Sustainable and ethical practices by brands are more pervasive than ever. As “saving the turtles” has become the poster child for corporate sustainability, brands are now moving beyond recyclable packaging, once the standard for sustainability, to incorporate eco-friendly materials like paper straws and biodegradable packaging. Consumers are savvier than ever, and it is impacting their purchasing behavior. As brands tackle this ever-evolving landscape, consumers are expressing a need to balance the desire for sustainability and customer experience.
To ensure this balance, brands should keep three tenets in mind when considering sustainability’s impact on its customer experience:
Make it Foundational, Not Transactional
The brands that have been successful at sustainability have made renewable choices and actions part of their DNA and company culture. To have a truly authentic sustainable customer experience, brands must walk the walk in addition to talking the talk. To ensure authenticity, sustainability needs to be a part of their brand before they can bring it to their customers.
A great example of this is Patagonia, which has made its commitment to the environment and support for national parks a core part of its corporate foundation. This allows Patagonia to make game-changing pronouncements such as its recent push to refuse to design vests for companies who don’t meet its ethical standards, aligning its production goals with its stated corporate goals.
Innovate, Don’t Eliminate
It is easy to want to eliminate the perceived unethical material or practice (think: “We’re getting rid of plastic straws!”) to respond to the changing landscape, but brands must continue to innovate to improve the customer experience. Sustainability shouldn’t be simply about replacing wasteful materials, but rather recognizing an opportunity to do good while being good — improving not only the planet, but also the experience brands provide for their most important asset, customers.
Canada Goose navigates this transom with its optimized down and fur transparency policy. Highlighting the importance of sustainability and equitable treatment of animals, the company is honest, transparent, and strong in its justification for sourcing critical elements of product quality that might otherwise be seen as cruel to animals. This translates to a guilt-free experience for those who purchase Canada Goose products (and may even compensate for the buyer’s regret associated with the price tag).
Enhance, Don’t Upset
The customer experience can be a fickle beast at times. As brands respond to changing needs, and particularly to the consumer’s stated desire for sustainability, brands need to enhance the customer experience with their innovations — not disrupt it with changes. Consumers, particularly those in younger generations, often allow ethical practices to drive their purchasing decisions, but can also be sensitive to disruptions when much of their lives involve social media where they decide when and if they engage.
Anheuser – Busch is a leader in this space, recently partnering with sustainable grower Indigo Agriculture to begin using sustainably grown rice in its recipe for Budweiser. Few consumers know that the company is the largest end-user of rice in the US, but by tweaking the product it uses, it ensures compliance with sustainable practices and doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of formula, recipe or taste. Consumers can choose to engage with the brand and its sustainable practices. If they choose not to engage, they likely will never know the difference.
Successful brands follow these three tenets because they understand the importance of balancing sustainability with customer experience. Those that seek to make the customer experience not only about purchasing, but also about involving customers in sustainable practices, see an increasing return on their investment. There does not need to be a trade-off between sustainability and the customer experience. Instead, they can build on each other to help drive greater brand affinity, trust and loyalty.