If consumers are to embrace sustainable products en masse, they need better information to be able to make an informed choice — and this is where marketeers have a vital role to play.
Producers of consumer goods and services can no longer ignore market demand for more sustainable offerings. Generation Z already makes up 40 percent of global consumers; and research in the US shows their clear preferences for products and brands that can create positive impacts in the world — and they’re willing to pay 10 percent more to support those that do so. A similar story is reflected in the EU, where a recent survey reported that 78 percent of consumers found the likely environmental impact of household appliances ‘very important’ or ‘fairly important’ when making their choices. Pitching the environmental benefits of a product (and its packaging) or service is now an integral part of a marketeer’s day job.
However, a recent review of online sustainability claims in the EU found that a whopping 40 percent was deemed as ‘greenwashing,’ with false and exaggerated claims. This kind of mis-information is not only frustrating for consumers, it is preventing the advancement of a sustainable and/or circular economy. If consumers are to embrace sustainable products, they need better information to be able to make an informed choice — and this is where marketeers have a vital role to play.
Here are seven steps to success for authentically marketing your company’s circular wares:
1. All for one and one for all
Collaborating with other departments is essential to find the sweet-spot between consumer demand and your unique selling proposition. Typically, the marketing department is most in tune with market needs and new opportunities, while the R&D department understands the impacts of certain design decisions. High-level conversations tend to reflect cost savings in order to deliver to budget and on time. However, conversations with the people who actually delivered those savings will often reveal that they were achieved through energy-saving measures, use of alternative materials, product weight reduction, or resource and transport efficiencies.
Making this information easily available to your customers is where the skills of the marketeers come in. UK brands such as Innocent Drinks and Fat Face use improvements to their packaging as ways to engage their consumers, and demonstrate that facts and figures about sustainability don’t have to be in the small print.
2. Avoid vague statements such as “green,” “conscious,” “eco” or even “sustainable”
Without supporting explanation, these words are empty and don’t add value. It may be surprising, but often brands often don’t want to publicize the measures they have taken to make their products more sustainable. Our CEO, Willemijn Peeters, gives an example: “Our clients frequently ask us how they can contribute to the prevention of plastic waste. A really effective way to make a significant impact is to use recycled material, and we regularly help brands to do this. However, they are then hesitant about marketing this change — believing there is a stigma around quality.”
By persuading brands that features such as recycled content are desirable and should be promoted, marketeers can substantiate their sustainability claims by providing the details that today’s consumers are demanding
3. Provide sufficient information, so customers and consumers can judge the claim’s accuracy
Another example from a Searious Business client shows how providing clear information brought fruitful results: Our client in the furniture sector was interested in reducing waste — so, we worked on making one particular product circular by optimizing the design for easy repair, disassembly and recyclability. The client switched from selling sofas to selling seating as a service, with a deposit return scheme on every item delivered. The marketing department was fully engaged with the ‘zero waste’ target; and the company quickly won its biggest-ever tender, to supply furniture to a government organization.
4. Provide easy access to evidence to support the claim
Consumers are aware of greenwashing in advertising and understandably want solid evidence about sustainability claims. Tell them where they can find out further information about sourcing, manufacturing processes, etc — and make the information easy to comprehend.
5. Honest labelling
When conveying information about the environmental impact of a product, simplifying the communication isn’t always the best answer. For example, just because a product can be recycled in theory, doesn’t mean that it is easy to recycle in reality. The geographical variations in recycling capability are well known; so, marking a product such as a plastic bag as “recyclable” is about as helpful as saying that Timbuktu is “commutable.” Adopt a clear labelling system that is relevant to the specific product, as well as the location of your customers. Reinforce this information by telling your customers why a product has high potential for recyclability — for example, mono-materials are generally easier to recycle than multi-layer materials.
6. Acknowledge imperfections
What is the problem that is being solved? Marketeers should communicate not only what is being done to improve a company’s circularity, but why action is needed. If consumers understand the extent of the issue of the take-make-break cycle, they will be more inclined to look for a more sustainable option. Provide clear information about the issues and be transparent about your roadmap towards improvement. Listen to your customer base, embrace suggestions and avoid excuses.
7. Change the message about convenience
For the last century, the focus on convenience has led to a faster-paced society and a throw-away culture. For today’s more conscious consumer, convenience now means ease of use without waste and a mindful approach to health, happiness and prosperity. By adjusting the message about convenience marketeers can both future proof their business, and create a trend for more sustainable habits to the benefit of people everywhere, and the planet.
New initiatives and government policies are being introduced all over the world to drive a circular economy — including Europe’s Circular Economy Action Plan and the just-launched Regional Coalition on Circular Economy for Latin America and the Caribbean. Business needs a license to operate in this new economy — and it’s time for marketing departments to collaborate with product developers to drive it forward.