5 sustainability myths you need to know

Being ‘green’, is a complex affair. With everyone clamouring to up their sustainability credentials, companies must justify every choice and every claim. It’s not enough to offset emissions, or recycle. Consumers want to know what companies are doing to fix the planet – all while providing an affordable, convenient and exciting experience or product…

In addition, the actual definition of what is sustainable continues to grow more unwieldy as the phenomenon soars in popularity. Unsure whether recyclable, biodegradable or compostable are best, there is a real risk consumers will stop seeking the right solution and simply opt for the easiest one.

In the coming months we’ll publish a new report that cuts through the noise and confusion to give you a crystal clear view of the trends and consumer behaviours set to impact your business in this new era of sustainability – and their implications.

Ahead of that, we’re dispelling a few common myths around sustainability, which prove how much room there is to innovate and inspire new customers:


Myth 1: Sustainability is about sacrifice

There is a strong perception that to live a better life, we must give things up. However people making sustainable lifestyle choices have the opposite experience. They see it as adding a new dimension to their lives that can vastly enrich it. It injects experiences with a new sense of purpose and adventure, as new paths are trodden. In commerce, this is increasingly translating into more indulgent products and experiences – a stroll down the vegan aisle reveals gourmet alternatives with decadent ingredients. It’s about reframing the benefits – not becoming puritanical.

The reality? A mother of two young boys on switching air for train travel: “My family embraced train travel over a decade ago, including an annual trip to Poland via a number of different circuitous routes. Trading queues in identikit airports for family adventures experiencing different cultures and a window seat to some stunning scenery. Don’t feel like we’ve ‘given up’ anything.”

Myth 2: Consumers that demand plastic-free, live plastic-free

We’ve seen how disconnected consumer mindsets can be from their real world actions. People want to live a more sustainable existence, but daily behaviours are not yet aligning with those desires due to a range of barriers – including access, knowledge and convenience. There is enormous potential in transforming that disconnect with innovations that satisfy demand, while advancing company eco credentials.

The reality? Convenience and affordability continue to trump all else. Fast fashion is not the best choice for the environment – but the cost of sustainably manufactured organic cotton remains prohibitive in the shadow of a convenience machine like Asos (which, incidentally, saw sales increase by 14% in the last recorded six-month period). We see shoppers routinely keeping costly Method cleaning products on the shelf at home, opting to use cheaper, less eco-friendly products for everyday touch-ups.

Myth 3: Companies become sustainable for the PR

Of course this will sometimes be the case. But we are increasingly finding that sustainability initiatives are the solution to client challenges – not the starting agenda. Clients are not asking to become more sustainable; instead they are aiming to futureproof their business or create a new pipeline of Gen Z-friendly concepts. Sustainability is frequently the leading answer in such cases.

The reality? For our clients, reducing water usage in production lines is not simply a more sustainable choice – it’s a cost-saving one. Many of our recent client projects have resulted in sustainability solutions – despite the original business challenge being nothing to do with sustainability.

Myth 4: All consumers make environmentally-friendly choices for the same reasons

Generational motivations vastly differ. For Gen Z sustainability is an intrinsic motivation, meaning they feel a sense of responsibility to the planet that is tied to their identify. For millennials, sustainability is more extrinsic – it’s about status, and doing the ‘right’ thing so that others think more highly of you.

The reality? For millennial consumers, having Ecover products and alike on their shelves at home is a signal that they shop in superior outlets, for superior brands. In contrast, the recent Extinction Rebellion – a global climate protest spearheaded by teenager Greta Thunberg – has shown Gen Z’s sense of duty to the environment culminates in action, not simply rhetoric.

Myth 5: Consumers expect brands to be perfect

Yes, demands on brands to be morally unambiguous are higher than ever. However, consumers are understanding when a company is honest about shortcomings. As we have seen with recent privacy controversies in Silicon Valley, avoiding the issue and delivering platitudes gets companies deeper into hot water and damages their reputation. Addressing and confronting the past and future in a transparent way, and admitting you are on a journey to a more sustainable and ethical future, is far more preferable to deception or ambiguity.

The reality? Chocolate-maker Barry Callebaut is working to eradicate child labour from its supply chain by 2025 through a number of initiatives, including education investments and its Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System. Talking about such problems within your supply chain is rare – but the company is up front about the difficulties of tracking and solving an issue that is rampant in the cocoa farming industry.

Sustainability is not a fad. It’s an important shift of consumer and business priorities that will – in the long term – save resources, money and our planet. That’s why we’re launching a new insight project that will pinpoint the drivers behind sustainable behaviour changes.

If you’d like to be a part of this project, or simply want to hear the findings (from early July) please contact Ellen: ellent@happen.com