What We’re Saying

Sense & Sustainability – Lessons for Brands

12 March 2024

Sustainability initiatives provide an opportunity for brands to make a valuable contribution to society, whilst at the same time, strengthening their brand equity and positively influencing purchase intent. But, in an era of seismic change, knowing where to focus and how to articulate this contribution has never been more important.

Context

MCCP’s work in this area highlights time and again the fact that few people truly understand what sustainability actually is.  Most default to the ‘environment’ and are less likely to consider economic and social sustainability. Even within ‘environmental’ sustainability we see confusion – is it just about climate change, what about sustainability and biodiversity, what exactly is a carbon footprint and how is it calculated, what about the UN Sustainable Development Goals – all 17 of them?  

As companies and brands navigate this complex area, it is clear that there is no one ‘standard’ or benchmark for doing sustainability well. In fact, for many, it is perceived to be ‘green washing’ at its worst; a label on a box, lacking any real clarity of commitment. An investigative report by The Guardian found that more than 90% of carbon offsets by the biggest certifier are worthless (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/18/revealed-forest-carbon-offsets-biggest-provider-worthless-verra-aoe

As a brand, the issues are immensely complex and interrelated, and many of these issues are ones you may have little or no control over. For example, glass manufacture is extremely energy intensive, there is simply no getting away from that.

However, sustainability is moving from being a nice to have to a potential driver of choice. Government continues to legislate sustainability into industry regulations and standards that society expects businesses not just to comply with but exceed. Brands cannot ‘label in hope’ and expect not to be found out.

As GenZ matures and the next generation, the socially conscious Gen Alpha’s strengthen their purchasing power in their homes, brands need to be mindful of what these generations are looking for  when it comes to sustainability.

From MCCP’s extensive work with Gen Z in this area, we know that they care deeply about their planet and that they tend to have a more encompassing definition of sustainability vs. other generations. They believe they have inherited a future full of uncertainties and because of this they’ve adopted a ‘damage control’ mindset, taking matters and their future into their own hands.  They are frustrated and feel they must act not just for the better of others but to protect their own future.    However, they are not a self-less generation. They believe their ‘feet on the ground’ approach will demand change, but they also prioritise fun and escapism, which creates a tension.  As this generation comes to full maturity, brands that provide transparency, honesty and credibility will be key in helping them make the right choices, that fit with their priorities.

What we know from work done to date across all generations:

  • Sustainable initiatives of themselves do not generally motivate decision making e.g., a decision to book a holiday/select a broadband provider etc.
  • The product or service must first deliver on the consumers’ core needs e.g., an enjoyable holiday/a broadband provider that provides the products and services I need etc.
  • The cost-of-living crisis has compounded this, consumers are moving away from the collectivism we saw during the pandemic and more towards individualism. ‘What’s in it for me’ is the quiet mantra – being aware of this is critical to narrow the ‘say-do’ gap?
  • Sustainable initiatives do have influence – they can certainly make consumers feel more positive about the choices they make.

 

Getting Sustainability right is a challenge, but from working with clients across a broad range of categories, there are a few principles to keep in mind:

  • Perfect is the enemy of good. Brands need to acknowledge that no-one has the perfect solution, but that you are ‘doing’ something. 
  • Use your brand/organisation skills to highlight what you are ‘doing’ in sustainability. Sustainability cannot just be a comms platform, use your company’s skills to highlight that sustainability is built into how your business is operating
  • Acknowledge the imperfection gap, but also acknowledge the progress that has been made. In the rush to beat ourselves up, it can be tempting to forget the work that has been done to date. 
  • Little and often. It is a mistake to hope that one single silver bullet will solve sustainability. This is a journey, not a destination for brands. 
  • Sustainability has a social justice component. The effects of climate change are most acutely felt by those who have the least resources to cope, the developing world. The changes required may not be evenly distributed, there is no point asking a farmer in rural Donegal to take the train, there is no train! There is no one message to fit all. 

Finally,

Remember our GenZ’s and the generation coming behind them. Think about your response to sustainability and ….

  • Make your actions tangible.
  • Make them easy to appreciate.
  • Be authentic – ‘walk the talk’ – be evidence led.
  • Be ready to evolve your commitments as the world changes.  

Identify the proof points that will strengthen your brand equity and positively influence purchase intent – proof points that address today’s need which must meet expectations, and tomorrow’s opportunity to lead the way to ensure you remain relevant for the more distant future.

To learn more about MCCP, talk to us over a sustainable cup of coffee at meetus@mccp.ie 

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