There’s a paradigm shift happening in the type of relationships brands have with their customers.
Increasingly, people are demanding that companies are transparent about the way they produce; and that brands take a stance, and action, on global issues. It is no longer enough for an organization to provide a superb product or experience; it needs to offer purpose, a compelling reason for the existence of the company and its place in the world.
As there is more information readily available, the modern consumer tends to be much better informed, so we more often see that brands are being held accountable for their actions.
This is especially evident when brands do not ‘walk their talk’, where operations and actions of the organization are not in line with marketing communications. Then we see an increasing backlash on the brand and organization as a whole.
Greenwashing is “Spending more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing rather than actually implementing business practices that minimize the environmental impact of business functions and operations”.
On the surface, there has seemingly never been a better time to launch a sustainable offering. Consumers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z (together: ‘Generation Green’), are increasingly demanding action. They want brands that embrace purpose and sustainability. They’re loud, they’re collaborative and they take action in whatever way they can.
But we also recognize that a frustrating paradox remains: is a positive attitude towards sustainability reflected in sales? A common reason brands give for not investing their efforts into becoming more sustainable is their customers only say they want action, without actually committing to buying the green product.
Let us challenge that.
Recent research shows sales of sustainable products in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry among the Millennial and Gen Z audience growing 3.3x faster than their traditionally marketed counterparts. Interesting, yes? Here’s where it gets better. 90% of individual product categories in the sustainability space outpaced traditional categories as well.
We know there’s an opportunity here. But the key thing is finding the right formula to narrow the intention-action gap. On how to align consumer behaviour closely to what the brand is doing, and find the correct narrative for today’s and tomorrow’s consumer.
How green is “green”?
Grab is Southeast Asia’s largest tech company, and one that has spent considerable resources in adopting a sustainability mindset.
One of its initiatives has been the “Plant Stick”, a straw that’s supposed to reduce the need for single-use plastics. Made of ‘plant-based material’, the product’s green credential rests in the fact that it is compostable.
However, although the product is, indeed, made from plant-based material, and does indeed remove the need for much more harmful plastic straws, both their certification and supplier indicate that composting the straw would only be possible at industrial facilities, not by individual consumers.
Further, what is the real meaning of “compostable” in circumstances where products never have an opportunity to biodegrade? In Singapore, for instance, where many products are marketed as biodegradable, the reality is that no waste ever even reaches a compost heap since, given the nation’s size and available space, the preferred trash management solution is incineration.
Nonetheless countless products, from straws to disposable bags to biodegradable plates and cutlery, are being marketed as green or sustainable.
So what would a more convincing case for sustainable corporate practice look like? Well, a ‘first-of-its-kind’ collaboration in Asia between barePack and foodpanda launched in June 2020 is one example. As food delivery in Singapore went up by 73% during the Covid-19 lockdown, this sparked a number of discussions about the need for single-use cutlery and plastic packaging in Singapore’s takeaway/hawker culture.
barePack, a pioneer in reusable plastics partnered with foodpanda, one of the largest food delivery companies in Singapore, to provide a zero-waste option to its consumers at no additional cost, save for the subscription on the platform (3 SGD/month).
Read a new report on foodwaste in Singapore here.
Taking the good and the bad into account: how to get it right?
We understand that sustainability framing presents a myriad of complexities and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. But as a first step, here are some guidelines that will help make sustainability communication strategies resonate with Generation Green:
1. Using your brand’s social influence
2. Shape good habits
3. Build on the momentum you’ve created
4. Start small, think big
5. Make sustainability resonate
In the specter of the Covid-19 pandemic, humanity is facing its greatest challenge yet. With an intoxicating mix of increasing consumption and waste cycles, a growing population, and global warming, we are exposed to more crises related to climate and pollution.
There hasn’t been a better time to take action. We must all – brands and individuals alike – frame sustainability as an essential practice that will shape a future we’re excited to live in.