SB ‘14 London got underway Monday morning and appropriately, one of the day’s first workshops presented some of the key market insights that will help to guide brands in the continued development of sustainable business models.
Early in the session Forum for the Future’s James Goodman pressed home the need for brands to adapt to a changing consumer environment. He highlighted Greenpeace’s recent viral campaign against toy manufacturer Lego as a stark warning of the dangers of ignoring your customers’ concerns about sustainability.
Evidently, a truly resilient brand must not only strive to reduce its impact but learn how to meet the evolving expectations of its customers. As moderator Nick Liddell, Director of Strategy at Dragon Rouge, summarised: “What we need is not just more technical knowledge, but better consumer knowledge.”
The workshop established that there is no shortage of organisations stepping up to this challenge. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Ella Jamsin introduced its new consumer segmentation models to reflect growing changes in purchasing habits. Categories now include ‘Casually Conscious Consumers,’ who purchase sustainable products for the feel-good factor; ‘Progressive Purchasers,’ who delve much deeper into product origins; and ‘Savvy Economisers,’ who are drawn towards recycling and reuse for the cost-saving potential they offer.
Liddell demonstrated that advances in technology now allow us to envisage complex, low-impact businesses such as a circular-economy supermarket. Here, mobile apps might help us catalogue and manage the food in our fridges, and the vans that deliver our weekly shop might also collect our food waste to be sorted and used in anaerobic digesters to heat and light the stores. However, to make these concepts a reality we still need a better understanding of how consumer attitudes to sharing personal data (such as what foods we have in our fridge and what we throw away) might impact brand trust and consumer loyalty. Wolff Olins’ Ben Maxwell noted that consumers are already reshaping their relationships with brands, “sidestepping and questioning authority and finding alternative ways to get the things they want, such as peer-to-peer communities and crowdsourcing networks.”
Finally Andy Last, co-founder & CEO at Salt PR, gave us insight into the motivations and attitudes of ‘Generation Z.’ Seemingly, 16- to 20-year-olds are much more open to the concept of sustainable consumption than preceding generations, much more resistant to greenwashing and perhaps most importantly, open to the idea of businesses making a profit from doing good.
Overall, it would appear support for sustainable consumption continues to build amongst consumers, but it is also apparent that we need to continue to observe, learn and adapt if we are to convert that willingness into tangible new products and services.
As Liddell observed: “If we do our jobs right, the word ‘consumer’ won't exist 10 years from now.”