Nov 21, 2019
sign at climate change demonstration

While the world watched a tough, passionate 16-year-old from Sweden take on the very real and pressing issue of climate change, I kept thinking about the impact on companies and their brands.

After all, an estimated 7.6 million people across the world participated in climate strikes, and many others supported it virtually. The end result is that whether brands like it or not, eco-consciousness is now firmly on consumers’ minds. And their awareness is sure to increase as the effects of climate change continue to be felt. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity to brands that want to address their customers’ increasing eco-mindfulness, but have yet to do so or don’t know where to begin.

The good news is that there is much to be gained by embracing this growing environmental awareness with brands positioning themselves as purpose-driven. There are three important lessons that brands can learn from Greta Thunberg.

#1 Eco-Awareness Is Rapidly Increasing

I was in awe watching the global climate strike unfold on Twitter. Yes, I know that environmental consciousness is on the rise, but I was surprised by the millions of people who hit the streets and the sheer number of countries participating (an estimated 180 countries took part).

I couldn’t help but view the crowds from a branding lens. Clearly, environmental awareness is on the fast track, and it isn’t just Millennials or Generation Z that prioritize the environment in their shopping habits (two-thirds of Americans express a preference for brands that stand for something). Older generations are also being influenced and brands had better take note.

If your brand isn’t environmentally sustainable or eco-conscious to some degree, you’d better get to work! And if you think environmental activism will not impact your brand in the very near future, think again. According to a 2018 Accenture study, 62 percent of global consumers want companies to take a stand on issues that they are passionate about. Translation: This movement is going to drive a giant wave of consumer behavior change!

#2 Fast Fashion’s Days Are Numbered

Brands like Zara, you have been warned. The days of fast fashion will quickly evaporate as more environmental awareness grows and the environmental impact of cheap fashion garments, or throw-away clothes, becomes more known.

While consumers love stylish clothes at a low price, the growing concerns around climate change will move consumer buying trends away from fast fashion. That means brands that appear to disregard the environment will go by the wayside. H&M already has a leg up with their Conscious collection as well as their efforts to provide sourcing information of their merchandise while encouraging customers to recycle their clothes.

Most of the clothing industry has a long way to go, change is starting, and no doubt brands that are improving their environmental practices will be happy they started when they did.

#3 It’s Not Just Plastic Straws

Plastic is top of mind for today’s consumers, and they don’t just care about the plastic straws at restaurants, albeit that gets a lot of attention.

Brands such as Adidas are well aware of the growing concern of plastics in the ocean, and the potential negative impact to a brand that sells sneakers.  They were ahead of this trend when they launched their collection of performance apparel, Parley, which is made from upcycled plastic ocean trash. This speaks to their astute understanding of their customers’ interests.

Even better, Adidas used a customer-centric approach to drive product innovation within their business. They know their customers’ interests, attitudes, motivations, and aspirations. Let us not forget that Adidas is a favorite among Millennials for a reason. They love that the brand represents their eco-consciousness as well as their style.

The truth is that doing good for the environment is also good for business.

Brands that plant their flag in the eco-friendly landscape give themselves a critical differentiator in a time when seemingly similar products crowd store shelves both online and in-person. It provides a connection with consumers by saying “we’re all in this together” and brands that support social causes stand out from the hordes of competitors. It is also great for delivering a strong return on investment.

Brands such as Patagonia can attest that being stewards of the environment is sound business. As Patagonia’s CEO, Rose Marcario, was quoted in a recent article,  “Doing good work for the planet creates new markets and makes [us] more money.”

A 2017 Unilever study agrees, stating that an estimated $1.2 trillion dollar opportunity exists for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear. That’s great news for brands and for the environment.

young woman holding sign at climate change protest
Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

3 Ways You Can Encourage Companies to Change

1. Talk to People

 In an age where earnest dialogue about virtually any topic can feel off limits, it is important to share and educate others about the need to safeguard and preserve our environment. In other words, discuss this topic with friends at dinner parties, during time with relatives, and in casual conversational settings. After all, there is no planet B.

One of the most valuable ways to drive change is through peer-to-peer interactions. Think of it as word-of-mouth marketing or endorsing what matters most to you. Both are extremely important in a time when everyone is considered an expert, and consumers put great stock in what their friends and family think. Use this to your advantage and speak your truth.

2. Vote With Your Wallet

 One of the most impactful things that you can do to impact brands is to vote with your wallet. While this approach is most often used when something egregious occurs and consumers take to social media to promote a brand boycott, it can be extremely effective when used preemptively.

Most strong brands review their budget numbers in relation to the previous quarter and year consistently. A dip in sales in one quarter may not garner much attention, but ongoing sluggish sales can’t be ignored. The latter is a trend, and that is something that will create a deeper investigation and a review of their customer data. All of which will put a much-needed spotlight on the brand’s shortcomings.

Consumers have more power than they realize to instigate the eco-change they seek, and actively supporting environmentally responsible companies such as Stella McCartney, Alternative Apparel, and other brands that are known for their sustainability stance is a great place to start (along with skipping the stores that disregard the environment). With the holiday shopping season approaching, now is a great time to purchase gifts for family and friends at environmentally aware stores exclusively.  

3. Be a Shopping Activist

We have all been guilty of leaving our reusable bags at home. That doesn’t mean that you have to accept a disposable bag. Skip the single-use plastic bag even if it means you have to carry a handful of items. Better yet, explain to the cashier that you don’t want a plastic bag.

When dining at restaurants, proactively mention to the server that you don’t want a straw before they leave to fulfill your drink order. Often change starts with baby steps at the local level, and this is an ideal place to ask the stores and venues that you frequent if they have a suggestion box or an easy way for you to provide customer feedback.

Most retailers and other stores welcome customer comments. Use the opportunity to ask the store to step up their environmental responsibility by offering reusable shopping bags, replacing microfiber clothing with sustainable alternatives, and/or offering recycling bins, for example.

These small requests may not have immediate impact, but if enough customers begin asking for eco-friendly products and services, it will ultimately foster a transformation. Don’t be afraid to use your voice.

Feature image courtesy of Markus Spiske from Pexels

About the Author

Shahla Hebets has held executive management positions in media companies specializing in ecommerce, pay-per-click (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), and other forms of digital marketing and advertising. With over two decades of experience developing digital marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, Shahla founded Think Media Consulting in 2016 with a focus on helping healthy lifestyle brands grow. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, two children, and dog.

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