How Brands Must Prioritize Sustainability

By Noam Harel, CMO, BrandTotal

In today’s world, it seems like people care more about social issues than ever before, and that bleeds into their purchasing decisions. Consumers want their money going to companies that share their values, and if a brand supports a cause they don’t like, they’ll take their business elsewhere. And this is especially apparent when it comes to sustainability.

Sustainability and the environment have been a hot topic for years, but it seems now more than ever that consumers are keeping it in mind. According to a study from Deloitte, 34% of UK consumers have chosen brands that have environmentally sustainable practices/values, and 28% of consumers have actually stopped buying a product because of sustainability concerns.

The most telling statistic from the study is what generation is the one doing it the most: Gen Z. 45% of Gen Z respondents stopped purchasing certain brands because of ethical or sustainability concerns. That shows that younger people, who are more online and usually support progressive causes, are more likely to care about sustainability when they purchase products, which could easily carry over to the next generation.

With this in mind, brands now use sustainability as a way to get a leg up on the competition. Promoting sustainability and their commitment to the environment is a strategy to keep customers and gain new ones, since companies that might not promote sustainability risk alienating consumers.

BrandTotal analyzed many brands this April through July to see how they promoted sustainability messages, which channels were used, how much of the promotions were paid vs. organic, and how much were public vs. “hidden” — that is, only targeted to certain audiences, also known as “dark marketing.” This can be a valuable tool to make sure the right people (such as Gen Z who care about sustainability) know that this issue is important to the company.

The study showed that the channel used most by brands was Twitter, although YouTube was not far behind. The video sharing platform is very useful for brands who want to promote sustainability, as it allows for longer, more emotional messages to resonate with consumers. It’s also more one-directional like television, with less negative feedback on ads than other channels.

The study also uncovered some strategies certain brands used to put their sustainability messages from and center. Here are a few:

Sustainability as an answer to criticism

A good way for a company to get the public on their side sustainability-wise is to commit to it after criticism that they don’t do enough.

Take LEGO, for example. The toy brick making giant has come under fire for not moving quickly enough towards sustainability, especially since their products are made from plastic, and thus oil, which is not environmentally friendly. In response, they put a plan in place to be carbon neutral by 2022, which included a switch from plastic-made bricks to ones using sustainable materials. A YouTube video demonstrating this plan received positive feedback, with more than 300 likes and fewer than 25 dislikes.

Sustainability to show you care

One pitfall companies may encounter when putting out sustainability messages is that consumers may not see it as a genuine care for the environment, but rather a way to look good. That’s why companies such as Starbucks have taken it upon themselves to come up with initiatives that do more than just good for the environment, but also make an impact on people’s lives.

In addition to banning plastic straws, Starbucks also announced that, in response to difficulties farmers face in growing coffee due to changes in the environment, they would be donating 100 million healthy coffee trees to farmers by 2025, as well as sharing sustainable farming practices with them

Sustainability as the core of a company’s DNA

Younger Gen Z consumers tend to be cynical and see through marketing ploys, so they may not view brands embracing sustainability as legitimate, and instead as an “add-on” to their core business. So, Levi’s made sure to get the message out that sustainability was at the heart of their mission.

This YouTube ad, with 170 likes and only 28 dislikes, highlights how Levi’s has been trailblazing since the beginning, introducing their new environmentally friendly styles and products. Calling attention to how they’ve always cared about social issues shows that sustainability isn’t just “hopping on the latest trend,” and makes consumers more likely to buy into it.

Overall, promoting sustainability is not as easy as it sounds with how the current generation views advertising, but it’s crucial to do it the right way to rise above the competition. The data is quite clear that people want brands to align with their values more than ever before, and even companies that have failed to promote sustainability have bounced back when they have made it their main goal. If brands don’t take this to heart, it could be the difference between success and failure.

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