Three layers defining ‘Green Consumption’

The current crisis has accelerated the shift towards brand values as it has become evident that consumers want products/services which are beyond ‘good quality.’ Consumers are deciding to keep in mind the social responsibility, inclusiveness and environmental impact of their purchases. We are now entering a regenerative world that equates environmental well being to personal well-being. Buying environment-friendly products is making customers happy.

The green technology and sustainability market is set to reach $44.61 Bn, globally, by 2026 (growing at a CAGR of 26.5% from 2019 to 2026). Concerns for the climate and depleting resources have become the yoke of consumption. During the pandemic too, eight out of ten consumers are making sustainability-based buying choices. In response, numerous organizations have made ‘green-strategy’ their priority for the coming decade.

How will purposeful consumption shape up in the coming years? What are the signals that organizations can adopt to resonate with consumers who want to lead a green lifestyle?
Here are three directions that would shape sustainable consumption:

According to Google Trends, search interest in ‘How to live a sustainable lifestyle’ has increased by more than 4,550% since January 2020. Although most of the buyers are conscious while making purchase decisions, they are unaware of the environmental and social consequences of the products they buy. They are actively searching for tips and products to lead a sustainable lifestyle. They seek guidance and information from brands while purchasing products. Several organizations have started to address this issue by including a set of ‘sustainability metrics.’ These metrics can be anything from labeling an item with its ‘carbon footprint’ or the amount of resources used for production. Quantifying a product or service using green metrics becomes a win-win for both the consumers as well as the brands. People are more empowered to make the choice between one product stating its carbon limit upfront and the other without any information. They also feel happier about making a sustainable purchase and in turn resonate deeper with the particular brand.

Just Salad, a US-based restaurant chain plans on introducing ‘Climate-smart eating’ by adding a Carbon label to its menu. Every item on the menu would be labeled with its corresponding ‘carbon footprint’ to help their guests make more holistic choices. The idea of a restaurant helping its customers to have a ‘green diet’ is in itself a motivator to try their menu out.

It does not just have to be a metric that is carbon-related. Ethical, inclusive actions by organizations for the common good are now being quantified by third-party platforms. Any attribute can be given a number to help the end-user differentiate the product from the numerous options available. For instance, the amount of water used while producing a pair of jeans also becomes a metric for consumers to make an informed decision during purchase.

What kind of unique attributes can organisations quantify to set a new standard of measurement for consumption?

2. Active contribution
Another way to empower customers to lead a sustainable lifestyle would be to help them experience green practices first-hand. Contribution to the environment is no longer passive. Customers want to actively pitch in for a greater cause through the products and services they consume. Effective contribution to encompass consumers at the creation phase can be through recycling, repair campaigns, DIY engagements and environment-friendly expeditions.

Offering repair of products to extend the lifetime and duration of usage is highly appreciated. Doodlage, an Indian fashion brand focused on sustainability has launched a new initiative where customers can send in photos of their old sarees to be transformed into fresh designs as part of its efforts to reduce waste in the Indian fashion industry. This in turn cultivates trust amongst the purchasers.

Another scenario of active involvement would be ‘engaging consumers through DIY products.’ This facilitates up-cycling through customising. DIY engagements not only help in utilising the existing pool of resources and dead-stock but also bring the buyers closer to trusting the organization more. During the lockdown, few luxury brands shifted their marketing to tutorials and challenges on Instagram. They provide templates and blueprints of their iconic products, which the customers can recreate using their pool of existing resources with a touch of personal style. A few brands are either selling or giving away their dead-stock fabric encouraging their customers to chase their hobbies.

Apart from just upcycling or extending the lifeline of goods, brands are also actively including their customers in expeditions to make the environment a better place. For example, Airbnb hosted an Antarctic Sabbatical, a month-long research expedition for five intrepid travelers where they understand the impact of microplastics on the Antarctic ecosystem. This not only educates the customers but also enables them to experience the effects first-hand.

What aspect of a product or service can be created in collaboration with consumers to not just educate them but also ensure transparency?

3. Safety
With the current situation, there is an added layer of ‘safety’ and ‘health’ to any form of consumption. Brands now need to look beyond just sustainable practices as every experience centres around overall well-being. Consumers now want products that are not just sustainable but also safe. Locally produced goods are a perfect example of this blend. Even with the scarcity of certain products and the gloomy situation, consumers still insist on supporting earth-friendly products, policies. People are connecting their health to the planet’s health with 55% of shoppers from a recent survey, asserting the pandemic also made them more likely to purchase green products.

However, brands are pausing their green strategies to ensure the customers feel safe purchasing from them. For example, Starbucks temporarily banned reusable cups in response to the situation. Though there is a need for safer healthier practices, it is essential to ensure that the environment does not take a hit. Organizations must cater to consumers’ personal safety first, yet also ensure that their ‘green lifestyles’ are not changing due to the pandemic. Numerous brands are trying to resonate with the consumers’ mindset during the crisis by assuring them both on the safety of their products and their commitment to the environment.

How can organizations focus on winning loyalty through safer products for both the planet as well as the consumers?

To sum up, brands’ contribution to a sustainable planet also has to include helping their consumers make the right choice and live a greener lifestyle. This can either be through quantifying a few attributes to help them compare products or actively involving them in producing the product or service.

As more and more mainstream players enter the pledge for a healthier planet, it’s time to accept that ‘sustainability’ isn’t a concept for the early adopters, but rather a driver for a mass consumption trend.
Organizations must leverage this peak to help their stakeholders make the shift to an eco-friendly lifestyle.