While the world watched a tough, passionate 16-year-old from Sweden take on the very real and pressing issue of climate change, I kept thinking about the impact to brands. After all, an estimated 7.5 million people across the world participated in the climate strike, and many others supported virtually. The end result is that whether brands like it or not, eco-consciousness is now firmly on consumers’ minds and their awareness is sure to increase as the effects of climate change continue to be felt. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity to brands that wish to address their customers’ increasing eco-mindfulness, but have yet to do so or don’t know where to begin. The good news is that there is much to be gained by embracing this growing environmental awareness with brands positioning themselves as purpose-driven. There are three important lessons that brands can learn from Greta Thunberg.
#1 Eco-Awareness is Rapidly Increasing
I was in awe watching the global climate strike unfold on Twitter. I know that environmental consciousness is on the rise, but I was surprised by the millions of people who hit the streets and the sheer number of countries participating (an estimated 180 countries took part). I couldn’t help but view the crowds from a branding lens. Clearly, environmental awareness is on the fast track, and it isn’t just Millennials or Generation Z that prioritize the environment within their shopping habits (2/3 express a preference for brands that stand for something). Older generations are also being influenced and brands had better take note. If your brand isn’t environmentally sustainable or eco-conscious to some degree, you’d better get to work! After all, if you think environmental activism will not impact your brand in the very near future, think again. According to a 2018 Accenture study, 62% of global consumers want companies to take a stand on issues that they are passionate about. Translation: This movement is going to drive a giant wave of consumer behavior change!
#2 Fast fashion’s days are numbered
Brands like Zara, you have been warned. The days of fast fashion will quickly evaporate as more environmental awareness grows and the environmental impact of cheap fashion garments, or throw away clothes, becomes more known. While consumers love stylish clothes at a low price, the growing concerns around climate change will move consumer buying trends away from fast fashion. That means brands that appear to disregard the environment will go by the wayside. H&M already has a leg up with their Conscious collection as well as their efforts to provide sourcing information of their merchandise to offer transparency while encouraging customers to recycle their clothes. They have a long way to go, but it’s a start and no doubt they will be happy they started when they did.
#3 It’s not just plastic straws
Plastic is top of mind for today’s consumers, and they don’t just care about the plastic straws at restaurants, albeit that gets all the attention. Brands such as Adidas are well aware of the growing concern of plastics in the ocean, and the potential negative impact to a brand that sells sneakers. They were ahead of this trend when they launched their collection of performance apparel, Parsley, which is made from upcycled plastic ocean trash. This speaks to their astute understanding of their customers’ interests. Even better, they used a customer-centric approach to drive product innovation within their business. They know their customers interests, attitudes, motivations and aspirations. Let us not forget that Adidas is a favorite among Millennials for a reason. They love that Adidas represents their eco-consciousness as well as their style.
The truth is that doing good for the environment is also good for business. Brands that plant their flag in the eco-friendly landscape give themselves a critical differentiator in a time when seemingly similar products crowd store shelves both online and in-person. It provides a connection with consumers by saying “we’re all in this together” and brands that support social causes stand out from the hordes of competitors. It is also great for delivering a strong return on investment. Brands such as Patagonia can attest that being stewards of the environment is sound business. Patagonia’s CEO, Rose Marcario, stated in a 2018 recent article that “Doing good work for the planet, creates new markets and makes us more money.” A 2017 Unilever study agrees, stating that an estimated $1.2 trillion dollar opportunity exists for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear. That’s great news for brands and for the environment.