Over the past 20 years, more and more people are prioritizing sustainability. People tote reusable water bottles, cities have banned plastic shopping bags, and actress Emma Watson wore gowns made of recyclable materials for an entire red-carpet season. Despite these trends, the future of sustainability as a priority for the U.S. government is murky. The U.S. recently pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and scaled back environmental protections outlined by the EPA.
In response, activists are coming together in support of environmental policy reform and a clean energy economy. But, it’s not the only way people are beginning to demand change. According to research from “re-commerce” shopping site BLINQ, consumers are making purchasing decisions backed by their perception of brand values. More than ever, people are holding brands accountable — and voting with their wallets.
In the past, many companies avoided putting a stake in the ground about social and political topics for fear of alienating consumers. But, those days are pretty much over. Today, those who commit to their values — and walk the walk — will come out on top.
Data shows consumers reward sustainable brands
According to our research, 57 percent of shoppers have made a purchase in the past year because of a retailer’s commitment to sustainability. More than half of Americans are inspired to choose green retailers, and 75 percent say they do so now more than they did five years ago.
Interestingly, consumers don’t have lofty beliefs that a single purchase really impacts the environment. Rather, they put stock in the potential impact a brand’s commitment to sustainability can have at scale. Sixty-two percent explain that they shop at sustainable brands to reward and support companies who are aligned with their own values. For example, a consumer might shop at Patagonia, not because she thinks buying that pullover fleece will help save the planet, but because she wants to support a brand that shares her green values, and propagates them with their business.
Consumers step up to hold brands accountable
Customers don’t just reward retailers that share their values — they’ve also become increasingly strict about where their money goes. In the absence of a government watchdog, 52 percent of consumers have taken it upon themselves to boycott a brand that doesn’t share their values — political, environmental or otherwise. In one high-profile example this past year, values-driven shoppers banded together for the #grabyourwallet movement, boycotting all retailers that supported brands associated with the Trump family.
And it’s not just political causes inspiring activism.
Brands are facing public response about their less sustainable business practices, as well. Notably, consumer activism inspired Gap Inc. to change its business practices after many people thought they missed the mark on clean water standards. As a result, they promised consumers more transparency in the supply chain, agreeing to publish their list of partners. The company has also publicized goals for more sustainable waste management, benchmarking its progress to 80 percent diversion of landfill waste, 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and zero discharge of hazardous chemicals in water by 2020. As consumers make their voices heard by voting with their wallets, brands like Gap Inc. will continue to be motivated to adopt more environmentally responsible operations.
Millennials hold the shopping power
This trend is poised to only grow as Millennials gain purchasing power. At the moment, Generation Y holds more than $200 billion in purchasing power and an expected $10 trillion in their lifetimes. A recent Forbes study reported that 75 percent of Millennials find it fairly or very important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit. And what’s more — Millennials are fiercely loyal consumers. Sixty percent said they are often or always loyal to retailers and brands where they shop. Brands that align their values early on with Millennials will reap the rewards later.
Take a look at the Millennial favorite Everlane.
The brand has always touted values over product, selling wardrobe basics backed by a visibly ethical business model. They claim “radical transparency,” and share all of the details of their labor and manufacturing process. Sustainability and honesty are the selling points of this brand, rather than the mainstays of a corporate social responsibility department. And with 30 percent of its customers aged 18 to 35, Everlane should expect to benefit from the growing disposable incomes of Millennials looking for a brand with a soul.
What’s a brand to do?
For brands in this murky political climate, and information age, transparency about values is key. There are no secrets; information spreads fast. Proactively incorporating sustainability standards and initiatives into your business model — and sharing them readily — will allow consumers to decide whether you are a brand they want to support. And there’s market pull for this kind of transparency. BLINQ reports that most consumers, 56 percent, agree that it’s difficult to find sustainable shopping options, despite their desire to support more ethical players.
What’s more, once consumers find retailers that share their values, they become vocal brand advocates. BLINQ found that 65 percent of consumers will encourage friends and family to shop at brands that share their values. As the country faces a lowered stance on environmental regulation, brands have a clear opportunity to earn the trust and loyalty of consumers by not only enacting greener practices, but sharing those practices to build connections with like-minded shoppers.
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