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Time to Stop Using Sustainability as a Fashion Statement

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Companies need to to turn recycling and sustainability from marketing buzzwords to environmental reality.

A lot is spoken about on the topic of sustainability and recycling. A lot.

Over the last decade, not only has the topic risen in prominence — led by a generation of millennials that cradle the subject like a precious newborn — it’s also become a staple of modern-day culture, and businesses recognize that.

In 2015, a Nielsen report found that 73% of the millennial generation was willing to pay more for sustainable goods. By 2018, Nielsen also found that 85% of millennials and 80% of Gen Z rank the environment at the top of their list of companies with which they would engage.

Fast forward to 2020 and research from a different body — the Institute of Business Ethics — found that “environmental responsibility” remains in the top three issues concerning the public.

Undoubtedly, it’s an important societal issue, one that is adopted as a key part of business strategies — across multiple sectors — with brands attempting to meet their demanding consumers halfway and endear themselves to them.

Therein lies a big problem, though.

Looking at the bigger picture, companies commit to sustainability and recycling loosely, and the terms are used more as marketing tools rather than seeing it as a collective problem that needs to be solved.

Road sign saying buzzwords

Terms like recycling and sustainability have become marketing buzzwords.

We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? A business or brand that comes out with a bold statement on its stance on sustainability and the steps it pledges in order to be greener.

The problem is, though, that those steps are never seen. All we’re left with is a vacuum of promises. And, even if we do see action that the consumer can get behind, there’s very little incentive to do so.

The switch from single-use plastic to reusable packaging is a prime example of this. Take a brand launching a new eco-refill pack for soap dispensers, for example. Traditionally, that business made its profits by selling its product in single-use packaging, ensuring that the customer would have to continue purchasing again and again as it ran out.

As plastic waste and recycling shot up the national and cultural agenda, though, there’s a desire for that same brand to stay front of mind with its customers. Then it develops an eco-refill pack in order to satisfy the consumer that it is eco-friendly on one hand, as well as the consumer that wants to stick to what they know on the other.

The issue, though, is that the decision is led by a commercial-thinking head, with sustainability coming as a secondary thought. Essentially, it’s just an add-on.

The truth is that even if brands in the position are pushing the sustainability message, they’re not providing the consumer with the incentive to do so. To compound this, an investigation last year highlighted that a zero-waste shopping approach for consumers was up to 50% more expensive.

More incentives, please.

If we’re serious as a nation about recycling and conquering our plastic waste issue, there must be far more incentive for people to make the switch. We need methods that are going to make sustainability and recycling the main attraction.

It’s what we do that will make an impact, not what we say we’re going to do

Last year, there was a clear acknowledgement that there is more businesses can do with regard to sustainability and recycling.

In HSBC’s Made For The Future report, it states that of the business leaders that participated, 86% thought they could improve on their commitment to sustainability.

That’s a huge figure, but not a shock. It ties back to the earlier observations. Sustainability has been seen as a marketing ploy for years rather than actual action that needs to be embedded.

Very few businesses can argue against that, but there are leaders and some brands that are taking genuine strides to make a difference that the rest of us can take inspiration from.

One of those brands is BrewDog, which genuinely has a belief and purpose to make a difference, have a positive impact, and advocate change. The work the brand is doing up in Scotland, following the launch of its Buy One Get One Tree initiative, is truly admirable.

For those not familiar with the scheme, the brewer, in partnership with the Eden Project, has committed to planting one tree for every multipack of its headline beers purchased throughout 2021. The company has also launched its Equity For Punks Tomorrow program, with everyone that invests in it having a tree dedicated to them in the 2,050-acre ‘BrewDog forest’.

It’s rich. It’s current. It’s believable. It inspires. And because of that, BrewDog’s brand presence has shot through the roof and they have garnered a huge following.

They are not alone. It’s well documented how LA-based business, Beyond Meat, has gone above and beyond to shake up the meat industry. Patagonia, a clothing brand, has a corporate philosophy that is ‘100% For the Planet.’ Here in the UK, Innocent Drinks and Leon are among the businesses leading the sustainability charge.

Elnur/Adobe StockCircular Economy Design Adobe Stock 228766313

Specifically, when it comes to plastic, a report in 2018 told how 250 organizations joined forces to end plastic waste, thanks to a fresh commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

What do these businesses and brands have in common? They’re taking genuine actions that their consumer can get on board with.

Providing incentives and actions that consumers can get behind is key

The beauty of sustainability and recycling is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Every business and industry have a unique way of how it can make a difference.

Corporate sustainability goes beyond the buzzwords and is about driving changes to lessen the impact of businesses on the planet. Some companies focus on environmental sustainability initiatives while others have sustainability goals that span across health, poverty, education, and more.

It all starts with a strong initiative that resonates with consumers, one they want to go out of their way to back and support. Businesses don’t have to go and build an entire forest to achieve it, or produce an innovative product geared towards changing the world. There are simple actions that, collectively, can make a difference, including:

●        ESG investment and green finance programs;

●        Circular supply chains;

●        Cut costs for reusable products;

●        Training employees and enforcing sustainability work policies;

●        Helping consumers make informed decisions;

●        Encouraging positive habits;

●        Reducing waste and minimizing footprint;

●        Transparency and regular updates with your audiences and consumers;

●        Develop initiatives for consumer involvement.

Long gone are the days when a good product was enough to win over consumers.

The truth is that brand values trump that and with Millennials and ‘Gen Z’ becoming more and more influential, businesses - across multiple sectors - have no choice but to incorporate their demands if they are to meet their audience halfway, especially when it comes to subjects like sustainability and plastic waste.

Over time individual action becomes a collective. A collective creates momentum. Momentum creates genuine change. We need more action. Not more marketing ploys.

 

Ed. Note: This article was issued on behalf of Advanced Dynamics, a supplier of fully integrated feeding, filling, labelling, and wrapping machinery, by Hallam. For further information, please contact Tom Bestwick at tom.bestwick@hallam.co.uk.

 

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