You may have heard the term “fast fashion” in the past couple of years. Used to describe the trend of inexpensively, often unethically, produced clothing, it has become a buzzword for socially conscious consumers, especially as the environmental impact of mass-producing products to keep up with rapidly changing trends becomes clear. As reported in Business Insider, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that 26 billion pounds of textiles end up in landfills each year. In response, consumer behavior is shifting. A study by London-based market research firm Mintel revealed that 68% of consumers ages 16 to 24 say they are trying to make more ethical fashion purchases now than they did in the past 12 months.
This shift could mark the beginning of a new era in fashion. It’s just one example of how sustainability is changing the way consumers buy — and will influence the way businesses sell.
What is Sustainability
Sustainability, in its broadest sense, is a movement that protects the natural environment along with human and ecological health. In marketing, the term means promoting products and practices that take into consideration their environmental, social and financial impacts. It means meeting the needs of buyers now while preserving the world for future generations.
Last month, we talked about cause marketing, citing the Cone Cause Evolution Survey’s finding that the number of consumers who say they would switch from one brand to another if the other brand were associated with a good cause has climbed to 87%. Social issues make up a good portion of those causes, but sustainable practices are proving to be just as important to consumers. People are becoming more aware of how and what they consume and the toll it takes on the planet:
According to the CGS 2019 Retail and Sustainability Survey by global computer-generated solutions and outsourcing company CGS, more than two-thirds of buyers consider sustainability when making a purchase and are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
Global marketing firm Nielsen reports that 73% of consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.
These days, some of the most popular brands are those that prioritize sustainability. Some examples:
HelloFresh — The meal kit delivery service touts its environmental impact right on its boxes. Whether you come across an ad on Instagram or a delivery from this company on a neighbor’s doorstep, you immediately know the company has done its best to create less food waste than grocery stores, has a carbon footprint 25% lower than store-bought groceries and practices sustainable sourcing, thanks to a streamlined supply chain and efficient distribution.
Patagonia — The activewear brand knows its audience cares about the environment, and the company has done its best to make good on its promise of being “100% for the planet.” The company has taken steps to reduce its carbon footprint and has partnered with grassroots environmental organizations to fund sustainability efforts.
Colgate — The toothpaste brand’s turn-off-the-faucet campaign in 2018 showed anyone can make a difference in the strides toward eco-friendly practices. The campaign was part of the company’s effort to conserve water and raise awareness about water scarcity. The company sponsored #RunningDry, following activist and runner Mina Guli running 100 marathons in 100 days to bring attention to the issue across the globe.
How You Can Do It
The process of creating a sustainable brand is not an overnight one, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Consumers want to know you’re making the effort. You can incorporate sustainability into your existing plan and into your marketing in small but powerful ways including:
Partnerships. Partner with local groups and nonprofits that focus on sustainability to volunteer or donate some of your profits from a product, and provide resources for your costumers to learn more about these issues and how they affect local ecosystems.
Cleanup events. Beach and roadside cleanups are easy to organize and promote, and they can make for great team-building moments and connection with your audience.
Green certifications. In almost every industry, there are green certifications available to keep you informed and to reassure your consumers that you are taking steps toward more responsible practices.
An environmentally responsible supply chain. Creating this may take a bit of time and research, but you can carefully vet your manufacturers and suppliers to make sure they are doing their part to meet environmental regulations.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with changes. Instead, start small and conscientiously, and share your efforts. Your audience will appreciate it and you’ll sleep better knowing you’re building a healthier world for generations to come.
As seen in October 2020 i4 Business Magazine