I had the pleasure of sitting down with, and by sitting down I mean sitting down in our individual home offices and chatting via Zoom, a Mintel sustainability trends analyst, Alex Milinazzo.
Mintel is the world’s leading marketing intelligence agency. The focus of their work relies on creating reports that track both what as well as why consumers want what they want. Mintel also develops market forecasting based on data, insights, and trend analysis. Mintel’s Consumer Trends are globally-informed, but Alex’s role’s scope covers brand and consumer behavior in the US and Canada, specifically.
Through this conversation, I had the goal of developing a better understanding of how Mintel sees sustainability trends evolving and how they’re shaping up in the present– especially in the midst of the pandemic shifting a lot of businesses and consumers focus.
In addition, I wanted to uncover some tools to help our readers decipher which businesses actually value sustainability and are putting that into action, as opposed to brands that are just using the lingo to deceive consumers. The FDA actually has no rules for using the words “natural” or “clean” on a label. This basically means that any company can use these terms no matter what ingredients they use or what their effect on the environment is.
Beware of Greenwashing
There’s no doubt that the sustainability space is seeing a lot of change. In recent years, consumers have become more interested in sustainability trends. Therefore, brands have been reacting by including sustainability and sustainability buzz words in their marketing efforts and even in their core mission. This has resulted in a lot of greenwashing.
Greenwashing is a marketing tactic that organizations use to deceive consumers into believing their product or service is “green”. Greenwashing often includes popular eco-friendly buzzwords that are not backed up with any sort of proof or any action that actually minimalizes environmental impact. Mintel’s trend analyst Alex Milinazzo shares that it’s often “hard to parse out which brands are actually active in sustainability and which ones are just using the words”.
Simply put, if you’re a consumer that wants to support businesses who are genuinely sustainable and are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, it’s important to do your research. Look for information and statistics that demonstrate how businesses are living up to their claimed values.
Brands That Are Making Embracing Sustainability Trends Simple
While there are many organizations that truly practice what they preach when it comes to sustainability, Alex shared a couple of interesting innovations that he’s seen brands using that is both effective and simple.
Simple innovations are oftentimes the best ones because they’re the easiest to adapt. And in case you haven’t heard, both consumers and businesses like easy.
Lush Lens is a feature on the Lush app that allows customers to scan products in the store and pull up information such as the ingredients, the benefits, and the intended use of the product. This simple innovation allows Lush to dramatically cut down on its packaging, as all of the information is accessible right at customers’ fingertips.
Encouraging customers to use their smartphones in-store to learn more about products will greatly reduce the need for signage. Signage is a huge source of waste in the retail space, as retailers are constantly changing their merchandise, sales price, and seasonal products.
Additionally, this information allows customers to interact with the brand in a unique and memorable way. Yes, Lush is cutting down on waste with Lush Lens, but they’re also enhancing their customer’s experience. Making sustainable changes doesn’t have to be about taking things away. In fact, in order to get consumers excited about it, sustainable changes should be about adding value as well.
Glossier Ditching the Excess Packaging
Glossier is a very community-centered brand. Its powerful brand reputation has earned them a strong following of environmentally conscious customers. Glossier has defined themselves as an eco-friendly brand from their inception. Every Glossier purchase comes with an ~iconic~ pink pouch that customers use to store makeup, sewing supplies, and the list goes on and on.
But what happens if you’ve been a loyal Glossier customer for years and you have more pouches then you know what to do with?
This is why in 2019, Glossier being receptive to customer feedback, put in a little “opt out” button at checkout for customers that have their fill of Glossier pouches. Their packages are a great marketing move on Glossier’s part, not to mention an added benefit of shopping with the brand. Oftentimes, however, one or two pouches is enough, and consumers are now in choice about it. This may be a small change, but if other brands followed Glossier’s lead and found simple ways to cut down on their waste, then it would cascade into a bigger, long-lasting change.
For Now—The Future of Sustainability Exists Within the Context of COVID-19
Through my conversation with Alex I was curious to learn about how COVID-19 has changed the prioritization of buying sustainably for consumers.
Alex shared that Mintel’s global COVID-19 tracker found that “as of late September, for 64% of US consumers, their priority for caring for the environment hadn’t changed”. Interestingly though, there was both an increase and a decrease in prioritization of sustainability for customers, meaning that in some respects buying sustainably was becoming more relevant to consumers, and in others it was moving in the opposite direction.
Given the pandemic, “many consumers have had to make the choice between what is most sustainable vs. what is most sanitary.” Most have prioritized the ladder. To give an example, single-use plastics are, in many situations, the most sanitary, but, of course, not the most sustainable. Health and safety are higher up in priority in the minds of consumers. In circumstances like these, what is most sanitary oftentimes won out.
Because of the increase in single-use plastics, consumers have tried to make more conscious purchasing decisions in other areas that don’t compromise their health and safety, such as buying from brands that are carbon neutral. (hint hint: look for companies that are carbon neutral certified).
Overall, the pandemic has elevated the expectations of consumers for brands to put into action large-scale changes. These expectations will put pressure on companies to implement more sustainable business practices, in ways that don’t interfere with the prioritization of sanitization.