New Normal #1 Sustainability

Most of you have heard of Greta Thunberg, right?

She is a 16 year old from Sweden who is trying to change the world.  She started in August 2018 when she held a solo protest against climate change outside the Swedish parliament.

Fast forward 13 months and she has just crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a solar powered boat.  She has been to Washington to protest outside the White House.  Then last Monday she addressed the U.N. Climate Action Summit.  Not bad for a softly spoken 16 year old.

She is the inspiration behind the Climate Strikes that have been led by school children all over the world – the most recent took place last Friday.  The Climate Strikes have happened in more than 1400 cities in over 110 countries.  Some of you will have kids who have taken part.

The kids are becoming fed up.  Fed up with people saying they will do something and then not doing it.  Some of the placards at the protests have been great.  Things like “if you don’t act like adults we will”.  Or “we’ll be less activist if you’ll be less s**t”.  Or “climate change is real.  In other news, water is wet”.

These kids also practise what they preach – one sign read “please recycle your sign”.

Each generation cares more about sustainability than the last.  The next generation of adults care the most.

They are forcing everyone else to care and act.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, Sustainability is one of the things that we are calling the “New Normals”.  Sustainability has gone from something that a small group of eco warriors cared about, to something that a lot of people care about.  It has gone from something that a small number of niche brands did something about, to something that a lot of brands are doing something about.

It has gone from a nice to do to a must do.

But it’s not just about doing something.  Anybody can do something.  It is about doing the right thing(s).  Things that are right for your category and brand.  Things that help shoppers make more sustainable choices.

So, how can you do the right things?

Find Your Angle.  Sustainability is a broad term.  It can mean lots of different things.  There is lots of noise as more brands talk about it.  So, you need to find your angle.  Decide which element(s) of sustainability you are going to focus on.  Think about this in two ways.

Firstly, what matters in your category?  For instance, plastic might be important.  Or water usage might be important.  Secondly, what can you do something about?  So, if being recyclable is important in the category and you can develop fully recyclable packaging, that is probably a good combination.  Don’t pick something that matters but you can’t do.  Don’t pick something that you can do but doesn’t matter.

Once you’ve found your angle, you need to tell shoppers about it.  Clearly.  For instance, Walkers have significantly reduced the plastic wrap in their Wotsits multipacks.  On pack it says, “less plastic wrap”.  Clear.  Compare that to Evian who are focusing on recyclable bottles.  On pack it says, “building a circular economy together”.  Much less clear.  It sounds like something you write in a strategy document not put on a pack.

Make Sustainability an AND not an OR.  When it was just a small group of eco warriors into sustainability, they might compromise on product performance in order to get the sustainability benefit.  However, now that sustainability has gone mainstream, there is a much bigger group of shoppers who are not prepared to compromise on product performance.  They (rightly) want performance AND sustainability.

Straws are an example.  Plastic straws work well.  But they were bad for the environment.  Paper straws are good for the environment.  But they don’t work well.  The best solution will be straws that deliver functionally and environmentally.  So, Colgate’s bamboo toothbrush needs to be as strong and durable as a plastic toothbrush.  A washable nappy has to fit and protect against leaks as well as a disposable one.  The sustainable solution needs to be as good as the solution it is replacing.

Don’t expect shoppers to pay more.  We were on a call a couple of weeks ago and someone said, “if sustainability isn’t about trading shoppers up then why are we doing it?”  We had to politely say “err…because it is the right thing to do”.  It is the right thing to do and shoppers expect you to do it.  They don’t expect you to charge them more for the privilege.

A simple rule: If you can deliver a better product that is more sustainable, you can charge more – for the better part.  If it’s the same quality product but more sustainable – you can’t.

Sustainability can still play an important £ role for you.  It can drive market share.  If product A is as good as product B, but more sustainable, more shoppers will buy product A.  If sustainability is a barrier to product usage (e.g. moist toilet tissue), addressing the barrier can drive usage.  If shoppers are going to stop using existing products (e.g. single use plastic) then addressing that retains value in a category.

The old normal = sustainability was a nice to do.  The new normal = sustainability is a must do.

Get on it.  Or face the wrath of Greta and her gang.

Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.

We are an FMCG strategy consultancy. We help companies win with shoppers & retailers in 4 main ways – Category Strategy, Channel Strategy, Shopper Marketing Strategy and Retailer Engagement.