Did your brand make any new year’s resolutions for 2022? One of the best resolutions brands can make — at new year’s or any time — is to be more cognizant and responsive to shifting trends in consumer priorities. The retail rulebook has been thrown out and rewritten over the past few years, inspiring a lot of change, and the industry is still adapting to new consumer behaviors in the wake of the pandemic. But one trend that has been gaining momentum for several years is now clearly at the forefront of shoppers’ minds: the need for more eco-responsible practices in retail.
Some trends have resulted from recent pandemic-related challenges like supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. But they’re not all COVID-linked. Awareness of the global climate crisis has reached critical mass, particularly among younger generations, and that has made consumers more environmentally conscious. CPG products have more transparent labelling regarding sustainability, and people and brands are more aware of their carbon footprint. If your brand isn’t already on board with adopting environmentally friendly processes — and being transparent about them on your packaging and labelling — then you have changes to make in 2022.
Not only is sustainability crucial for the planet, but consumers reward the brands they see making the effort, too. In fact, 34% of baby boomers, 46% of Gen Xers and 75% of millennials agree they definitely or probably would change their purchase or consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment, according to Nielsen research. As more consumers switch to buying from brands that are environmentally responsible, it’s become vitally important for retailers and manufacturers alike to take action to become more sustainable.
The Climate Emergency Needs Bigger Actions — From all of us
Much of the current climate change conversation has zeroed in on carbon emissions as the fundamental place to start. With the huge amounts of fossil fuels that humans burn for electricity, heat and transport, we need reliable ways to reduce these emissions with alternative energy sources and better food and goods production methods.
A starting point was the United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Glasgow in November 2021. Nearly 200 nations discussed how best to address the planet’s climate emergency; new pledges, standards and rules were established for reducing methane gas pollution and deforestation, and clearer guidelines for coal financing and carbon trading.
While these are important strides, it’s clear that governments and individuals must make bigger changes and act quicker. At COP26, the attending nations re-committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement goals: not allowing the global temperature to rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Reaching that goal won’t be easy. Right now, the global temperature is on track to rise 2.7 degrees Celsius, according to Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change.
To get the original goal back on track, carbon dioxide emissions will need to be cut by 45% by 2030 and to net-zero by mid-century. For the sake of the planet, we have no choice but to meet these targets. Fortunately, consumers are proving ready for the change. A 2019 study found that 77% of consumers want to learn how to live more sustainably, with many taking actions like cutting back on single-use plastic, riding public transportation or eating less meat.
People are also paying more attention to the impact of their purchases, and they want to know how the brands they buy from directly affect the environment. In particular, product labels that include carbon emission information, energy consumption and other environmental impact measures are helping ease those ethical concerns.
CPG Brands Lead the Carbon Label Movement
Today’s consumers are master researchers, able to find product reviews, ingredients, materials and brand history with quick internet searches. Shoppers love to make informed purchases, which now includes information about a product’s environmental impact. Some brands have already started sharing data on what it takes to manufacture their products.
The amount of carbon emissions, water consumption and energy usage are some of the most popular metrics brands are sharing. The Coca-Cola Company, for example, revealed that producing one liter of the brand’s flagship soda results in 346g of carbon dioxide emissions. In February 2021, Unilever announced that it was working to introduce carbon labeling to 30,000 of its products.
It’s not just global brands that are embracing carbon labeling, either. ThredUP, an online consignment and thrift store that sells secondhand clothes, makes sustainability a part of its brand values. For each product on its website, ThredUP clearly explains to the shopper how their purchase helps the environment. According to ThredUP, buying a secondhand pair of jeans rather than a new pair saves 638 days of drinking water and 18.4 miles of driving emissions.
More consumers want this information, but they also need it to be easily found and simple to decode. Calculating environmental impact figures and making them available to the consumer, whether directly on product packaging or listed on a website, is a strategy that brands and retailers must seriously consider as part of their sustainability efforts.
Sustainability Helps the Planet and Your Bottom Line
As more brands and retailers engage in the climate change discussion, they’ll need support to make effective changes. Eagle Eye is committed to being part of the climate change solution, and recognizes the importance of enabling retailers to communicate their environmental impact to consumers by adding carbon scores and carbon emission ratings directly onto product labels. The carbon label concept has the potential to become as widespread as the nutrition facts label, which is why it’s important to add carbon data to the product labels that 62% of Americans read as they shop in-store and online.
Retailers and CPG brands large and small have a pivotal opportunity to shrink their carbon footprint and share sustainability strategies with customers. Retailers that provide this information will also benefit from the ability to analyze the changing patterns of their customers’ shopping behaviors. Using these data-driven insights will provide more value to their customers by making personalized recommendations on products/brands or even activities that they could engage with to help them reduce their carbon footprint further. By providing information to shoppers, not only will they help the planet, but they can also build stronger brand loyalty and create more sustainable shopping habits for generations to come.
Consumers already expect a high level of transparency from the places they shop, and that’s not going to diminish. It’s our responsibility as brands, retailers and marketers to ensure we meet those expectations, or risk getting left in the shadows of companies that are.
Tim Mason is author of Omnichannel Retail: How to build winning stores in a digital world, founder of The Omnichallenge Podcast, and CEO of Eagle Eye, a retail marketing technology company that works with retailers to help them improve digital customer connections and digital promotion effectiveness. With over 30 years of experience within the grocery and retail industries, Mason helps retailers and supermarket groups in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australasia develop customer-centric strategies centered around the intelligent use of data, and developing digital frameworks that increase frequency and customer value and loyalty. Previously, he was CMO and Deputy CEO at Tesco, where he was instrumental in the creation of Clubcard, Express, Personal Finance and Tesco.com.