What can brands learn from the enlightened consumer?

By Imogen Banks

Feb 19, 2019

If someone had said SodaStream to me five years ago, it would have reminded me about the time I spent hours adding flavoured syrups to carbonated water, in a bid to create anything drinkworthy with my grandmother in her kitchen, when I was about nine years old. But fast forward to 2019 and PepsiCo has just bought Sodastream for $3.2bn in a bid to “promote health and wellness through environmentally friendly, cost-effective and fun-to-use beverage solutions.”

In recent years the world’s overuse of plastic and meat production has been brought to light and consumers are starting to answer by changing the way they eat, shop and think to help reduce their own carbon footprint. So as consumers move away from purchasing throwaway trends and look for items that are more sustainable – what can brands learn from the enlightened consumer?

First of all, product positioning should be much more detailed and profound than just “this will do good”. Last year, Budweiser announced that every single bottle of beer that’s brewed would be done with renewable energy by 2025. Now most bottles brewed in the US are produced with renewable electricity. Budweiser has now branded each bottle with a ‘Made with 100% Renewable Energy’ label to help the brand to stay relevant with a new generation of ethically conscious consumers.

It’s not enough to tell customers what a product does anymore, they want to understand brand purpose and why they should buy into an idea. Consumers are looking for brands that encourage people to make better choices for themselves and for the planet.

Who’s leading the race on sustainability?

When it comes to sustainability, Adidas is one of the bigger brands leading the way, launching its third range of products made from plastic debris from the ocean, in pledge to stop using virgin plastics in its collections. Not only has Adidas created a product that allows its customers to look good and save the planet at the same time, as a business it’s committed to contributing to a bigger ethical solution by phasing out the sale of plastic bags in its own stores, replacing them with recyclable paper bags, a move which has eliminated close to 70 million plastic shopping bags.

As consumers, we’re only just realising the sheer scale of sustainability, now that we’ve learnt about the disastrous impact plastic and meat production has on our planet, our attention is turning to ‘fast fashion.’ Stacey Dooley’s recent documentary Fashion’s Dirty Secrets highlighted the environmental impact caused by our appetite for cheap clothing.

It’s been said that we buy five times more clothing than we did in the 1980s, and we throw away around 11 million tons each year. Last year, we spent £3.5bn on Christmas party outfits alone. As clothes have become cheaper, we’ve started to use them as single-wear purchases and more than 7 million of those sequin party dresses end up in landfill after just one wear.

Jeans are one of the few items of clothing we keep for longer, but it’s relatively unknown is that their environmental impact is huge. Most jeans are made from cotton, which uses 2.4 per cent of the world’s farming land and a large amount of toxic chemicals. Over 2,000 gallons of water are used to make just one pair of jeans, with consumers using over 300 gallons in a lifetime just to keep them clean. But with 2 billion jeans produced annually worldwide, it’s going to take a large sustained effort to create an impact.

Recently, American brand Reformation aimed to tackle this issue by creating Reformation Jeans, a collection of sustainable, recycled denim made from 100 percent recycled materials, vintage fabrics and sustainably sourced fibres. In a bid to become more sustainable as a brand they managed to make their denim range greener by using only one third of the normal amount of water and non-harmful chemicals in the finishing process. Reformation’s latest pledge is to create the same exacting standards as the rest of its clothing range.

What’s next?

It’s clear to see that all areas of consumerism are affected by this trend, from food and drink right through to sportswear and fashion. And it won’t stop there. But, as with everything new, the chances for businesses to feed the appetite of the new enlightened consumer and succeed, are big.

Brands have an increased responsibility to create and lead for positive change, and consumers will respect and remember the ones that get with the times in terms of understanding what they want. Brands that haven’t traditionally focused on sustainability could have their moment in 2019 by following consumers’ needs, finding new and innovative ways to attract customers while consistently delivering products that surpass their expectations.