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Marketing and Comms
Brands and the Responsibility for Sustainable Shopping Habits

As we work to find a balance between greenwashing and greenhushing sustainability claims, here are several tips for brands to keep authentically guiding consumers toward better purchases.

Easter. A time for fun and family time, or a case of excessive consumerism? It’s no secret that Easter candies, chocolates and gifts often come in plastic, non-recyclable or multi-material packaging. Consumers can find themselves caving to the pressure of the yearly egg- and treat-buying ritual, and in an ethical conundrum where the build-up of waste is almost inevitable. But are brands doing enough to encourage sustainable behaviour in the frenzy?

Only last year, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) began stamping down on greenwashing — introducing new guidelines and issued a record-breaking 29 formal rulings on sustainability issues, notably banning adverts by airlines including Air France, Lufthansa and Etihad for portraying a misleading picture of their environmental impacts. This year, the ASA is focusing on the food and beverage industry and has introduced new AI tools to help identify and evaluate claims from brands making sustainability assertions.

Yet, these greenwashing countermeasures may have inadvertently swung the pendulum towards 'greenhushing' — with some companies not actively promoting their sustainability progress to avoid criticism. This may create the unintended knock-on effect of limiting sustainability action and instituting a vicious cycle where such activities are deprioritised.

Sustainability and shopping — a dichotomy?

Shopping sustainably should be a seamless and stress-free experience. But complexity can burden shoppers with a myriad of products, promotions and promises — particularly during holiday seasons. Confusing consumers around the meanings of terms including ‘carbon neutral’, ‘compostable’ or ‘recyclable’; or by over-egging their sustainable offer and listing an overwhelming number of sustainable practices intensify the complexity.

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By applying a philosophy of simplicity when integrating sustainable claims, brands can make it intuitive and easy to engage with. This is a win for the consumer — which, in turn, is a win for the brand; and ultimately, a win for the planet.

Simplifying your sustainability claims

Brands ought to consider how to authentically embed sustainability credentials into their business strategy, product offering, portfolio approach and manufacturing in a way that is simple and standardised. They should then communicate these successes clearly — when they have the power to influence other brands as well as the sustainability footprint of millions of consumers, getting it right matters. Take IKEA — its ‘People & Planet Positive’ sustainability strategy is embedded into all of its business practices; and the brand clearly outlines its ambitions and commitments.

The below considerations should be key for any brand looking to become a beacon for sustainable business and attract like-minded partners and consumers.

Design

On-pack sustainability credentials should be direct, provable and to the point. Don’t bombard the pack with too much information, as this will only increase shopping stress. Streamline product packaging and eliminate unnecessary layers and components that will contribute to waste. In terms of the actual product, consider using minimal, eco-friendly packaging materials and durable, high-quality items. There are alternative materials out there which are both sustainable and innovative — think seaweed plastic or shrimp-shell polystyrene!

Digital transparency

Incorporating QR codes into packaging and marketing materials provides easy access to more detailed information about sustainability terms, sustainable practices and the supply chain. Link these codes to a dedicated webpage or digital platform to enable customers to learn about environmental initiatives, product lifecycle, and tips for reducing waste.

Local & domestic sources

Domestically or locally source products and materials to secure and simplify your supply chain, reduce your carbon footprint and support the community. This enables companies to build an authentic story into the brand — after all, people don't buy products; they buy stories. Patagonia is a key example of a brand built around locally sourced materials and fair labour practices, working directly with farmers wherever possible.

Forge partnerships

The above point also rings true when developing brand partnerships. Actively participate in initiatives that contribute to reforestation, renewable-energy projects, or other sustainable practices.

By simplifying your brand offer, consumers are less likely to be overwhelmed by decision paralysis and be more thoughtful about purchases. Instead, consideration is made towards important sustainability factors — such as the supply chain, manufacturing processes, materials used and impact on local communities.

Empower consumers

While brands should make every effort to embed sustainability initiatives, consumers should also be making a conscious effort to join up with brands — the brand sets the target and consumers finish the race.

For example, if a brand communicates its involvement in a closed-loop recycling system, it should also provide recommendations for how consumers can do their own due diligence and participate. This could be through recycling collection programs, reusing or repurposing packaging materials, or supporting brand take-back programs that accept products back for recycling or refurbishment.


Brands, this Easter and throughout the year … while it’s tempting to cave to pressures to enhance your sustainability credentials, you must consider the authentic reasons you are evolving for the future. Take meaningful steps to tangibly simplify the customer experience and your own practices at the same time.

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