Will sustainability save your brand?

As we navigate our new normal, we take a look at consumption and will brands stand the test of time.

Amongst an international pandemic and the future of brands post-covid-19, a new era of awareness is arising, and that’s not just our sea levels. Even before this current crisis, the world is seeing the visible effects of global warming from the recent Australian bushfires with record breaking temperatures and the UK floods earlier this year, consumers are now making more conscious choices to reduce their own carbon footprint. From where we shop, what we put into our bodies to the products we clean our homes with, there is a strong desire for transparency and sustainability from the brands we consider using. 

As we all come to terms with life under COVID-19 during lockdown: whether that be working from home, essential only travel or ‘shutting up shop’ for the foreseeable, many countries (with some of the worst air pollution) have seen reductions of their pollution up to 60% from the previous year.  These statistics alone have put consumption into the spotlight and made us strongly reconsider which brands we associate with and will buy into the “new normal” post lockdown.

No one fully knows what the future will hold. Or to what extent COVID-19 will have on the post-lockdown world. However, what we can say confidently is that this time will drastically reshape not only our shopping habits but how we understand consumerism.

Transparency

According to Nielsen, 73% of consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. But what does this mean for a company trying to stay relevant? Brands have a real opportunity to lead the way and redefine their corporate responsibility. Especially in the “new normal” where we judge how brands behaved during the crisis. Whether that be the use of sustainable packaging, natural materials and ingredients or recycling schemes. Brands need to review their approaches and align themselves with these consumers’ values. During this current time 77% of consumers want brands to speak about products in ways that show they are aware of the crisis and the impact on people’s lives.

Companies have initially been slow to respond to calls for change. However, they can no longer just provide lip service and merely placate consumers by making promises. Consumers want to see tangible actions. Consumers are savvy and demand results that are visible with 1 in 3 consumers ditching brands who they believe have not responded correctly in the face of this pandemic. According to a special Edelman Trust Barometer report, 89% of consumers want businesses to shift their resources to make products that help consumers meet today’s challenges. Luxury fashion houses such as Burberry, Tiffany and TOD’s have all pledged donations to the fight against Coronavirus.

The most successful ethical brands have already proven their worth in addressing sustainability issues head on. Veja are a great example of a transparent supply chain who responsibly source their materials. They take the enquiring user through a production journey from the cost of labour, down to the chemicals used within their products. Quorn Foods also announced that they will start including carbon labelling on their food products, listing carbon footprint calculations alongside nutritional information to help consumers understand the environmental impact associated with different food items.

‘Greenwashing’

Brands misleading their audiences is problematic to say the least. Whether that involves confusing messaging regarding green credentials, or ignoring class and social issues both economical or environmental.

To summarise this, the term “greenwashing” has been coined. Whereby brands are seen to be deceiving consumers in their efforts to be environmentally or socially progressive and making real changes. There is an appetite and desire for brands who are honest, ethical and who will help the modern day consumer make ethically based purchases. They want companies to change their mindset, be more progressive and willing to adapt with them. 

We’re approaching a crucial time whereby consumers are ditching the plastics and sourcing sustainable products that will last. Mckinsey reported 67% of respondents to the State of Fashion 2020 report think using innovative sustainable materials is important for their company. This is a great step forward into making sure their brands stand the test of time whilst making a positive shift in attitudes towards consumption that consumers want to associate with. Brands have an obligation to their consumers to bring these practices into their businesses, own their mistakes when they make them and strive for better.

There are already a number of subscription based companies such as SMOL and Who Gives A Crap that have really come to fruition in this growing market. These kinds of services have seen a surge in uptake with their business model able to reflect their customers’ shift in attitudes and values on household products by only using what is needed and producing less waste. Companies such as Hurr and ByRotation are also taking the world by storm with their rental fashion model. They are capitalising on this sustainable movement, allowing customers to rent the latest pieces guilt free.

The future

We’re now entering an era of upheaval dominated by mass consumption. Coronavirus has highlighted the importance of tackling climate change and the answers for reducing our carbon footprint have not changed. We have been given a real opportunity to refocus our efforts into a shared goal in working to meet our emissions targets for 2050.

Gen Z are shaping the future with their shopping habits accounting for 40 percent of global consumers in 2020. This generation are harnessing their voices and knowledge, with 1 in 3 already buying second hand in 2019. They are the conscious individuals, who demand transparency and honesty from their brands. They are aware of the legacy left by previous generations and whose future will ultimately be affected by these issues. 

There has also been an increase of B-Corporation brands leading the way from Patagonia and Coco Vita to The Body Shop and Teapigs. These businesses have struck a balance between profits and purpose, being certified through their positive impact on addressing societal, legal and environmental issues.

Stakeholders are going to need to evaluate their stance on becoming a ‘B Corp’ and consider whether this is something worth investing in to sustain their brands future. We predict there will be many more companies who will be striving for this certification in the not so distant future, which may work favourably for a brands equity.  

Our return to ‘normal’ will be a slow process but amidst this crisis, it has allowed consumers to slow down and revaluate their brand choices. The brands that have shifted their approach during this time and responded to the calls for safety and care of its employees and stakeholders will ultimately come out of this with a stronger brand reputation and relationship with its consumers.

It’s important we involve ourselves in these issues and voice our concerns to brands and hold them accountable to deliver a future we’re all striving for. 2020 has become the year that we’re really begin to see brands drive for change. 

Want to find out more about the brands taking the lead? Take a look here.

All factual information correct at time of writing.

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Cover image: Church of the Assumption, Bled, Slovenia by Istvan Csak