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Behavior Change
Planting Seeds:
Changing and Shaping the Minds of Today’s Consumers and Tomorrow's Changemakers

At SB’23 San Diego, several rich discussions centered on the growing number of efforts successfully educating and engaging various audiences on more sustainable behaviors, lifestyles and careers.

K-12 education: The driving force for long-term ESG success for brands

Image credit: Monstera Production

A Monday morning workshop shone a spotlight on K-12 education and its role in equipping our next generation of changemakers. Today's sustainability leaders and professionals are setting long-term sustainability goals that may not come to fruition during their careers but are essential for the next generation's healthy lives and livelihoods. It's crucial to prepare and empower the next generation to successfully carry on and improve upon the world’s current sustainability goals — not only for the sake of their future well-being but because today's youth are eager to know how they will positively contribute to the climate crisis and help secure a healthy and sustainable future for themselves.

Expanding upon the recent launch of Discovery Education's groundbreaking Sustainability Education Coalition — an initiative committed to scaling up sustainability education — Coalition member and Nucor sustainability specialist Luke Johnson raised the following question: “Beyond enhancing social impact, what other business objectives can we collectively address through this opportunity?”

Despite substantial modernization within the steel industry, a lack of exposure to these advancements might lead younger generations to hold outdated views of the industry — potentially preventing interest in pursuing careers within it. As the US’ largest steel producer, Johnson said Nucor has made noteworthy strides in sustainability — for example, by sourcing scrap metal for manufacturing and providing Environmental Product Declarations. Equipped with a wealth of valuable, real-world knowledge to impart to young students, the company has partnered with Discovery Education to develop digital learning content that incorporates authentic work experiences — including sustainable manufacturing technologies and career success stories — tailored for the K-12 audience, to not only foster early brand and industry awareness but also enable Nucor to nurture a pipeline of emerging talent.

Working with school districts throughout the nation, Green Bronx Machine founder Stephen Ritz highlighted the numerous accomplishments of the nonprofit’s urban farming and nutrition programs in underserved communities. The program provides mentorship, education and hands-on experiences that imbue K-12 youth with the skills, passion and knowledge they need to become catalysts for transformative change in the food industry. Ritz recalled the point when the nonprofit realized the strength of corporate collaborations and strategies to “engage corporate America to scale up in a way that brings lasting value.”

Whether it is nonprofit education programs or corporate-backed, customized digital learning content, the need to create and feed K-12 youth acutely purposeful, sustainability-based education is vital to equip future leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to drive transformative change.

Lauren Lake, Director of Social Impact and Strategic Alliances at Discovery Education Inc., captured the sentiment around this intersection: “What we’re hearing from both industry and education sectors is that we need to be educating our kids around sustainability — they are desperate to know what their role is in their future.”

Creating demand for novel products that involve unfamiliar behaviors or experiences

Image credit: Vivobarefoot

In this Tuesday afternoon panel, two brands shared case studies of novel product innovation that tick the boxes of both sustainability and regeneration. As momentum around these aspirations continues to grow, we are seeing substantial shifts in brand value propositions and ways these values are delivered through product innovation. This frequently leads to the emergence of entirely novel product categories that engage with consumers in unique ways — and often require consumers embracing unfamiliar experiences or behaviors.

Moderated by Narrative Matters founder Tom Idle, the conversation centered on two products that demonstrate the marriage of product innovation and sustainability.

Asher Clark, co-founder and Chief Director of Shoe Design at Vivobarefoot, shared the company’s history. As a fiercely independent family business with a multi-generational cobbler pedigree (Clark, as in Clarks), Vivobarefoot has pioneered “regenerative footwear.” Based on the simple truth that shoes are ‘trashing’ the planet and our feet, the company mission is to reconnect people to the natural world by focusing on natural health. Clark emphasized that the way shoes are traditionally manufactured in offshore supply chains creates a “shoe-shaped problem” that hinders humans’ movement and mobility. A certified B Corp, Vivobarefoot has sold 1 million pairs of shoes and repaired 45K pairs of shoes via its ecommerce platform. Clark shared that the company has developed a “foot-shaped solution” to the footwear industry's wasteful ways with VivoBiome — a radical, scan-to-print, circular bare-footwear system that reimagines how footwear is created. VivoBiome is a fast, digital, simple, personalized, on-demand proposition that uses 3D printing, 3D knitting and robot assembly for bespoke footwear using only the material needed, when needed. Additionally, VivoBiome’s platform includes foot scans and gamification to inspire creator engagement, learning and community amplification. The company’s platform collects consumer feedback on fit, wear, value and performance; and integrates learnings.

Darcy Shiber-Knowles, Director of Operational Sustainability and Innovation at Dr. Bronner's, recounted the company’s narrative as a family-owned and -run soap maker. Now in its fifth generation, Dr. Bronner’s upholds its founder's vision by crafting products of the utmost quality that are socially and environmentally responsible; and commits profits to the creation of a better world under the company ethos, “All-One!” As Dr Bronner’s loyal customers are naturally concerned about plastic and the climate, Shiber-Knowles said the company realized it needed to analyze the impacts of the plastic bottles that contain its popular liquid soap products. A lifecycle analysis revealed that paper cartons have the smallest single-use package lifecycle impact; so, in July, the company unveiled a single-use paper carton package. Shiber-Knowles said it’s intended to “be a behavioral awakening for consumers that that they have all the containers they need.” The brand is experimenting with consumer messaging, such as “Fill up your own bottle, whatever it is.” Dr Bronner’s continues on a path to a more sustainable packaging future: including 100 percent PCR plastic bottles, new paper carton containers, and encouraging consumers to refill at local stores. To achieve the latter, the company launched the world's first Dr. Bronner’s refill stations at five Jimbo’s Naturally stores. Though the refill unit is not plastic free, it is circular. The refill option has been well-received so far by consumers and currently only cannibalizing older packaging options by about 10 percent.

