Moving the needle on consumer behavior remains a monumental task - but a necessary one if we are to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With household consumption accounting for nearly 70 percent of economic activity in the United States, consumers’ choices can make a real difference. At the same time, consumers are faced with so many decisions in their day-to-day lives that “decision fatigue” is commonplace. We cannot expect consumers to weigh the environmental and social implications of each of their actions and purchases.
This is one area where certifications can be particularly helpful. If consumers can seek and easily recognize a certification, it can help them make purchases that are in-line with their values. At the same time, it is not enough to simply label products – a marketing push is also needed.
“We need a good story well told,” as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Communications Director Brad Kahn put it. “Too often, sustainability is the realm of the earnest and the literal, stories aimed at the head with little for the heart. We know what it takes to influence consumers and it starts with an emotional connection.”
It was with all of this in mind that the FSC has launched its latest consumer engagement effort. The “One Simple Action, One Profound Impact” campaign marks the first time that six publicly traded companies – some of which are competitors – have come together to promote the FSC directly to consumers. The unprecedented corporate-NGO partnership includes FSC, WWF, HP Inc., International Paper, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Williams-Sonoma, Inc., all of which sell FSC-certified products.
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“These companies know that to meet customer expectations about sustainability, sometimes you have to put competition aside and do what's right for the planet,” said Corey Brinkema, President of FSC US. “We also know that forest conservation can be good for the bottom line, especially when it demonstrates good corporate citizenship.”
The partners kicked off the new consumer engagement campaign with a video entitled “One Simple Action,” which encourages consumers to purchase products with the FSC label, and support products that come from responsibly managed forests.
Some of the participating companies, including Kimberly-Clark, have been working with the FSC for a decade or more. Given its large market share, Kimberly-Clark’s commitments to responsible forestry are a case-in-point that simple consumer choices can have a profound aggregate impact.
Every day, one in four people globally purchases a Kimberly-Clark product; the company boasts the number 1 or 2 brand share in 80 countries. Most of Kimberly-Clark’s tissue products in North America – including brands such as Cottonelle, Kleenex, Scott, and Viva – bear the FSC label, and Kimberly-Clark Professional was the first tissue company to announce that all of its North American tissue and towel products were FSC-certified. Kimberly-Clark has led its sector, both in use of FSC fiber and in using the FSC label on product packaging and in its communications.
“Working in collaboration with FSC has driven phenomenal results that have mutually benefited both organizations,” said Adi Chindhy, the Global Fiber Procurement Director at Kimberly-Clark. “We increased the amount of FSC-certified virgin fiber in our tissue products from just seven percent in 2006 to more than 75 percent in 2015.”
The company first engaged with FSC as part of a supply chain initiative to ensure it was supporting responsible forest management, but has now transitioned into a way to tell its story to customers.
“We did not start with consumer or customer insights, but when we saw that FSC could help distinguish our products, labeling was the most obvious thing to do,” Kimberly-Clark’s Senior Director of Cost Transformation and Continuous Improvement, Brenda Nelson, explained.
“From a branding perspective, we looked at the impact of adding the FSC logo to our products,” added Alma Alejandro, the Senior Brand Manager for Global Kleenex and former brand manager for Scott Naturals. “We wanted to see how far we could leverage FSC in terms of communications to consumers.”
In 2009, Kimberly-Clark began market testing FSC to understand if and how to use the FSC logo on its packages, and found that while consumers did not necessarily know FSC, the label could help differentiate the company’s products. The change had an impact on the whole tissue category and boosted demand for FSC-certified fiber. In addition, the company was able to deepen its relationships with retailers including Target and Walmart, which wanted to learn from Kimberly-Clark’s sustainability strategy.
“The point of difference raised the bar in our category about what was expected from our customers, and others in the category have followed suit,” Nelson added. “We were surprised that Kimberly-Clark was able to influence the whole market so significantly.”
“Sustainability has become table stakes for our types of products,” said Andy Clement, VP of Sales for Kimberly-Clark Professional, adding, “Nobody debates it. It’s who we are.”