A Sustainability Journey
This is a sponsored article from SustainabilityTracker.com member Good Sheet.
Consumers have become increasingly aware of many things. They’ve learned about their rights as consumers and have grown to demand a certain standard of service whenever they deal with brands, they’ve also become more conscious of how their actions impact their surrounding environment. They learned how their actions drive brand changes and how various industries affect sensitive environmental issues like climate change and natural habitats. As a result, they’ve come to think twice before making hasty shopping decisions, and this behavior forces brands into a corner.
If a brand wants to maintain their customer base, they need to make a change. Customers now expect so much more from their beloved brands than just to get a product or be provided with services. They expect their brands to lead a change and make an impact and criticize the brands if they fail to do so. As a result, brands have started to join the sustainability talk as well, and we’ve seen the rise of a few sustainable brands over the last few years.
But what exactly is a sustainable brand? Is putting a “green” label enough to make an impact? Is there any benefit to a product becoming sustainable other than satisfying a few enlightened customers? These are all topics we’re about to discuss, so let’s dive right in.
Environmental sustainability is all about meeting our needs while protecting the Earth’s finite resources for future generations. In that sense, a sustainable brand is one that finds a balance between profit and other principles such as maintaining ethical supply chains, watching their environmental impact, and paying fair wages to contract workers. If need be, a sustainable brand will prioritize these values over profits, and that’s what customers expect. Nowadays, customers are environmentally aware enough to scrutinize their brands and reprimand those who deviate from their values and ethics. That’s why brands have also started to change their ways, and what better way to reassure these customers than to market their sustainability?
Although customers are now watching brands more closely than ever, there’s only so much they can do on their own. If brands want to make their efforts known, they’ll need to invest in sustainable marketing that assures their customers of their pro-environmental behavior. Sustainable marketing focuses on highlighting the ecological and socially friendly initiatives your brand is taking in an effort to shine in a new light for current and prospective customers. After all, consumers now want to feel reassured that their favorite brands care about environmental issues as much as they do. At the very least, they want to see their brands supporting social and environmental causes, and there’s no better way to reassure them than by marketing a brand’s sustainability.
Consumers aren’t the only ones doing their research. Watching and predicting consumer behavior has always been a key strategy for businesses in developing their marketing strategies. As more businesses become aware of what irks their customers, they have started adjusting their marketing to portray what a customer wants to hear. Terms like “green”, “sustainable”, “organic”, “cruelty-free”, and “environmentally-friendly” have become labels a brand can use whenever they want to appease their customer base.
Unfortunately, utilizing these terms has a magical effect on consumers, even if they’re merely futile labels a brand uses for the sake of increasing sales. This act of investing all of a brand’s efforts and resources in marketing their sustainability rather than having a positive environmental impact is known as “greenwashing”. All it does is assure a customer’s conscience so that they keep using the brand, but consumers have become aware of these insidious tactics as well. The result is detrimental on so many levels: customers lose trust in brands, and the brands that do make environmentally conscious efforts are being queried as well. It’s starting to look like a loss-loss situation for everyone, including our planet.
That is exactly why brands need to make a fundamental change, one that goes beyond the meaningless phrases of sustainable marketing. Instead of putting on a show, investing in sustainable processes or making an effort to reduce a brand’s carbon footprint will go a much longer way.
However, making an environmental impact can be harder than one thinks. As far as public knowledge goes, environmental sustainability efforts have been centered around a few key activities. You should look for brands that recycle waste, reduce plastic usage, or help clean up the oceans from excess plastic. But is that really all that can be done to make a change and leave a positive impact? Although these initiatives certainly help, they’re not the answer. The solution lies in creating a circular economy.
To understand the concept of a circular economy, we must first look into how our current economy operates. We use up the Earth’s finite resources, manufacture products using those resources, and then dump the discarded products. The process keeps going in a linear way, so the Earth’s resources keep decreasing while waste material keeps piling up. Meanwhile, a circular economy aims at preventing waste from being created in the first place.
There are three key design principles that make up a circular economy:
Instead of looking at waste and its resulting pollution as inevitable by-products of manufacture, the circular economy views them as design flaws. Although it may take some effort, we believe that eliminating waste and pollution can be achieved by harnessing new technology and materials.
One of the greatest flaws in our current economy is that businesses design their products to maximize profits. As a result, you find a lot of disposable items whenever you buy something, even if you didn’t ask for it. In a circular economy, brands and businesses design their products to be sturdy enough to be recycled, remanufactured, or repaired. For products that have a specific shelf-life, like food and their packaging, the key is to keep these materials in circulation instead of discarding them when they’ve served their purpose.
Nature is the best example of a circular economy; actually, it was the main inspiration from which the concept was driven. In nature, there’s no such thing as waste. The end phase of anything is food for something else. When an animal dies, it gets eaten by another animal. Following this concept, a circular economy addresses the way in which materials are created, ensuring that when a product reaches its end cycle, it can be returned to nature, thus enhancing natural resources.
In short, a circular economy aims to transform our systems by tackling the design of products rather than looking for solutions to fix the harm that’s been already done. It’s different from recycling, which involves repurposing waste into usable materials, in that the circular economy wants to avoid getting into that phase at all costs. If done properly, there should be no to very little waste to be recycled in a circular economy.
There are various benefits to becoming more sustainable. Although, at first, challenges and financial risks will be the most prominent things a brand can see, it’s justified to feel hesitant. After all, a business without a clear revenue stream holds more threats than ROI (Return on Investment). That said, when you look at the other benefits you’ll get from becoming more sustainable, you’ll start to feel reassured.
When a brand implements fundamental changes to become more sustainable, it’s bound to enjoy the following benefits:
Brands do realize that they can’t stand still in the face of modern challenges anymore, but making a change is risky. On one hand, maintaining their current processes is a safe venture. After all, they’re the tested-and-tried processes that have been honed to perfection and the utmost efficacy – it’s a brand’s secret recipe. But on the other hand, being stubborn in their ways will cost them a lot of well-informed customers. It will also leave the brands discarded at the end of the race when other businesses take on the initiative of turning green.
Change is inevitable. The faster a brand jumps on the sustainability wagon, the better its chances of winning the race. However, brands should be aware of exploiting their customers’ consciousness and stay away from any greenwashing activities. Instead, it’s much more profitable and ethical to implement fundamental changes and joining the circular economy movement is the most holistic solution they can find.
References for this article can be found here.
This is an article from a SustainabilityTracker.com Member. The views and opinions we express here don’t necessarily reflect our organisation.