end of 2018, the Royal Statistical Society in Britain found that 90.5% is the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled.
  • This article will evaluate consumers’ desire for sustainable packaging and how this will play a part in their purchasing decisions and in turn, a brands position, communication strategy and packaging development.

Global Web Index “There’s nowhere for brands to hide now.”

Why now?

For a while now, the environmental movement has been gaining a lot of traction. Many factors have contributed to the increase in awareness and influence regarding consumers’ change towards sustainability, including but not limited to long-term efforts on a global political scale, and short-term efforts like celebrity activism and viral content.

    • 72% say affordable products are important in their day-to-day shopping. 
    • 42% say products that use recycled/ sustainable materials are important in their day-to-day shopping. 
    • 28% say they do not have sufficient information about which packaging can be recycled from the product they buy.

These three statistics outline the key areas that consumers are beginning to take into consideration when making a purchase: affordability whilst using sustainable materials and the issue that prevents them from committing to these values, the level of information provided to them.

Consumer demand is growing:

From 2011 to 2018, the number of customers who were willing to pay more for sustainable products increased from 49% to 57% respectively. Furthermore, the majority of internet users in the UK and US have adopted a more positive approach in an attempt to cut down their consumption of single-use plastic - over 50% of consumers have stated that they reduced the amount of disposable plastic they use.

Environmentalist media:

Documentaries and news stories are among the most influential sources that can impact a consumer’s view on plastic waste and sustainability. As a result, consumers are being increasingly targeted by a growing body of educational media which intends on raising awareness in an attempt to reduce the effects of climate change.

High-profile documentaries, for example ‘Before the Flood’ and ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, have broadened consumer awareness, which resonated with them in a way that science would struggle to achieve. 

Similarly, celebrity activism has increasing influence, seen when Leonardo DiCaprio - a highly vocal celebrity climate activist - was featured in ‘Before the Flood’. Alongside this, media has also seen the viral spread of content that showcases the decline of our environment. The spread of viral media has been explosive and in turn, effective in speeding up the circulation of the movement. 

One in a rising number of examples that demonstrate the power of viral content, is the award-winning photograph taken by Justin Hofman of a seahorse holding a cotton swab in a sea of plastic debris.

Social media, who’s accountable?

The impact of these shocking images and videos demonstrate how crucial social media is for the movement, it can increase awareness amongst consumers and regardless of how brutal the image or video is, it will appeal to their conscious.

Whilst this power is positive, another benefit social media provides is the ability to hold public figures, whether they are celebrities or politicians, accountable for their actions. Any piece of shared content which is watched and shared millions of times has the potential to damage a brand’s image, and this is something brands must be wary of when conducting inauthentic advertising - saying they are environmentally friendly but displaying content that is contradictory on their social channels will not be forgiven.

Reduced packaging, innovative design, and encouraging the use of recyclable materials are just a few examples from a long list of potential contributions brands can adopt into their marketing strategy. Corona's development of 'Fit Packs' is a great example of innovative design:

What matters to consumers? 

42% of US and UK consumers indicated that sustainable products are important in their day-to-day purchases.

Brands must look to trends when considering what alterations should be made to their strategy. Factors like ‘fair-trade’, ‘natural’, and ‘organic’ are no longer top of a consumer’s list of priorities. Trends have a life cycle and currently, plastic is a hot topic as its detrimental effects are so visible and widespread.

Additionally, consumers hold price and brand trust above all. When switching to more sustainable materials, how much will the consumer be willing to spend, and can they afford the switch, are obstacles brands need to consider.

As many consumers are driven by affordability, this presents a big challenge for manufacturers and brands to overcome. In general, environmentally-friendly alternatives are usually more expensive, so brands may face a battle in the short-term trying to get consumers accustomed to this. The difficulty will not just be finding suitable alternatives to plastic but finding these alternatives at a price that will still appeal to consumers.