Today, consumers care more about where their products come from than ever before. Big brands are reaping the rewards of a more socially and environmentally friendly approach. Just look at Starbucks recent decision to stop using disposable plastic straws by 2020. With such positive response from consumers, it’s time for startups to follow suit in building sustainable brands.
The market for ethical products is booming
In the U.K., young people are the driving force behind the £81.3 billion market for ethical products and services. The sector is growing rapidly — £40 billion since 2008.
A third of consumers base their purchasing decisions on the social and environmental impact of the brands they are buying from, according to a study by Unilever, so it’s time that small enterprises made the most of the opportunity.
In a recent report published by Nielsen, there was one clear message: across the board, consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products.
Millennials and Gen Z are driving change
Millennials are driving demand. In the same Nielsen report, millennials were identified as the demographic most likely to pay extra for sustainable products, with almost 75 percent agreeing that they would put their hand in their pocket for ethical offerings. This is despite growing up in an economic climate characterized by austerity and cutbacks.
Gen Z aren’t far behind. Those willing to pay more for products from socially and environmentally responsible brands is up from 55 percent to 72 percent over the course of a just a year. And it’s not just the wealthy and middle class — willingness to buy from brands that align with personal values was seen in consumers across regions, income levels and socio-economic backgrounds.
Greater demand in emerging economies
While 53 percent of shoppers in the U.K. and 78 percent in the U.S. say they feel better when they buy sustainable products, the emphasis on buying from responsible brands is even more prominent in emerging economies.
Buyers in emerging markets are also more likely to switch to a new brand if they believe their practices are more ethical. In India, 95 percent of people agreed, 97 percent in China and 96 percent in Brazil.
It’s not just intention, either: consumers within these economies are more likely to have bought a product with a social or environmental benefit in the past year compared to the global average.
A big brand to take inspiration from
IKEA is leading the way when it comes to ethical practices, being the first big retailer to sell and use exclusively LED bulbs across its stores. The move was part of their “People & Planet Positive” sustainability strategy.
Where possible, IKEA’s product lines are manufactured using eco-friendly processes. Ninety percent of its buildings in the U.S. are powered by solar panels and the company has planted 2.4 million trees in America to help offset its CO2 emissions.
IKEA’s ultimate aim is to use 100 percent renewable energy. They’ve also announced a new pilot scheme which offers to buy back your unwanted furniture with the aim to reduce the amount of furniture taken to landfill every year.
How to build a sustainable startup brand
So, how do you take a page from IKEA’s book and build a sustainable brand of your own? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Understand your audience and what matters to them
What do your customers care about? Conduct market research to get a complete picture of your target audience and what matters to them. You can then use this to inform your sustainability strategy.
Assess your current practices
Think about your supply chain: Where are you sourcing your products from, and how are they transported? Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can find areas for improvement. Look at carbon-offsetting initiatives, too.
Form your mission statement
With the knowledge you’ve gained from researching your customers, design a mission statement that will alleviate their concerns. Your sustainability strategy will then work to achieve this goal.
For example, popular outdoor brand Patagonia’s mission statement is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Implement your strategy
Identify ambassadors for change within your organization to lead your new sustainability strategy. Assess the financial and operational impact of making these changes and cross-reference them to the benefit they’ll bring to you and your customer. Your product, if you have one, is a good place to start. The eco-friendly changes you make will become a unique selling proposition (USP) for your brand, so make them count.
Measure, test and improve
Measurement is vital to success and should be woven into every element of planning — it’s not something you should just throw in at the end. Don’t wait until the campaign is over to evaluate its success. Test and make changes as your strategy takes shape and is implemented across the business.
Communication is key
If no one knows about the changes you have made, the perception of your brand won’t change. When speaking about these changes, think about the language you use and what will resonate with your audience.
One in five people agree that they would actively choose brands who promote environmentally or socially conscious practices on their packaging and in their marketing, so be bold in sharing the changes you’ve made.
Sustainability may seem out of reach for your business, but you can start by making small changes to work toward a bigger overarching goal. In doing so, you can tap into a market that is willing to pay a premium for responsible products and services.
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