Planet in Peril: The Tricky Tightrope for Brands

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As environmental concerns grow in scope and urgency, here’s how your brand can act.

That climate change is man-made and potentially terminal for the prospects of the human race is widely accepted. The information war is largely won. Widespread media attention of late – from extensive coverage of the recent Extinction Rebellion protests to news about the growing flygskam (flight shame) movement – has left us with little doubt about the precarious state of the world we live in.

Now, the battle to change behaviours, both personal and society-wide, is underway. And the clock is ticking: according to the UN, we only have 11 years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change and avert catastrophe. Immediate action is required – but as fundamentally commercial entities, brands are in a tricky position. How can your brand navigate the tightrope between consumption and conservation? Here are a few principles to follow when engaging the eco-aware consumer.

Consumers expect brands to take the lead

Consumers’ eco-ethical aspirations are often side-lined due to their lack of clout. As such, they expect brands – which have greater scale than the individual, and greater agility than governments – to help them achieve a more sustainable lifestyle. In fact, according to Foresight Factory research, 70% of global consumers in 2019 agree that companies should be penalised for failing to take care of the environment.

How to act

Make eco-ethical effortless. It is the domain of brands to act against environmental challenges where consumers cannot. From eliminating plastic packaging to making anti-pollution products, support consumers’ eco-ethical aspirations – and make it easier for them to live and buy with a clean conscience.

Current rhetoric is anti-consumption

A lot of the conservation surrounding climate change is centred on the idea of reducing consumption: buy less, drive less, fly less. How can you brand acknowledge this and still stay in business?

How to act

Rethink your product’s environmental footprint. According to Foresight Factory research, 64% of global consumers in 2018 said that they are trying to reduce the amount of household waste they produce. Evaluate, and mitigate, your brand’s eco impact. How can you maximise the life cycle of your product? How can you make packaging more recyclable? How can you make your stores more environmentally friendly? Sustainable products and services will earn the spend of eco-woke consumers.

Eco-living is still regarded as inferior by some consumers

Some consumers perceive eco-ethical behaviour to be expensive, while others feel that green products – cleaning agents without heavy-duty chemicals, for example – lack efficacy. The onus, then, is on brands to extol the benefits of eco-living.  

How to act

Romanticise green living. According to Foresight Factory data, 52% of global consumers in 2017 agreed that they like it when companies address current social issues in their advertising. Find areas of consumers’ lives where current practices are environmentally damaging and associate your brand with a more sustainable ­– and more aspirational – way of living. Emphasise the ease of using your product; the potential cost savings of living sustainably; and the status boost that eco consumption can bring.

There is a lack of trust and transparency about brands’ eco-behaviour  

It isn’t always easy for consumers to discover products and companies doing the right thing. And no matter how forcefully brands broadcast their eco credentials to the world, there is still widespread cynicism of corporate claims.

How to act

Help customers verify your green credentials. Accessible and impartial ways of proving your brand’s eco-ethical impact will be welcomed by shoppers. Consider partnering with services that deliver this clarity, such as Green Seal – but take care that any addition to the product discovery stage doesn’t unnecessarily interrupt the shopper journey.

At the end of the month, I will be heading to Advertising Week APAC, where I will be discussing the evolution of masculinity in the session title, ‘Men and #metoo. Is Male Advertising Over, As We Know It?’. Come and join in the debate. 

Meabh Quoirin

CEO & Co-Owner at Foresight Factory (Formally Future Foundation)

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