The recent news of Waitrose launching a packaging-free trial at their Oxford branch was greeted with much excitement and fanfare online. Given the impact our food packaging is having on the environment, this was an exciting development from one of the major supermarket brands. It was a huge PR win. So much so that it got me thinking of the well-publicised difficulties they were facing (£) this time last year.
Waitrose seem to have realised that the way to today’s consumer is by being a force for good. It’s a true reflection of a purpose driven brand in action: the brand, sustainability and packaging teams all working in perfect harmony to deliver on their brand mission of ‘Partners making the difference’.
People care – it’s not just a fad
Over the past few years, a considerable amount of evidence of a new generation of more ethically, socially and politically minded consumers has been publicised.
With an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste being dumped in the world’s oceans each year, we are all responsible. Smart corporates (and governments) are acting quickly to ensure they remain on the right side of public opinion.
A great example of a brand embracing this type of change is Evian, who announced last year that they’re going carbon neutral and plastic free.
In fact, looking beyond climate change, there is mounting evidence that doing good is actually smart business. An important piece of research from B Lab, revealed last year, showed that in the UK, certified B Corps (businesses that meet B Lab’s standards for transparent and ethical performance) are growing 28 times faster than the national economic growth of 0.5 percent.
Brands that help facilitate a societal shift are bound to win the hearts and minds of this generation of ethical consumer.
I, for one, am hoping that this generation will continue this evolution to tackle the most pressing issues facing society right now. In climate change and plastic pollution, we have two critical issues. Brands that help facilitate a societal shift in how we deal with these issues are bound to win the hearts and minds of this generation of ethical consumer.
A really lovely example of this type of ethical brand in action is Adidas selling a million shoes made out of ocean plastic in 2017. A huge win for the bottom line, the planet and also the Adidas brand reputation.
This generation votes with their wallets, so brands with empty promises within their shiny new purpose statements should take note!
On the other hand, brands with sustainability at their core are starting to see the benefits of a virtuous circle: do good, capture hearts and minds by doing that good, which leads to growth and the space to do more good.
But don’t just jump on the bandwagon
With sustainability and brand purpose so inextricably linked, it’s important for any smart brand strategy to ensure these two elements are true and relevant.
We all saw what happened when when Pepsi’s tone-deaf campaign commodified and trivialised the #blacklivesmatter protests to sell soft drinks in 2017. When this goes wrong, it can take years to rebuild a reputation.
As Jeff Bezos once said, “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. Brands that understand this spend considerable time and effort embedding ethical behaviour and innovative thinking within the business, the culture and the operation. It creates a real point of difference. And when brands embed that point of difference within not just their visual identity, but also the behaviours and attitudes of the team, they really start winning.