Oct 08, 2019

The Unboxing of Sustainability - Part II

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

  • Sustainable packaging is no longer a fashion commodity. If a brand wants to future-proof their business strategy to match the high expectations consumers have, they must reevaluate their social and environmental values.
  • At the end of 2018, the Royal Statistical Society in Britain found that 90.5% of the world’s plastic waste is not recycled.
  • The sustainability movement brings a large opportunity for brands if they can commit to it with transparency and accountability, however, the potential problem arises when brand loyalty is brought into the mix.

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


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’ views 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% of consumers 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 purchase.

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

From 2011 to 2018, the number of customers who are willing to pay more for sustainable products increased from 49% to 57% respectively. Although the majority of consumers are driven by affordability, which presents a big challenge for brands and manufacturers to overcome. An opportunity has been presented to connect with consumers on another level and brands should rise to the challenge.

The ultimate test of brand loyalty:

Now that consumers are taking an active interest in sustainability, they are also paying closer attention to the different aspects of the supply chain, from production to delivery, and lastly, disposal. With this change in perspective comes to question a consumer’s loyalty towards a brand. They are continually learning and increasing their awareness of environmental issues, they are no longer afraid to call out or question a brand’s sustainability claims. Brands need to consider this when deciding to make their brand experience more environmentally conscious.

When sustainability enters the mix, brand loyalty is put under immense strain and here’s why. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword or fleeting trend as consumers - especially Gen Z, who by 2020, will account for 40% of all consumers - genuinely care and expect more from brands than ever before.

Brands have a long way to go, with many considerable challenges to overcome, primarily, sourcing alternative materials and keeping the price in a range that will still appeal to consumers. Nevertheless, brands must work through this and incorporate sustainability into their structure while remaining honest and open with consumers throughout this journey of development.

61% of consumers say they’re likely to switch to a brand that is more environmentally friendly than their current brand.”

A brands opportunity:

While 1 in 4 internet users claim that brand messaging has the biggest impact in guiding their views on sustainability, they are also guided by social media and their peers. However, the source of this movement against single-use plastic has come from elsewhere, it is now down to brands to respond to this as the pressure and expectation to do so is increasing.

In a survey conducted by the Global Web Index of 1,589 US participants and 2,244 UK participants, they found that 64% of these consumers questioned, labelled packaging that is recyclable as the most important element of the supply chain. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has created a pledge that sets a target for brands to use 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2025. The main question brands are faced with from this pledge is, how can they meet the standards expected of them and connect with their consumers who are now sustainably driven, while still contributing a positive brand value?

Although this is an admirable goal for brands to strive towards, this will be harder to achieve if consumers are not educated sufficiently first. There are still many consumers that believe they are not provided with sufficient information about recycling on the packaging of the products they buy, 3 in 10 consumers state they do not have enough information about what packaging is recyclable. Of these consumers, 41% said this is due to brand campaigns not providing this information.

Aedamar Howlett, marketing director for Coca-Cola states that “sustainable packaging and encouraging recycling goes beyond just inspiring a purchase, or following standards of corporate responsibility.”

The process of disposing of a product is not something that is shown in most purchase journeys, and this is where the opportunity lies for brands to create a shared experience with their consumers. The brands that can maintain transparency and be informative on how to recycle their products will place themselves in good stead to reap the benefits. Jem Materials launched a form of packaging that is completely biodegradable in February 2019, by removing responsibility from the user, they have potentially found the only fully sustainable solution that can match the demand for fast-moving goods.

While this is promising, the rising concern consumers have for the environment might mean they do want some responsibility and do not want all the work done for them. Some consumers may want to become part of the process so they connect with the brand on a deeper level and recycling will allow them to take an active role in protecting the planet. The opportunity for brands here is simple, provide packaging that is not only recyclable but also be transparent so the consumers understand how to go about this.

Now that brand loyalty could be at risk, the incentive for businesses to adopt a sustainable strategy is rising. Far too often words like transparency, authenticity, and accountability are spoken of, however, now that audiences are increasingly savvy and not afraid to call out inauthentic claims, brands must accept the increasingly empowering voice of the consumers. They need to take these terms and claims they make seriously or they risk their entire brand experience.

Lastly, to successfully fall in line with a sustainable image, brands must not miss the opportunity to engage their consumers by letting them play an active role that contributes to a more sustainable future while educating them. Consumers hold their values to high regard and expect the brands they connect with, to share these values, brands should not stop there, they should invest completely in this cause and allow their consumers to become part of the process to drive connections.