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Why sustainability should be front and centre of your communications and product innovation

Suzanne Scott
24th May 2021

As consumers demand more sustainable products, brands must take notice.

  • 90% of Gen Z consumers expect brands to do more to help reduce climate impact and improve the state of the world

  • 88% of consumers want brands to do more to help them make a difference

  • Increasingly, consumer purchases are informed by sustainability concerns

In March 2020, when the world ground to a halt, a curious thing happened; while human beings were confined to their homes, nature had a rare opportunity to reestablish itself. In the northern Indian region of Punjab, the Himalayan mountain range, situated some 100 miles away, was visible for the first time in decades thanks to a significant reduction in air pollution; the canals in Venice became so clear you could see right to the bottom; while visitors were kept away from Yosemite National Park in California, bears began to dominate the forests again; and in Llandudno, Wales, Great Orme goats took back the streets.

While the majority of us understood climate change and human interference to be a problem before the lockdown, none of us had ever actually witnessed how nature thrives when we’re not around. Suddenly, the abstract concepts of climate change and human impact on the natural world became very real and very undeniable. “Coronavirus exposed the fragility of natural systems,” explains Victoria Rojas, Mediablaze strategist and sustainability expert. “This fragility has undoubtedly heightened people’s awareness of pressing environmental issues and, consequently, the urge to create a better and healthier planet.”

Consumers were on the path towards sustainability before COVID-19 but this revelation undoubtedly accelerated that process and affirmed the idea that sustainability and the environment are key factors when making a purchase.

“Coronavirus exposed the fragility of natural systems. This fragility has undoubtedly heightened people’s awareness of pressing environmental issues and, consequently, the urge to create a better and healthier planet.”

Victoria Rojas, Mediablaze strategist and sustainability expert

A new environmentally conscious consumer

According to a sustainability report commissioned by the British Beauty Council, almost two thirds of consumers want brands to do more in helping their cause to improve the planet, and 1 in 7 people switched to more sustainable beauty products in April to July of last year. Additionally, research by sustainability agency, Futerra, found that 88% of consumers want brands to do more to help them make a difference by using less packaging and making recycling instructions clear and transparent.

“The need for wellness has heightened with consumers’ increased desire for self-care and additional spare time during the various COVID -19 lockdowns,” says Rojas. “Responsible consumption is becoming an everyday habit. Beauty brands that want to stay in the game and not become obsolete will have to invest in innovative transformation and collaborative partnerships to shift to a more responsible production model on time to satisfy both trends.”

Brands have little choice but to listen and adapt in line with this overwhelming consumer expectation. This is especially true if brands wish to retain a younger customer into adulthood as, according to Unilever, 90% of Gen Z consumers expect brands to do more to help reduce climate impact and improve the state of the world.

So, what does this look like in terms of product innovation, packaging and the supply chain? It means Fairtrade ingredients and responsible harvesting of contentious ingredients like Baobab and palm oil and it means ensuring your suppliers are also taking this into consideration. Consumers are specifically looking for less packaging, which is why brands like Glossier now offer packaging options at the check out, and the packaging that is necessary should be completely recyclable. The water soluble packing peanuts are a bit of a favourite amongst millennial shoppers and it’s something many are more than willing to highlight on social media.

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New formats should allow for as little packaging - especially plastic - as possible, and be refillable. Shampoo bars, such as L’Occitane’s new Solid Shampoo which is entirely plastic-free and housed in a fully recyclable paper, are an excellent example of reimaging a beauty staple with a sustainable slant.

Makeup brands are also now factoring in refillable packaging. ZARA has been causing some excitement with their latest foray into beauty; a 100% vegan, refillable line of makeup created in collaboration with the globally renowned makeup artist, Diane Kendal. Luxe looking palettes of bronzer, blush and highlighter, and punchy and pigmented lipsticks can all be topped-up with a refill once exhausted. With prices starting at just £6, the high street brand is making sustainable beauty attainable for all.

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Communicate openly with your audience

As someone who has written about beauty products for nigh on a decade there is one pitfall that I am always super conscious of avoiding and that’s the discussion around ‘clean’, ‘green’, ‘natural’, or ‘non-toxic’ beauty. Because, what does any of this mean, really?

As yet, there is no standardised agreement on any of these terms. Telling your customer that your product is any of these things is, to be honest, misleading and only serves to muddy the sustainability waters further. It’s what we have come to call Greenwashing; a vague proclamation of various virtuous aspects of a beauty product that amount to nothing concrete. There is no such thing as ‘clean’ beauty and the communication around ‘non-toxic’ beauty is complete nonsense (if a product contained a toxic ingredient it would not be on sale).

Don’t add to the confusion, instead adopt a practical and transparent approach to talking about your brand. Communication should be straightforward and, most importantly, truthful because environmentally conscious consumers are unforgiving and known for their due diligence before making a purchase. If you put out misleading information in an effort to appear ‘greener’ than you are, you should expect a backlash.

Communicate transparently around your journey to more sustainable practices and bring your consumer in on the conversation. Honesty and openness with your audience will encourage their loyalty, and their understanding if you ever - inevitably - slip up.

Talk to the experts

We know it can be tricky to navigate the world of sustainability and the conversation that needs to happen around it. A robust content and social strategy is essential at the best of times, but even more so when it comes to communication and education of such a divisive topic. Need guidance? Perhaps you need a social media checkup (we’ve got you) or you want to discuss valuable means of communication. Let’s chat.

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