With respect to challenges, Clark commented that selling the notion that shoes make our feet weak physiologically and kinetically continues to be a challenge. He maintained that “the genesis is making individuals aware that mobility — standing, walking, running — is a skill for a modern lifestyle.” While Vivobarefoot has a rational proposition about footwear and feet, it has become about the “reconnection to be innately human,” as expressed in the company’s mantra “We are nature and nature is us.” Clark emphasized that this is a poignant purpose because, as this became crystallized in 2012, “human health contributes to planet health.” For challenges facing Dr. Bronner’s, Shiber-Knowles shared that while the company pioneered 100 percent PCR plastic bottles in 2003 with 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic packaging and is proud of turning waste into bottles and not pollution, it has become clear that Dr. Bronner’s “can’t recycle our way out of the plastic crisis.”

To unlock these challenges, Shiber-Knowles acknowledged that fostering trusted relationships with partners is key, as the brand did with Jimbo’s Naturally stores, and the willingness to financially invest in finding the right approach. And to incentivize consumer adoption, Shiber-Knowles advised that companies “listen to consumers and the existing demand. Then, you have a business case.”

A data-driven approach to crafting messaging that matters

Image credit: Herbal Essences

In late 2021, Herbal Essences successfully introduced five shampoo and conditioner collections in primary packaging made from Eastman's ‘Renew’ resins, with 50 percent plastic made through molecular-recycling technology. As if recycling wasn’t already complicated enough, the brand found that the challenge then lay in crafting clear messaging that effectively informs consumers about this packaging innovation without overwhelming or confusing them.

To tackle this, Justin Coates — Head of Global Market Research & Consumer Insights at Eastman — led extensive research that resulted in four key molecular-recycling messaging strategies, transferable to other Procter & Gamble (P&G) brands and beyond:

  • Mighty Materials – Promote the usage of sustainable materials and use materials as a foundation for your messaging.

  • Purposeful Performance – Reinforce how the sustainable materials you adopted will meet or exceed the primary needs of consumers.

  • Waste Warriors – Demonstrate how your solutions will take a tangible and meaningful step in helping to solve the global waste crisis.

  • Molecular Momentum – Inspire your audience with the molecular-recycling story to show how you can tackle the waste crisis together.

Noting major delays in the release of an updated FTC Green Guide and increased scrutiny around greenwashing, Coates stated: “In the absence of guides, we as an industry still have to move forward.”

All in all, the consumer insight data showed us that consumers don’t need to be convinced — they need to be assured that the product is made with content that would’ve otherwise gone to landfill. However, as we’re thinking about trying to create more demand or get more plastics recycled across industries, it’s still important to talk about the nuances of recycling technologies from an education standpoint.

The fundamental principle, as highlighted by moderator Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO at Shelton Group, is that “it’s important to take the messaging and work it into the context of your brand story.”

Generating impactful behavior change through the power of collaboration

L-R: Ketchum's Jessica Mendelowitz (moderator), Todd Cline, Christopher Fox and Michael Mattingly

This Tuesday morning session focused on a novel collaboration between Tide, Hanes, GE Appliances and World Wildlife Fund to overcome behavior change barriers and establish an impactful new eco-habit: washing laundry in cold water.

This inspired cross-industry collaboration spanned the value chain from apparel to detergent to appliance manufacturing, and was formed to address a major benefit related to washing clothes — switching from washing in hot to cold water reduces energy consumption by 90 percent.

The collaborative has set a science-based target of getting to 70 percent of loads washed in cold by 2050.

According to Todd Cline, Senior Director of Sustainability for North America Fabric Care at P&G, more than 70 percent of the environmental impacts associated with their products are in the use phase — and therefore, in the hands of consumers.

The collaboration — which he said took time to build and required the development of personal relationships, trust and frequent communication — set out to solve the following challenges:

  1. How to make it easy
  2. How to make it attractive (many consumers are concerned that washing in cold doesn’t really get clothes clean)
  3. How to make it social
  4. How to engage people at the point of action.

Christopher Fox, Chief Sustainability Officer at Hanes, said one of the core challenges was designing a comms plan that could reach the consumer at scale — for example, by putting “wash cold” on hundreds of millions of packages and repeating the messaging across multiple channels to drive it home for customers, who are eager to find ways to reduce their footprints but also busy and sometimes skeptical of cold-water washing for performance reasons.

Michael Mattingly, Executive Director of Top Load Laundry at GE Appliances, said they viewed the adoption rate as a signifier of consumer trust, which was critical to reaching the targets.

Tim Letts, Deputy Director of Corporate Client Engagement at WWF, said the organization has run many behavior-change campaigns over the years and they are seeing these types of collaborations crop up more and more as companies set climate targets and are looking for implementation ideas. They described the importance of demonstrating and communicating co-benefits to behavior change in terms of financial incentives or longer-lasting clothing, as there is still a significant segment of the population that is skeptical.